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.

Weeds on Motukorea

After the fire on Browns Island, lots of noxious weeds took hold. Although it looked like the crater was going to be dominated by bracken the weeds are winning. Black nightshade is dominant and there are thousands of woolly nightshades coming up, some as large as 1 meter wide already. Inkweed, apple of sodom and boneseed are also sitting up above the kikuyu.

Click for high res 360° image of the crater

Wooly Nightshade

I casually pulled up about 100 mullien but did not make a noticeable impact. Most disturbing was this animal dropping I found on a large mullien leaf.