Unprepared snorkellers at a popular marine reserve north of Auckland are getting into difficulties in the water, with growing numbers needing rescuing.
Record numbers of visitors to the Goat Island Marine Reserve 25km north of Warkworth have kept Glass Bottom Boat operator Ivan Blackwell busy pulling exhausted and panicking people out of the water when they have gone too far from shore.
“There have been a lot of near misses. I drag people back to the beach who just overestimate their ability. They follow others out, thinking they’ll be fine but with so little experience they don’t have a show of getting back. Some have even needed hospital treatment they’re so bad,” says Mr Blackwell.
These incidents, together with a recent death of a snorkeller late last year, have prompted the Department of Conservation to call for people to heed the advice of the Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) and take more care.
Snorkelling, like all water-based activities carries some risk but is really very safe for those that follow the rules, explains Matt Claridge, General Manager WSNZ.
“Don’t let the rush to have fun end in tragedy. Wearing a wetsuit to give some buoyancy and sticking with a buddy in the water can save lives,” says Mr Claridge.
On the scene at many of the incidents has been Leigh Volunteer Fire Brigade officer and DOC summer warden Tony Enderby.
"We see it all the time. If people hire masks, fins and snorkels and no wetsuit or body board, this is the sort of thing that happens — especially if they go off on their own and don’t look out for each other,'' he says.
The Cape Rodney to Okakari Point Marine Reserve (commonly known as Goat Island marine reserve) is one of New Zealand’s most popular marine reserves and receives up to 300,000 visitors each year.
Goat Island was established in 1975 as New Zealand’s first marine reserve. It is located near Leigh, about one and a half hour’s drive north of Auckland.
The reserve is an important site for scientific study, with the University of Auckland marine laboratory located nearby.