In the evenings of at least 2000 of the 2500 or so days that I lived and worked in the friendly town of Patea I walked my dogs, Butch and Sam, along Patea Beach.
There were always plenty of sticks to throw and you could take your shoes off and walk in the surf if the black sand got too hot.
At the far end of the beach I saw seals and on at least one occasion a mother seal with her pup. A couple of times I got the timing wrong and had to wade to avoid getting stranded against the cliffs by the tide.
And all the time on my left going, and on my right coming back, was the sea.
I never went deeper than my knees and apart from the odd bluebottle jellyfish and occasional fish guts left by fishermen I saw little sign of life.
When Peter Frost asked me to write an article about the talk organised by Birds New Zealand (The Ornithological Society of New Zealand) and given by Project Reef Life, led by Karen Pratt, I was intrigued.
With Karen were the project's marine scientist Joshua Richardson, and Richard Guy who is secretary of the South Taranaki Underwater Club and volunteer engineer for the project.
Josh also works for Venture Taranaki, co-ordinating the Curious Minds initiative which encourages citizen participation in science, and Project Reef Life sprang into existence through this funding initiative.
Josh and project members work with students of Patea Area School (great school - it kept me in Patea for seven years) and Hawera High School in the analysis of data from the research. Richard brings his engineering expertise to the project by ensuring the technology and equipment are maintained and by meeting challenges with good old Kiwi ingenuity.
The reef presently being studied is 11km off Patea and 23m below the surface in a challenging environment with strong currents.
The first video at the talk showed the dive boats crossing Patea bar. This was hairy enough before they even got to the reef.
It was the second video of underwater shots on the reef that really grabbed my attention. Being used to the featureless expanse of sea off Patea, the profusion and diversity of life under those grey waves was jaw dropping.
Accomplished cameraman Bruce Boyd captured images of leatherjackets, butterfly perch, giant boarfish, many kinds of seaweed, sponges, crustaceans, algae and plankton. In all 28 species of fish have been recorded - and they are all plentiful.
An exhibition of photographs and videos was mounted at Aotea Utanganui in Patea and even people whose families have lived many generations in the area were amazed to see what was just off their coast.
I agree with Karen's comment about the importance of people - and especially local children - having knowledge of and, better still, experience of the environments just beyond the breaking waves.
More than 100 species photographed at the reef have been uploaded to a publicly accessible database on the Nature Watch NZ website under CoastBlitz Patea.
The team knew the area off South Taranaki had many reefs, but those reefs were largely unmapped. Karen found the real story by talking to local fishers and divers, most of whom had their favourite fishing and diving spots, but liked to keep them secret. When asked to give the GPS co-ordinates of the project reef, Karen gave a polite but firm "No".
Reefs make us think of coral reefs but those off Patea are rock, tentatively dated at between 80,000 and 3 million years old. The project hopes to see it dated from a sample sent to experts.
An important feature of the reefs are the rock shelves which form safe havens for many of the creatures living there including crayfish (another reason for not giving the GPS co-ordinates of the site).
At a depth of 23m the red in sunlight has been filtered out giving a bland blue look to the undersea scape.
However, when a white diving light is used, brilliant reds, blues and greens leap from the fish, crustaceans and sponges. To see what lies under the waves take a look at Project Reef on Facebook.
To see nature without human presence the project team wanted to secure a camera on the seabed to take images and videos through day and night. They worked with Leith Robertson at Wells Engineering to design a prototype camera that could do this.
Bruce Boyd cast a tonne of concrete slabs, got them on his boat and lowered them as an anchor for the camera. The footage from the camera shows life day and night without the invasion of bubble-blowing aliens ... aquatic life comes to investigate the camera instead of being frightened away.
Project Reef Life is aimed at filling knowledge gaps both in science and within communities.
Students of Hawera High and Patea Area school have conducted surveys at the reef to investigate the density and diversity of reef fish. The high school also used open source software (PhotoQuad) to find the percentage cover of the reef by encrusting organisms from analysis of 150 photographs from a benthic (reef floor) survey.
The students gained insight into how research can influence policy-making when they presented their findings to the science and education select committee in Parliament in 2017. This is where our future scientists will be hooked.
It is this last aspect that I see as most important. People can only look after and protect their own environment if they have knowledge of how it works.
■Frank Gibson is a semi-retired teacher of mathematics and physics who has lived in the Whanganui region since 1989.