In 2009 divers from Northland Dive descended on the wreck. By accident they discovered a great natural phenomenon of New Zealand's underwater world.
Sunk as a wreck for scuba divers in 2007, the ex-HMNZS Canterbury has since become an artificial reef within the Bay of Islands. Colonies of Corynactis australis (Jewel Anemones) have propagated along the railings around the wreck and on the hull itself.
In 2009 divers from Northland Dive descended on the wreck. By accident they discovered a great natural phenomenon of New Zealand's underwater world.
Corynactis australis are known for their high degree of colour variability. In addition to spawning they also reproduce by fission. Their bodies split in half vertically, forming patches of similarly coloured individuals.
Big things can start out in small ways. The email read, “I was out diving yesterday”. Just like that a train of messages kicked off and before I had finished reading I was jumping up and down with excitement – the latest mollusc to be found in New Zealand was a sap-sucking sea slug!
Paul Caiger was scuba diving near the mouth of Ti Point looking for triplefin nests back in November 2014. That might seem like an odd thing to be out doing, unless you’re a PhD student at the Leigh Marine Laboratory. Paul is researching evolutionary ecology in triplefins in the Hauraki Gulf.
A small black sea slug, 10-15 millimetres long, was crawling around on some turfing algae in the rocky shallows. It caught Paul’s eye, and he didn’t recognise it. Being the scientist that he is, he whipped out the trusty little collection bag kept on hand for just such an occasion and took a couple of specimens back to the lab to get some decent photos.
Paul had a sneaking suspicion he had stumbled upon Ercolania boodleae. Except that Ercolania boodleae had never been reported in New Zealand before. He emailed the mollusc expert Dr Richard Willan. Dr Willan is the Senior Curator of Molluscs at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Australia. He’s also a kiwi and our go-to guy when we find new and unusual molluscs.
Dr Willan came back with the remarkable news, “you are absolutely right! It is Ercolania boodleae (Baba, 1938) (Sacoglossa: Limapontiidae) AND this is the first record for New Zealand…This is extremely exciting as it represents the most recent introduction of a mollusc to New Zealand”. Yeeeeeaaaaaaah baby!
As you’re reading this, you can’t see that I’m doing the dance that you do when you find out that a new sea slug has been discovered in your backyard. Sea slug lovers will know what I mean. Others may be left baffled by my excitement. What I can say is WELL DONE PAUL! This is a fantastic find.
As it turns out, Ercolania boodleae, with its body covered in pencil-like cerata, is getting around. In 2014 it was reported from the central Gulf of California. Dr Willan posed an interesting question, “why should it spread globally when almost no other sacoglossan is doing the same (except for Stiliger aureomarginatus and Aplysiopsis formosa)?” We don’t have the answer.
We can’t say for sure if this is a very recent introduction to northern New Zealand. Dr Willan postulated, “If they had been spotted previously, it is likely they would have been misidentified as (a colour form) of Ercolania felina despite obvious differences in body form and habitat.”
Paul has the preserved specimens of Ercolania boodleae ready to be delivered to the Auckland Museum for their marine invertebrates collection. We are hoping that this new find will be included in the Checklist of New Zealand Molluscs.
Divers are encouraged to look out for Ercolania boodleae and report their findings so that we might get an idea of the population's density and size range. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you think you've spotted these sea slugs around New Zealand - photos appreciated!
Very special thanks to Paul Caiger and Dr Richard Willan for sharing this discovery with me.
All photographs copyright Paul Caiger.
Name: Ercolania boodleae
Size: Approximately 10-15 mm.
Description: Upper body surface covered in black cerata with orange-brown caps, rhinophores are black and white.
Location: Found at a depth of about 4 metres at Ti Point, near Whangateau in the upper North Island of New Zealand.
Record: 8 or 9 specimens - first New Zealand record. Known from Australia, Japan and the Gulf of California.
Breaking News - August 2015
Paul Caiger's discovery of Ercolania boodleae in New Zealand has been published in Sportdiving Magazine.
Willan, R.C., Perkins, A.J. & Caiger, P.E. (2015). Boodlea baffles biologists. Sportdiving Magazine 169: 74-76.
The article has been sent to Professor Hamish Spencer for incorporation into the Checklist of the Recent Mollusca Recorded from the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone (http://www.molluscs.otago.ac.nz).
The article has also been sent to Lisa Marie, Incursion Investigator with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). MPI is interested in any new-to-New Zealand species - plant, animal or disease. They have staff on duty 24/7 for terrestrial and marine reports. If you ever find a new critter or witness a mass mortality event (e.g. fish stranding), phone MPI on 0800 80 99 66. MPI are happy to check things out and have laboratory facilities for investigating suspected diseases. We don't need any more pests in our marine space.
A risk assessment will be performed on Ercolania boodleae to determine if there is any threat to our environment. Many thanks to Lisa from the Surveillance and Incursion Investigation (Animals and Marine) Team, it's great to know they've got our back.
I'm thrilled that this story has had a happy ending. For a while it looked like finding a place to publish this discovery would allude us and we would have no official record. Dr Richard Willan has done a fantastic job writing up this discovery and securing publication in Sportdiving Magazine. Thank you Richard and Paul!
I’m a terrible aunt.
I don’t turn up at your birthday or Christmas with a swag of presents. Your parents have provided so well for you, you just don’t seem to need more ‘stuff’.
I haven’t done a good job caring for you. When Freddie was barely more than a baby I let him play in puddles in the backyard in winter. How was I to know that little kids can get hypothermia while playing so happily? You looked like you were having a wild time and I hated to disturb you. Thankfully you have great parents.
I don’t live next door. I never pop over to say “hi” or bring cake. I’ll probably never be in the audience at your school play, dance recital or graduation.
I will tell you that you can’t have that chocolate – you already have the energy of a thousand batteries, the last thing you need is more sugar.
I’m a terrible aunt.
This is not to say that I don’t love you. When we’re together, we can jump on the trampoline until our tongues hang out. We can flop in the grass for five minutes and repeat.
We can do tricks on our bikes, build cubby houses and spend the day in the pool. We can play with dolls, trucks and computers too, on rainy days. On fine days we play outside.
When you play with me you’ll get wet feet, dirty fingernails, a muddy bum and splinters that we’ll have to attack with a needle. Unless you’re a supermodel there’s no value in arriving at forty years without a scar or six.
Our time together can be about living, loving and camaraderie. It’s not a gift that packs nicely into a box.
If you should come to me one day and say, “I want to learn to scuba dive,” I will be thrilled. For the world below water has given me some of the greatest joys of my life and what more could I want than to share it with you?
I’m a terrible aunt. But I love you all to bits.
Auntie Ali XXOO
Winners of the 2014 New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition were announced at a gala event on Auckland’s waterfront last night. The evening was a culmination to the sixth annual exhibition of the photographic finalists and was celebrated with food, drinks and live music before a presentation of the winners.
Guest speaker and ambassador for Nikon Chris McLennan wowed the audience with an impressive collection of wildlife and landscape images from Svalbard, Alaska and Africa, and those were just his shots taken this year. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the work of kiwi Chris McLennan, who hails from the Queenstown area, you can easily lose yourself for an afternoon on his website.
Presenting the winners of the competition, James Frankham, editor of New Zealand Geographic magazine, commented that the winning photographs were chosen from among the 3400 entries because they captured their subjects in an original and insightful way; they were unique and universally engaging.
The underwater picture of a small jewel anemone captured in the throes of love-making and broadcast to the world (thank goodness you don’t need a model release from an invertebrate!) walked away with two awards from the event: a highly commended in the wildlife category and winner of the Colour Award from sponsor Resene.
One of the competition judges Arno Gasteiger made the general comment, “luck favours the prepared”.
“Who won the People’s Choice Award” I can hear you screaming? 36,000 people voted and the people have spoken. The champion was Kelly Wilson’s photograph of the Kaimanawa horses, a population of feral horses in New Zealand descended from domestic horses released in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each year the horses are mustered to control herd numbers and horses that can’t be re-homed are slaughtered. The Wilson sisters Kelly, Vicki and Amanda have been working hard to place the horses in homes.
In breaking news James Frankham announced a new category for the 2015 competition, which will open for entries in May: time-lapse. We have been instructed to work out what an intervalometer is, but more importantly for me – do they work underwater?!
To see all the category winners from the competition visit the New Zealand Geographic website. Or pick up the November/December issue of the magazine, in stores November 3rd.
This has been an exciting experience for me and I want to personally thank Julia and Shane from Northland Dive who always take me out on amazing scuba dives and who shared with me the very special anemone-spawning event. I also want to thank my family and many wonderful friends who are openly critical of my photographs when appropriate and from who the warm wishes have been flooding in. Your support means the world to me.
Springtime in New Zealand – you would think it would be a time to celebrate the approaching summer of fun. The sun starts to shine again, the temperature starts to rise, and you have some long weekends coming up and the prospect of three-day diving trips. But a funky gloom settles over kiwi scuba divers. It’s coming, we all know it, an insidious green ocean fog.
It descends on New Zealand every spring, some time in September or October. It’s the dreaded phytoplankton bloom, turning our normally beautiful blue seas into something green, murky and slightly toxic-looking. You could be mistaken for thinking Ebola had been announced in New Zealand the way you hear some divers talking about spring diving. There is an obsession with the visibility and whether it’s worth dropping into the water. As you pull up by boat to a dive site, divers peer uncertainly into the water, squinting, heads tilted sideways. Everybody is asking “how does the viz look?” And some are seriously thinking: should I have stayed home to clean the house and reseal the deck?
What is this phenomenon that can turn your normally hardy kiwi diver into a bad tempered couch-surfer? What is plankton?
"I’m not coming out of my room until the viz improves."
plankton n. the forms of organic life (chiefly microscopic) that float in the sea or fresh water.
Plankton is made up of many kinds of organisms. Phytoplankton, or plant plankton, are single-celled photosynthetic organisms which manufacture food using energy from sunlight and these microscopic buggers are important.
Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand says:
Phytoplankton perform three main functions, crucial to life on earth:
The most well known phytoplankton are microscopic algae. The distribution and quantity of phytoplankton depends on light penetration, the stability of water layers and the availability of nutrients. Around New Zealand there is usually a spring-time bloom of phytoplankton algae in surface waters. At this time, surface temperatures rise, sunlight hours increase and nutrients become abundant following winter cooling and the stirring action of storms. Phytoplankton grow and reproduce rapidly, doubling their population each day…
When this happens, the visibility underwater can go from good to bad, and even really, really, really bad. As a diver how do you survive this annual phytoplankton bloom?
Murphy’s Law applies to scuba diving: something epic will always happen on the dive you don’t do. Is your fear of bad visibility causing you to miss out on something awesome? Don’t let the plankton get you down.
The secret sex life of anemones inspires judges in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year Competition
Dancing a jig at my keyboard, I’m thrilled to announce that I have been selected as a finalist in the New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year competition!
The competition features images shot entirely within the New Zealand territory in the past year and a half. There are four categories: wildlife, landscape, society & culture, and photostory. Just 22 finalists have been selected from some 3200 entries.
My photo is now on display in Cathedral Square in Christchurch (9th to 31st August 2014) as part of a free outdoor public exhibition featuring the finalists of the 2014 competition and some of the best images entered in the previous five years. The winners will be announced on 30th October at an event in Auckland.
Every species “does it” their own way. While the Kama Sutra might be strictly for Homo sapiens, jewel anemones (Corynactis australis) have a few different tricks in their own playbook. Jewel anemones reproduce through two methods: longitudinal fission and spawning. In longitudinal fission, the anemones split down the middle to form clusters of clones, the beautiful like-coloured patches of anemones that we find underwater on wrecks and walls in New Zealand.
It was the spawning that I set out to photograph, a synchronised mass reproductive event during which female anemones release eggs and male anemones eject sperm. The event is rare and for someone like me (who gets far too animated about anything that happens underwater), I can tell you it is exciting stuff.
The photo above is NOT the one I entered in the competition, but I just couldn't resist sharing this picture of a cheeky leatherjacket fish coming in for an opportunistic feed at the expense of the spawning female anemones.
Visit the New Zealand Geographic website to see my picture of female anemones in the throes of releasing eggs. While you're there you might like to vote for your favourite three photos (the People's Choice award). It will be tough for you to choose as there are so many exciting images on display.
It has been awesome to have my underwater photography recognised in this competition. I look forward to loads more scuba diving adventures and the challenges that come with trying to capture stunning photos of New Zealand's underwater wonderland.
Death by lemon shark - it would make an interesting tombstone.
Scuba diving at night with sharks; it's exhilarating, or the stuff of nightmares depending on your point of view. Enveloped by inky blackness as the sun steers below the sea, the water gets thicker, the sharks move faster and it's hard to see them coming. So it seems.
For an underwater photographer fascinated by sharks - it's the best and the worst. Flashes of velvet white belly against a silk curtain of jet-black; there must be some great pictures there for the taking: if you can get a focus lock on your camera in the low light, if you can see your subject coming, if your model and its toothy grimace aren't crash landing at your feet in a cloud of silt.
Mid-water, at speed, a lemon shark is bearing down on me. It's a robust, medium shark with a generous girth. A shark of this size doesn't make you think about being cautious, survival instinct means you are. Something doesn't feel right. I have been approached by lemon sharks. They look like rotund grey hovercrafts suspended a couple of inches off the sand. This one looks like a barreling train, and its monorail leads right to my head.
I'm convinced collision is imminent. Momentary panic. Heart racing. Is this shark really going to hit me? Without warning, like a plane mysteriously shot from the sky, the shark flips belly up, dives and crashes nose first into the sand.
I fired off one shot.
It was vexing behaviour. I'm not a marine biologist, I can only speculate. Driven mad by a parasitic itch? They’re so hard to scratch when you don’t have hands. Looking to shake off the relentless swarm of remoras around its head? It was a passing shark, I didn't ask it. I slumped back astonished. Then swam off, inspired for more harmless night diving encounters with sharks.