Recreational diving is the biggest activity at the Poor Knights today. Jacques Cousteau rated the Islands as one of the top ten dive spots in the world. In hindsight the Poor Knights should have been a fully protected marine reserve from the start. In 1971 Parliament created the marine reserves act and in 1981 the Poor Knights finally became the country’s second marine reserve. It took another seventeen years 1998 to fully protect the remaining 95% of its area from fishing. A recent study by Auckland university PHD student Chris Denny found that snapper had increased 14 fold between 1999 and 2001.
The warm East Auckland current originating in the north Tasman near Lord Howe Island keeps the water temperature a degree are two warmer than on the mainland. The islands rise sharply from relatively deep water and there are no rivers or streams to cloud the water with sediment. Divers can expect remarkable visibility, sometimes in excess of 90 meters. The Southward flowing current is a conveyor belt of tropic water carrying exotic fish and warm water mollusks. Some of New Zealands best known scuba pioneers such as Wade Doak, Kelly Tarlton and Bill Palmer where part of the trailblazing era Poor Knigths diving. Every dive brought the possibility of finding new species, not just new to New Zealand, but new to science. Wade Doak said, it was like being the first guys on the moon. Deep dives up to 60 metres were common; few today would risk such deep descents. Many of the greatest finds lay at this limit. The largest measured Black coral tree in the world at 4.6 metre from base to tip. Of the sixteen caves around the islands Rikoriko cave is the most impressive, believed to be the largest sea cave in the world, big enough to accommodate several boats. A Japanese submarine is said to have hidden in the cave during World War 11. Perhaps the most unusual is Air bubble cave, containing a pocket of trapped air which is large enough for divers to stand up in and breath.
Although the total exclusion of fisherman from the Poor Knights caused economic hardship for some charter boats, at the time, I think the whole feel of the Islands is better today and increased concentrations of fish numbers clear justification for the reserve.
Guy & Sandra Bowden are owners of Tawapou Coastal Natives Plant Nursery on the Tutukaka Coast. Guy grew up on the Tutukaka Coast and has been passionate about NZ native plants all his life. His interest was kindled by his conservationist parents who began protecting sections of native bush and pohutukaka on the cliffs of the property over forty years ago. Guy talks about The Poor Knights Islands in relation to location & geology; history; plants and birds on the islands; reptiles, insects and snails on the islands; marine life and the 1996 weed eradication programme.