By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2004- )
It is easy to ignore degradation if it does
not happen in one's own backyard. New Zealanders in particular live in
a dream world of believing that their country is green and clean, a message
loudly heralded by both government and commerce to lure more tourists to
God's Own Country. But over the years, alarming messages have appeared
in newspapers and elsewhere, and these are summarised here to leave no
doubt about the seriousness and escalation of ill health in the sea. Perhaps
there exist similarities with the situations elsewhere in the world, something
we can learn from. As this subject has been my focus of study since
1987, many observations will be mine alone. I hope others will learn how
to observe and share their observations with me. Have you seen changes
in the sea? Click here and report them
As degradation intensifies, one sees more and more symptoms, while also
new symptoms are seen for the first time. By recording these, perhaps an
order of importance or severity can be established, which may lead to further
understanding of the whole phenomenon. Here is a time line of events as
they have been recorded or remembered. It is hoped that you, the reader,
can add to it or make improvements. Question marks identify uncertainty.
Note our observation of fish mass mortalities every 9 years after an El
Niño event, indicating stagnation of ocean currents: 1983,
1992, 2001, 2010, 2019?
1982?: black coral dies around the Poor Knights [observed by many
divers] and further in the outer Hauraki Gulf, Simpson Rock, Great Barrier
I. Young black coral trees can still be found around Port Fitzroy, Gt Barrier
1983?: mass mortality of demoiselles on the Poor Knights, Cavallis
and Matauri Bay, noticed by many divers. 
1983: mass mortality of scallops and giant heart urchin (Brissus
gigas) due to suffocating diatom slime (Cerataulina pelagica)
1983?: brown slime (Ostreopsis spp.) first noted in autumn
at Goat Island. Some sea urchins die. This symptom comes back every autumn
and intensifies. By 1994 it is an all-year event with mass mortalities
of grazing snails and sea urchins. 
1983: mass mortality of some sponges,
particularly the rough fingersponge
(Callispongia ramosa). 
1984-1987: many instances of large areas of sick kelp, as if infected
by fungus, seen by many divers and scientists. 
1987: Degradation recognised as a severe, recurring event with rapidly
increasing intensity. 
1989-1990: 60% of adult breeding yellow-eyed penguins wiped out
by a mystery virus that also killed albatross in Otago. [NZH19980521]
1990: Seafriends marine conservation centre established to save
our seas. Why are we losing so much so fast? 
1992: mass mortalities of plankton-eating
schooling fish (40-80%): blue maomao, trevally, koheru, jack mackerel,
demoiselle. Also a sudden decline in pink maomao and wrasses. 
1993: kelpbed deaths in the outer Hauraki Gulf: Leigh, Tawharanui,
Kawau, Little Barrier I, Great Barrier I, Arid I, Mokohinau, Hen
& Chickens. Observed by many, including scientists.  
Many sponges die and again Callispongia ramosa. 
Further decline in many fish species in the outer Hauraki Gulf, Poor Knights,
Mokohinau, Mayor Island, Cavalli, Cape Brett. 
1994-96: mass mortalities of sea urchins from the far north to Mayor
1994: Many serious plankton blooms and the discovery that these
are rather poisonous. Unfortunately no newspaper articles retained.
1995: brown fluff becomes a yearlong event and is observed in far
away places. 
Brown slime (Ostreopsis) kills grazers in rockpools, Goat Island
marine reserve. 
Brown slime is identified as a benthic dinoflagellate of the Ostreopsis
genus. More poisonous benthic species are discovered.
Mass bullkelp die-off(Durvillaea antarctica) on westcoast
beaches, also noted in 1960 
May: Tamaki Strait shellfish taking ban due to PSP toxin. [NZH19950516]
July 12: mass mortalities of pilchard(Sardinops neopilchardus)
in the outer Haurak Gulf, lasting four weeks, seen by many . The mortality
is later attributed to a herpes-like virus.  [NZH19950627]
Aug: unusually large numbers of dead blue penguins near Whangarei. Birds
were underweight, possibly from starvation or from same causes as pilchard
Shellfish ban from Cape Karikari to Parengarenga Hr. Domoic acid from Pseudonitzschia
33ppm in water; 90ppm in scallop roe.
Jan: Shellfish in Bay of Islands affected by toxic bloom Alexandrium
Feb: 5 sperm whales strand on Farewell Spit and die. [NZH19970225]
May: Shellfish ban in eastern Bay of Plenty. Some people suffer tingling
mouths and 3 days abdominal pain. [NZH19970517]
Dec: toxic algae found in Whangarei Hr, but shellfish beds not closed.
1998: in spring (Jul-Sep) 5 out of 6 crayfish walk out of the Goat
Island marine reserve and they are caught outside.  
Stalked kelp rapidly invades the urchin habitats of all places that had
kelpbed death in 1993, but not outside this area.  
Jan: Cat's eye snails (Turbo smaragdus) disappear from Piha, perhaps through
Feb: massive shellfish deaths on Northland beaches due to heat and/or
toxic plankton blooms. [NZH19980213]
Feb: nearly 200 Napier beach bathers fall ill to toxic algae. [NZH19980212]
Feb: beachgoers off the Wairarapa coast experience nose and eye irritations
& sore throuats due to toxic algal blooms. Shellfish ban Gt Barrier
Feb/March: mass die-off of bullkelp along the west coast of the
North Island, perhaps caused by a tongue of warm water.[NZH19990528]
Feb/March: various kinds of jellyfish sting bathers. Stingy stringy thingy
dubia [RT19980326] [NZH19980321]
Rapid decline of butterfish (Odax pullus) in many places. 
Parore (Girella tricuspidata) seen with white welts on their bodies.
Many die in the four years afterwards. Seen by many 
Many sponges die: orange finger sponge, Aaptos, golden and pink
golfball sponges, various species of Polymastia, two species of
and more, but some recover. 
Jan: high levels of PSP plankton toxin causes shellfish closure and fish
kills in Northland. [NZH20010112]
Mar: shellfish ban in Marlborough. [NZH20020301]
Jun: a plague of bluebottle jellyfish on eastcoast beaches [NZH200406??]
2002-2004: localised mass mortalities of sea urchins and other grazers
due to brown slime (Ostreopsis sp.). 
Sharp decline in most resident fish of the Poor Knights Islands 
and Mayor Island. 
Arid island and the northern end of Little Barrier have become very degraded.
Kelpbed thins in many places. No kelp recruits replacing it. Coralline
algae taking over. Arid I, Cape Brett. 
Feb: yellow intestinal seasquirt plague (Didemnum sp) in Whangamata
Harbour, also found in Tauranga and Nelson. [NZH20020112, 20020208]
Oct: thousands of fish of all species killed in Orewa Harbour by toxic
Nov-Dec: very large red tide (Noctiluca scintillans) plankton blooms
in the western Hauraki Gulf. [NZH20021102,20021204]
2003: Oct: PSP toxins reported well above regulatory limits, along
the west coast from Ohawa to Maunganui Bluff. [NZH20031002]
For years, the sea lettuce has been increasing in Tauranga Harbour, stinking
as it rots. Everywhere in Northland magroves are expanding.
Jan: in the past 18 months 5 Brydes whales found dead i NZ waters. [NZH20030108]
Jan: 39 stranded pilot whales die at Stewart Island. [NZH20030106]
Jan; rare beaked whale found alive in the Whau River near Auckland. [NZH20030129]
Jun: Oyster harvest in the Bay of Islands closed due to toxins (PSP). [NZH20030620]
Toxin alerts extend over the entire Hawkes Bay (PSP) and South Island NW
coast (DSP). [NZH20030610]
Jun: 11 Auckland beaches closed for swimming due to bacterial contamination.
2004: first occurrence of black rot in pink paint, Leigh,
Little Barrier I.  The newspapers report on the Foreshore and Seabed
debate and new marine reserve proposals, but little on effects from degradation.
Dec: a pod of 74 pilot whales strand at Opoutere Beach (Coromandel) and
21 survive. [NZH20041201]
Dec: a 10m sperm whale found dead between Karekare and Whatipu on Auckland's
west coast [NZH20041201]
2009: degradation took Leigh by storm
Mar: very little life is left on the intertidal Echinoderm Reef flats,
presumably caused by the dinoflagellate slime Ostreopsis. Confirmed
by Dr Bill Ballantine.
Apr: the otherwise healthy Whangateau Harbour is severely affected by rot.
Most of the eelgrass habitat vanished and with it the stalked-eye mudcrabs
hirtipes) and other species. Note that the mudsnail
has been absent for over a decade. The Whangateau Harbourcare group who
monitored shellfish populations for several years, reports an 84% mortality
in cockles and pipis. Some think it was caused by warm weather. Confirmed
by Dr Roger Grace. [Mahurangi Matters June 2009]. Scientists find bacteria
a possible cause.
Jul: dogs die by walking over East Auckland beaches (Cheltenham to Long
Bay); many blue penguins washed up; extensive pilchard deaths; 6 dolphins
died and washed up, all well fed. (NZH, RT)
Oct-Nov: exceptionally wet and cold months, resulting in the absence of
bees, flies, mosquitos, sandflies. As a result, two hatchings of young
birds died (Nov-Jan). There are hardly any young birds. The tui who normally
feeds on nectar and flower stamens, now hunts spiders under the eves, and
digs the soil for worms. No ducklings survived. The sea remains unusually
cold with 18ºC in Nov/Dec!
2010: clear skies and bright sunshine associated with cold seas.
12 weeks of drought Dec-Apr followed by 6 weeks of rain May-Jun.
April: a major fish kill discovered at the Poor Knights in recent times,
affecting blue maomao, demoiselles, trevally but to a minor extent pink
maomao. At all depths the stalked kelp looks sick and 2 out of 10 sponges
are sick or dying. Visibility still no more than 15m (measured).
June: Reported by Anja Isaacson of Auckland: "thousands of kahawai washed
up on Saturday night [5 June] - we saw kilometer's of dead carcasses in
the high tide line. Over today, Sunday [6 June], thousands of yellow tail
were washing up around 11:30am ... this stretched over many kilometers
between Baylys and Glinks Gully ... local fishermen hypothesised that kahawai
were chasing the yellow tail ...". Witnessed by fishermen and beachgoers.
Dec: ten tonnes of dead fish were hauled up by a trawler off Kawau Island,
suggesting the sea bottom littered with dead fish for miles around (RT).
Aug: NZ Fishing News: "Only 20 short years ago, Whakatane sportfishing
Club had a thousand yellowfin tuna pass over their scales in a season.
In 2010 their four-day Tuna Tournament did not produce a single weighable
yellowfin!", "But on the positive side, more marlin ... than on any other
day .. since 1962."
2011: the year began with unusually
cold sea water and 8 weeks drought till mid December 2010, followed by
a deluge and unsettled weather associated with the beginning of a new La
Jan: hundreds of dead snapper on Coromandel Peninsula beaches, Waikawau
Also 'carpets' of them in the water. DoC said the fish were starved of
Jan: reports of blue maomao missing from Goat Island [1, VAR].
Jan 29: former tropical cyclone Wilma rains out over Northland, causing
massive damage. Huge coastal slips in Goat Island marine reserve may decrease
water quality for years. [STUFF,
Dec 6:the Pacific oyster industry has been compromised by the spread of
the herpes virus which mainly kills spat.Sanford's oyster processing plant
at Kaeo in Northland is to close with the loss of 66 jobs after a virus
decimated young oysters destined for future harvests, Sanford managing
director Eric Barratt said.
2012: A wet winter followed by a dry spring.
Feb 22: The beaches of Waipu Cove became covered in rafts of red and green
hairy algae which remained rotting on the beach and in local streams.[link]
References  Anthoni J F: personal observations and photography.
 Various newspapers: NZH= New Zealand Herald; RT=
Rodney Times; VAR=various telephone and e-mail reports;
 Taylor F J, Taylor N J, Walsby J R (1985): A bloom
of the planktonic diatom Cerataulina pelagica, off the coast of northeastern
New Zealand in 1983, and its contribution to an associated mortality of
fish and benthic fauna. Int Revue Ges Hydrobiol 10, 1985, 6 773-795.
 Babcock RC, Cole R G (1993): The extent of die-back
of the kelp Ecklonia radiata in the Cape Rodney to Okakari Pt Marine Reserve.
Advice to the Department of Conservation
 Dept of conservation: Monitoring results of Leigh
marine reserve. Various reports.
 Babcock R C, Kelly S, Shears N T, Walker J W, Willis
T J: Changes in community structure in temperate marine reserves.
Mar Ecol Prog Ser 189:125-134 (1999)
 Denny C M, Willis T J, Babcock R C (2003):
of Poor Knights Marine Reserve on demersal fish populations.
DOC Science Internal Series 142. Department of Conservation.
 NIWA report
 Hayward, B. W.; Morley, M. S. 2004: Intertidal
life around the coast of the Waitakere Ranges, Auckland, Auckland Regional
Council Working Report No. 111. 102 p.
 Chang F H et al. (1999): Three recently recorded
Ostreopsis spp. (Dinophyceae) in New Zealand: temporal and regional distribution
in the upper North Island from 1995 to 1997. NZ J Mar Freshw Res 2000.
f042026: (2004) the hardiest organism of all, pink paint
is now under attack of a mysterious black rot, seen in three places from
Leigh to Little Barrier. The photo shows how the rot progressed from the
dark green patch to the light green one, through the white into the black
margin, leaving dead pink paint behind. This is the latest symptom.
f021807: (left photo) In 1983 black coral trees died
in northern NZ. This must have been a 2.5m tall tree. Now it has snared
a fishing line while magenta jewel anemones grow around its thickest parts.
Demoiselles and butterfly perch swimming past. This was the first
June 2010: a red blood blister underneath a kahawai's chin.
Photo left: June 2010, the beach at Baylys Beach, Northland
NZ, littered with dead kahawai (Arripis trutta) and yellowtail jackmackerel