Please report set nets in the Tāmaki Estuary

I made this sign to help the Tāmaki Estuary Protection Society enforce the set net ban. I am uploading it here so that the map in particular is easily found on the internet.

Set nets are banned in the Tāmaki Estuary. Set nets indiscriminately catch non- target fish species; birds and mammals. There has been a recent increase in illegal set netting in the Tāmaki Estuary, please help protect our fisheries and other wildlife.

If you see a set net within the banned area:

  • Please urgently contact 0800 4 POACHER (0800 47 6224)
  • Please report the set net location details and any vehicle license plate. Photos and details can be emailed to

Your kaitiakitanga will be appreciated by generations to come, kia kaha!

Here is the link to a PDF of the sign.

The plastic bottle tripod

From my experiments with underwater tripods I learnt that weight is more important than a wide base for maintaining stability. This is version two of my plastic bottle tripod which I deployed in a gull colony and was pleased with the results. Construction notes:

  • Painted 1.5L orange juice bottle (thx Charlies Orange Juice)
  • Slit down the side for inserting 5kg of dive weights
  • Washers on either side of screw through lid help with stability (flexible plastic lids introduce some wind wobble)

Training my computer to draw birds

Of all the jobs that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will replace over the next few decades I never thought mine would be top of the list. I got my degree in illustration 20 years ago, since then I have picked up many more skills but I have always been most proud of my ability to draw. I thought it made me more ‘visually intelligent’ than other creatives because of the volume of data an illustrator has to generate. Over the last few months I have been absolutely blown away by three tools, DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney. These AI tools are so much faster than me, they have more range, and in most cases are just better at drawing than me. If you want to see what they can do checkout this gallery.

The tools do have some limitations, the main one being the sizes of the images they can draw, but most of these will get solved with market demand. Of course the first thing I wanted to know is how good it was at drawing the things I love, New Zealand animals. My ego was quite pleased to see them fail miserably and in quite entertaining ways (go try kiwi here). Here are some examples of white-faced herons (I have chosen a very well photographed species on purpose).

This is mostly because the AI’s have not been trained how to draw these animals. In the above examples MidJourney and Stable Diffusion confuse our native heron (which can also be found in Australia) with a North American Great blue heron. Developers are working on multiple ways for users to be able to train tools to draw specific subjects. One of them (DreamBoth for Stable Diffusion) involves training a model based on 20 or so images. I happen to be a very organised photographer with 2,700 bird photos and 3,300 photos of invertebrates all cataloged by name, place and time. It took me some time to figure out how to do it and it takes a lot of computing power to train the models, here are the 20 photos I used to train my white-faced heron model.

And here are some of the results (good and bad):

You can see there are still some problems but its pretty good! I can easily fix them up to create future works.

I have been using the tools to create components for illustrations (photo bashing). Here is an example that would have taken me ages to draw from scratch.

James Cook and his men encounter a kahikatea forest in the Waihou River in 1769

I’m excited about the tools and think they will make my work better, faster and cheaper.

Tarāpunga / red-billed gulls nest extension

The tarāpunga that nest under the Panmure bridge are heavily impacted by humans, the national population is in decline. While deploying a nesting structure for tara / white-fronted tern yesterday we also added a small extension to the Panmure tarāpunga nesting structure. We upcycled old wood which fitted the rustic nature of the old bridge. The six nesting areas were c35cm x 25cm. The gulls were already a few weeks into nesting with some three eggs nests. As the colony is currently space limited I think the structure will help, but we may have been a bit late deploying. The gulls also nest on boats in the estuary so if some get disturbed they may move to the main colony. It was promising to see two gulls having a tussle over the new nesting area while we exited the estuary.

Photo taken 5:30pm 18 September. Gulls regularly seen on the platform, but not sitting.
Photo taken 2 November. Success!
Photo taken on pole camera shows six nests.

I checked many old boats moored in the Estuary and did not find any with nests which is great. One pair of gulls nested on a post, another on a jetty where it’s likely to be disturbed. There is a clear case for extending the nesting platform in 2023.

This photo of a parent attending a chick in the current upstream from the colony indicates there may be some benefits to creating a ramp of sorts for the juveniles.
New addition added. Noted 8 infertile eggs on site, one dead chick, two chicks remaining, no dead birds with fishing line attached but any bodies may have been blown into the estuary by the cyclone. Some fishing line removed from site. One fledgling was in the water and calling, it would be good to have a ramp or additional floating area(s), this may reduce chick mortality and would definitely reduce colony stress.

Missing reef balls

24 Reef balls were deployed in two reefs at Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve in 2001.

Launching the reef balls, photo care of Jonathan Jaffrey

They were quickly colonised and dramatically increased the biodiversity in the area.

A lonely reef ball, photo care of Jonathan Jaffrey.

I have wanted to find these artificial reefs for years and made three attempts. The first dive from the shore was unsuccessful (its too far out and I dont have underwater GPS). The second and third efforts below used line and sonar but still came up empty. I think they have been buried (sunk into the substrate) but I would love to be wrong. The photo above shows a lot more shell on the seafloor than I found 20 years later. I’m not planning any future searches.

12 January 2022
4:15pm High Tide
5-10 knots
.5m-1m swell
Shaun Lee & Jordi Tablada

Boat to from Winstons Cove to Long Bay
12:00pm Look for Reef Balls:

Zig Zag Reef
36° 40’ 52” S, 174° 45’ 14.8” E
36.681111, 174.754111
5.5m at Low tide

Octagon Reef
36° 40’ 51.1” S, 174° 45’ 19.6” E
36.680861, 174.755444
6.2 M at low tide

Dropped anchor 5m from Zig Zag using Garmin GPS
Dived down anchor with line on reel
Vis 5m surface, <1m bottom 5.5m deep, tied line around anchor, spiral search pattern Let line out >30m possibly didn’t turn enough and made more of a sweeping arc
Hoped line would have snagged of epibenthic fauna attached to reef balls but following line back found nothing
Quick check near boat found nothing c30mins total bottom time
Noted layer of mud under sand
A few cushion stars, some heart urchins, Jordi saw a Spengler’s Trumpet
Some dead tutua shells under sand
Large snapper under us when we surfaced

Dropped anchor 5m from Octagon using Garmin GPS
7 minute look in the direction of the reef
Nothing in particular

2:30pm head back as wind pickup up (15knots developing in afternoon).

Resolved to search with a boat that has sonar / fish finder next time.

Thursday 9 September 2022
High Tide 5:30pm
With skipper Ed Chignell

Zig Zag Reef 6.7m
c7 spirals out from waypoint. No clear benthic structure seen on downscan or sidescan.

Octagon Reef 8m
c3 spirals out from waypoint. Drifted south over fishy looking shape 5m south of the waypoint on the downscan. It was still there 5 minutes later so we dropped anchor on it.

I descended the anchor line. Vis 3m, bottom 8.8m. I spiralled out from the anchor for 5 minutes then headed north for an additional 5 minutes. The seafloor was sand/mud with some shell. Nine cushion stars and about six large hermit crabs were seen in 10 minutes. After ascending and heading a bit further south I dropped down for another 5 minutes to check out another fishy shape but didn’t see any reef balls or fish. Many fish were seen in the fish finder.

Note visibility much better than last dive even tho it rained heavily just a few days ago. Hardly any swell or wind over the last two days.


Article about the find here

Thanks to Andreas Proesl who has been in touch and supplied his internship report which shows how the ReefBalls were constructed and deployed

Strobe vs video light

With video lights increasing in power some underwater photographers are wondering if they should skip the strobes and go for more expensive videos lights that deliver a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) photographic experience. Here I test a Sea & Sea YS-D3 II Strobe and a BigBlue 36000-Lumen Pro Video light. See testing setup photo above with lamp on which was turned off for the test. Settings: 1/250, F14, ISO 100 on an exposed and fogged up Laowa Probe Lens with no focusing light.

YS-D3 II Strobe only on left hand side. Full power manual no focus light, default diffuser on.
BigBlue 36000-Lumen Pro Video only on right hand side. Full power.
Strobe on left video light on right.

They seem to be about equal power which is interesting as I would have thought I would get more power from the strobe which has a guide number of 33. The difference in colour temperature is negligible with white balance set to auto (YS-D3 II Strobe = 5,800k, BigBlue 36000 = 6,500k).

I think its safe to call the YS-D3 II Strobe a 36,000 lumen light.

Kayak diving

I figured out how to dive from my kayak this summer. It’s been really fun with lots of advantages including:

  • Less swimming effort for shore dives
  • Lower emissions than diving from a boat
  • Some locations are easier for me to access via kayak
  • Less drama / hassle than a boat

At first I tried towing my kayak to the water with my tank onboard. The C-Tug SandTrakz Cart Kayak Trolley is great but not designed to carry so much weight. Even without the tank I have broken one of the straps. I now carry my tank and BCD while towing the kayak with everything else onboard including my weights.

The other thing I find very useful is these stainless steel D-Eye Swivel Snap Hooks. The anchor, wheels and camera all get clipped on so nothing falls off. Even though I have clips for my paddle I tie it on as I really dont want my paddle gone when I resurface.

I found putting the BCD on in the kayak too hard so I just do that in the water, it has its own little rope & clip so it does not float away. I also 3D printed a fitting to get a little dive flag going but it should be bigger.

I love having more gear closer when shore diving, including my phone, dry keys and something warm to eat as soon as I get out of the water :D. I’m sure my set up will evolve over time (I need a slightly heavier anchor for soft substrates) but I’m really happy with this and plan to do lots more.

Extra photos by Kirk Tucker

Fooling flamingos

I have been helping out Auckland Zoo and the Department of Conservation with important conservation work, and last year Auckland Zoo had an unusual request.

 “Can you make flamingo eggs? Our flock of Greater flamingos have a tendency to kick their eggs into the water, so we give them a ‘dummy’ egg whilst we place their precious egg safely in an incubator.”

In the past I have only assisted with endemic or threatened species so I was a little hesitant, that was until I went on a short tour of the Zoo’s flamingo habitat and met the birds. I learnt that in the wild, flamingo habitat is indeed threatened, and I was captivated by these elegant, head-high birds. One of the young females named ‘Otis’ wandered over and gave me a friendly chest bump. Immediately smitten, I  have made 21 eggs for the flock. There were two technical challenges:

  1. The eggs have an unusually rough surface, I started off covering the smooth 3D printed models with epoxy but this quickly became laborious. Instead, I sculpted a texture on the 3D model and was impressed how well it printed.
  2. I had to get the weight just right. I achieved this by filling the eggs with sterilised sand, then water to make sure pressure changes from expanding and contracting air bubbles would not stress the resin shells.

One of the eggs has been successfully tested and I hope Otis & co will be happier spending more time sitting on eggs.