Members of the local community carried out shellfish monitoring and went kayaking amongst the mangroves as part of a close-up exploration of Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve.

Date:  04 April 2012

Wet and windy weather on 31 March 2012 didn’t stop a group of keen individuals to explore the inter-tidal zone of Waikaraka near Onerahi, which is part of the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve.

Kim Jones from Experiencing Marine Reserves (EMR) was joined by Dr Roger Grace from Mountains to Sea Conservation Trust (MTSCT), Department of Conservation (DOC) Ranger Angela Handforth and members of the community to see what animals were lurking just below the surface of the sand.

Dr Roger Grace (MTSCT), Angela Handforth (DOC) and Jimmy Buckland-Blair from Waikaraka hunting for life in the inter-tidal zone.
Dr Roger Grace (MTSCT), Angela Handforth (DOC) and Jimmy Buckland-Blair from Waikaraka hunting for life in the inter-tidal zone

“You can walk along the surface of a beach at low tide, and have no idea what’s just below your feet,” says Kim Jones (EMR). “Only when you stop and have a good look do you realise the incredible creatures and amazing diversity that lives here”.

The group followed a method used by the Community Shellfish Monitoring Programme in Auckland, supported by Auckland Council, to monitor changes in shellfish and other life on estuary flats. Annual surveys are done along transects at several sites. A square frame marks an area of sand, which is then dug out to a certain depth. The sand is then sieved away revealing shellfish and other creatures that are noted and measured before being returned to their home.

“We found a number of cockles, as well as nut shells, wedge shells, whelks and bubble shells,” says Dr Grace. “We also found some things that were surprising, but for this information to be really useful it would be good to do the same thing over a period of time”. The group in Auckland were able to spot trends that were occurring in the cockle population, and feed this information into decisions being made about the management of those areas. With community support, a similar ongoing survey could occur at Waikaraka as well as other sites in the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve and other Northland estuaries.

Venturing through the magnificent mangroves to see where the pied shags nest with Pacific Coast Kayaks.
Venturing through the magnificent mangroves to see where the pied shags nest with Pacific Coast Kayaks

In the afternoon, other members of the community came to take part in a different exploration of the Marine Reserve. With the tide now high, and the inter-tidal zone completely submerged, the best way to investigate the area was by kayak. With the help of Pacific Coast Kayaks, intrepid explorers braved the rolling waves to paddle into the bay. Shelter was then sought and provided by the mangroves that grow around the edge of the reserve.

“There is truly no better way to see the large mangroves that grow here and the wildlife that lives in them,” says Angela Handforth (DOC). “In a kayak you can cruise right under the roosting sites of pied shags and observe them in a manner that just isn’t possible any other way”. The endemic pied shag has been one of the creatures to benefit from the protection offered by the reserve. The birds eat fish that come to feed and spawn in the mangroves. Pied shags hunt their food by driving through the water and chasing schools of fish. Unfortunately, this practise has meant that some birds ended up being accidentally caught in fishing nets. With no fishing allowed in the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve, the shags are now free to dive in safety and it is believed that there are now some 200 pied shags in the Whangarei Harbour region alone.

Waikaraka in the Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve takes on a different perspective when observed close up, or from the water. It is hoped that more community days in the future can help to reveal the less often seen side of this accessible Marine Reserve.


Visit Whangarei Harbour Marine Reserve


Angela Handforth

Whangarei Office
Phone:   +64 9 470 3300
Fax:   +64 4 471 1117
Address:   2 South End Ave
Whangarei 0110
Postal Address:   PO Box 842
Whangarei 0140
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