The population of any given species needs to be strong enough to handle destructive natural and made made events. Without this resilience one event can wipe a species of the face of the planet forever. In New Zealand our rarest endemic breeding bird is the New Zealand fairy tern. With a population of only 40 birds this is the breakdown for the 2017-18 season.

  • 3-4 of last seasons surviving chicks which are too young to breed
  • 1 menopausal female
  • 1-2 ‘engaged’ couples who behave like they are breeding but do not lay eggs
  • 11-14 unpartnered males (the population is short on females)
  • 20 breeding birds (10 pairs)
  • It’s a fragile population with too many males (1:2 ratio). The other major concern is that during breeding season 80% of the population is on the same 40km stretch of coast. Here is where the breeding happened in 2017-18:

    East coast:
    Waipu 2
    Mangawhai 5
    Pakari 1

    West coast:
    Papakanui 2

    The fragility is particularly exposed when we think about the threat of an oil spill from the RMS Niagara. This wreck is a time bomb just off the coast from this critical breeding habitat. Even a small amount of the submerged oil could easily cover the fairy terns breeding grounds for weeks, starving the birds to death in a matter of days.

    An explorer in a land of herps: discovering lizards in Aotearoa/New Zealand

    Book recommendation: This book by a NZ adventurer and herpetologist is awesome. It’s a refreshingly honest collection of great adventures and scientific discoveries. I throughly enjoyed Tony’s detailed descriptions of New Zealand’s treasures, his passion is inspirational. I really appreciated him sharing the highs & lows of what has been an outstanding career… so far. Get it here.

    Underwater tripod

    Price, durability and stability were the big factors when designing this underwater tripod. The final design ended up incredibly simple and getting great results (I will upload some time-lapse footage at a later date). I have made four of them and I got this great shot of a red moki (who usually avoid me) at Goat Island on Monday.

    Red Moki - Goat Island

    My macro setup July 2017

    Ok so this is a bit less portable and lacks some flexibility from my previous setup but with more than twice the light and one hand free I love this new configuration. I am spending less time messing around with positioning lights which should allow me to capture more interesting behaviours. The shadows are lovely:Cave weta

    Okiwi mussels

    This is what Okiwi Estuary (Great Barrier Island) used to contain within the main channel close to the estuary entrance. It was the last naturally occurring soft-sediment mussel reef in the Hauraki Gulf.

    Green-lipped mussels – Okiwi estuary. Photos by Dr Darren Parsons

    Aggregations ranged from a few individuals to meters in diameter. Mussels were frequently attached to pipis, partially buried in the sandy substrate. There were an estimated 3.2 million adults. Compared to other sites Okiwi mussels had the poorest condition but highest densities of invertebrates – Ian Mcleod’s 2009 thesis on soft-sediment mussel systems in northeastern New Zealand.

    Unfortunately they were nearly completely wiped out by a major storm.

    Okiwi June 2015. Photo by Richie Robinson

    I went for a swim on the outgoing tide (excuse the murky tannin stained water) to investigate 2 years later (April 2017).

    Some areas were thick with shell but most of the substrate was sand.

    I found one spot that was thick with old mussel shell (and just the one live adult).

    Only 50 meters or so upstream I found some small regenerating clumps.

    I was really pleased to see juveniles. Note the abundant red (not green) algae. Short video below.

    If we left the bed alone, I wonder how many years it might take for it to completely regenerate?

    UPDATE January 2018

    I was able to visit the site again and was so impressed with it’s growth. The bed is awesome:

    • There are still areas with lots of shell including old mussel shell that have not been colonised by green-lipped mussels.
    • Most mussels were 4-5cm long but there were much smaller juveniles too.
    • The estuary has a lot of cushion stars and sea hares but no eleven armed starfish or octopus which predate mussels. It was quite strange to not see eleven armed starfish there.
    • The network pattern was similar to that of both restored and reefs and the one at Marsden Point with a wide range of density. It is most compact in the center where the mussels will run out of space if they grow.
    • I was told by a local that there were adults at the mouth of the estuary, they maybe crucial seed stock for the bed.
    • Although I saw eagle rays in the estuary I did not see them in the bed. There was no evidence of rays or snapper feeding in the bed but it looked like rays had been digging elsewhere.
    These clumps feather the edge of the bed.
    It was low tide and the tide was coming in.
    There were gaps in most of the bed.
    The network pattern.
    The clumps came up very easily, you can see they are attached to old shell including mussel shell left over from the old bed.
    Numerous sea hares (Aplysia keraudreni).
    There were not many fish (yet), but the triple fin were lovely.
    These two Bigbelly seahorses (Hippocampus abdominalis) were a real bonus!. It’s been so long since I saw a seahorse alive.