Hear our voice – marine biologist Dr Roger Grace
Dr Roger Grace is a well-known and highly respected marine biologist, campaigner, and photographer whose expertise in marine protected areas has been a vital element to the Sea Change campaign. Here Roger tells us, in his typically humble manner, about his fascinating life and the changes he has seen in the Hauraki Gulf. In 2016 Roger was awarded one of Forest & Bird’s top honours, the Old Blue, for his immense contribution to marine conservation over several decades.
I am a self-employed independent marine biologist, now semi-retired. I did my University work at Auckland University, finishing at the Leigh Marine Laboratory where I was the first student to use scuba as a research tool (1965). I graduated with a PhD in 1972, and have been scuba diving since 1960. I have a lot of experience in northern New Zealand, where I have carried out many surveys, written environmental impact reports for numerous commercial clients, and since 1976 done long-term monitoring of fish and crayfish in marine parks and reserves for clients such as Lands and Survey, Lion Breweries, Auckland Regional Authority, Department of Conservation, Auckland Regional Council, and recently independently just because I think it is important.
I was a contract photographer for Greenpeace from 1990 to 2007, working on many marine campaigns on their ships in areas like Antarctica, Indian and Pacific Oceans, Mediterranean, northern Scotland, Australia, and a land-based campaign in India. I have been a Forest and Bird member since I was a 10-year-old child, and accredit much of my adult interest in natural history to the background of many F&B bus trips around the Auckland Region in my childhood days. I have written many magazine articles on marine conservation topics, and frequently speak to clubs and schools on the value of no-take marine reserves.
Changes in the Hauraki Gulf
I have seen the disappearance of the large schools of trevally and kahawai which used to be abundant in the Gulf. In 1961 my first diving trip was at Tiritiri where there was dense kelp forest on the reefs and crayfish feelers bristling out of every crevice. Now it is a kina barrens nightmare, most of the kelp has gone and crays are rare if not absent. A photo taken in 1945 showed a fisherman with a 14ft clinker dinghy who had been fishing at Tiritiri for the day. He had five huge hapūku, heads and tails hanging over the sides of the boat. People don’t believe hapūku were once a common shallow reef fish. All retreated to 100 to 200 metre deep pinnacles offshore where they are now uncommon and small. Most shallow reefs in the Gulf are now occupied by kina barrens rather than kelp because there are simply not enough snapper and crayfish left to carry out their ecological function of keeping kina under control. This problem is corrected given time in no-take marine reserves. The number of people using the Gulf, mainly for fishing, has skyrocketed in the last 10 or 20 years with consequent impacts.
What does the Gulf mean to me?
The Hauraki Gulf has been my main playground all my life. Diving throughout the Gulf, photographing and studying its inhabitants and trying to look after its long-term wellbeing, has been my life passion.
Why did I join the campaign and what is my role?
After the Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Plan was released late in 2016, it dropped into a bit of a vacuum waiting for Government and Local Body Authorities to pick it up and make things happen. I was concerned that unless there was a serious push from the public it was likely the Marine Spatial Plan would get forgotten and ‘swept under the carpet’. So I approached Forest and Bird, as the largest and most credible NGO to work on this, to see if they would pick up the reins and work on a campaign to get the Sea Change plan implemented, including the creation of the 15 Marine Protected Areas which are recommended in the Plan. My role has been to interest Forest and Bird in this process, and my initial approach was to Kevin Hague in mid 2017. He was enthusiastic and got the ball rolling.
Add your voice to the campaign and tell the NZ Government to put the Sea Change plan into action to rebuild the health of the Hauraki Gulf at: www.forestandbird.org.nz/seachange
A version of this article first appeared in Forest & Bird magazine, see www.issuu.com/forestandbird or join Forest & Bird to receive the latest issue.