The Poor Knights Marine Reserve
By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2007)
under construction! Target date for completion: March 2010. Some unexpected delay. 95% complete.
The Poor Knights Islands are New Zealand's most popular dive destination because they are located far from coastal pollution, in clear waters near the edge of the continental shelf. Yet they are easily reached by the many dive charters operating from Tutukaka and elsewhere.  The Poor Knights are the remnants of an ancient volcano, with steep drop-offs, adventurous caves and archways. In this section we'll explore the island's distant and recent history, its ecology, its many underwater inhabitants and its many adventurous dive spots. 

Introduction to this very large section, and how to find your way around. (on this page, 7p)
The recent history of the Poor Knights, from its Maori habitation to today. (3p)
The geology, biogeography and ecology of the Poor Knights, or how to understand its diverse environments. (14p)
  • fishes: the Poor Knights has a mix of temperate and subtropical species. (16p)
  • cliff dwellers: a huge biodiversity in sessile animals like sponges, seasquirts, anemones, corals etc. (10p)
  • echinoderms: the sand stars, sand urchins, sea stars, sea urchins, feather stars and sea cucumbers (6p)
  • seaweeds: the large variety of colourful seaweeds renders the seascape into beautiful underwater gardens. (5p)
  • diving
    The many dive sites are described in four sections, going from north to south, each with a detailed map.
  • Northern quarter: Wild Beast Point to Middle Arch on the west, and Dark Forest on the east. (16p)
  • Mid-northern quarter: a large number of exciting dive spots, on both sides. (10p)
  • Mid-southern quarter: from Nursery Cove to Rikoriko Cave and Fred's Pinnacle on the east side. (12p)
  • Southern quarter: from Red Baron Caves to Ngaio Rock and Labrid Channel. (12p)
  • Snorkelling: a summary of excellent opportunities for snorkelling. (2p)
  • Squires: diving The Pinnacles and Sugarloaf Rock. (3p)
  • adventures
    The Poor Knights provide a life-time of diving adventures, if only one knew what to look for.
  • Fish, fish and more fish: the legendary schools of demoiselles, blue maomao, trevally, koheru and pink maomao. (9p)
  • Awesome moray eels: the five species of moray eel and their behaviour. (4p)
  • The mystery of Barren Arch: the self-rotating underwater beach of one ton grains of sand. (5p)
  • The mysteries of Rikoriko: in the dark recesses of Rikoriko Cave grow deep sea cliff dwellers. (postponed)
  • The awesome Taravana Cave: rarely explored, Taravana could mean death for those who dare.  (4p)
  • The mystery of the social sting rays: what is going on? Over 50 rays in one arch? More stingray adventures. (10p)
  • Knights' nights: about the creatures hiding by day but coming out at night and where best to see them, how to do a night dive and how to take photos at night. (6p)
  • Going, going, gone: degradation at the Poor Knights and monitoring results. Very important! (11p)
  • maps and more
    You are authorised to use our maps of the Poor Knights for personal use (see rights page). For best results, save the image to your local disk and print it using a photo editing program. The Graphic Internet File (GIF) format preserves sharpness and colour, and is very compact.
  • Poor Knights medium resolution on A4 page 200ppi (100KB GIF) html page - free.
  • Poor Knights high resolution on A3 page 300ppi. Pay through PayPal. The detailed map will be mailed to you, for personal use.
  • The Squires medium resolution on one page (KB GIF)
  • The Squires high resolution on one page 300ppi. Pay through PayPal. The detailed map will be mailed to you.
  • The new Seafriends CD contains over 2000 large annotated photos including many of the Poor Knights. Donate generously.
  • related chapters
    on this web site
  • Marine reserves of NZ: a summary and overview of New Zealand's marine reserves (5p)
  • The Goat Island marine reserve: extensive information on NZ's first marine reserve. (88p)
  • The Kermadec Islands marine reserve: located 800-1000km north of the Poor Nights and rarely visited. (80p)
  • Niue Island: New Zealand's tropical connection, largely unknown. (168p)
  • Snorkelling without fear: an essential snorkel course that teaches you a skill for life (16p)
  • Conservation principles and marine conservation: learn quickly what conservation is and how it can fail. (large)
  • /new/19970526.htm (1997) Reasons for a no-take Poor Knights marine reserve. Plea for full reserve status.
  • Introduction to marine reserves: a no-nonsense introduction to marine reserves and how they fail. Must-read (15p)
  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): no-nonsense answers to myths and fallacies in marine conservation (32p)
  • To feed or not? Is fish feeding inside a marine reserve so bad? Problems and solutions. (7p)
  • the war for marine reserves: the NZ government is waging a war against its own people for marine reserves that won't work. (large)

    further reading
    Books and references (on this page)
    what's new?
    A log of recent changes to this section (on this page)
    Begin your study of the sea at the Seafriends home page or our sitemap.

    The Poor Knights Islands seen from the South-West
    View of the Poor Knights from the south-west, as visitors approach from Tutukaka. For many divers this is the point where adrenaline begins pumping. On left the northern island Tawhiti Rahi, in the middle the southern island Aorangi Island and on right Archway Island with Aorangaia Island behind it.

    Note! for best printed results, read tips for printing. For corrections and suggestions, e-mail the author.
    The whole section covers about MB, including text, drawings and photographs. Buy our CD or make a donation.
    -- Seafriends home -- index to marine reserves in NZ -- Rev:20071001,

    locations near the Poor KnightsThe Poor Knights Islands are located in the northernmost part of New Zealand, called Northland. The map shows the coast north of Auckland, which lies about 90km south of Leigh. In Leigh is New Zealand's first marine reserve, that around Goat Island. Recently a small marine reserve has been created at the entrance to the Whangarei Harbour, and the next one further north is around the Poor Knights Islands. Taking a coastal road from Whangarei, one arrives in the picturesque and sheltered harbour of Tutukaka, where many yachts and charter boats are berthed. Dive charters take divers from Tutukaka in a north-easterly direction to the Poor Knights.
    Slightly further north of the Poor Knights, on the coast is another marine reserve, that around Mimiwhangata. This reserve is not fully protected, allowing recreational fishing, and is therefor called a marine park. Just west of Mimiwhangata is the coastal township of Oakura from where some charter boats operate, also taking divers to the Poor Knights. Further north, outside the map is the Bay of Islands, and further north still, the deep harbour of Whangaroa.
    The Poor Knights provide the best diving in New Zealand, because they are located far out in sea, near the edge of the continental shelf, surrounded by deep clear water exceeding 100m depth (300FT). Being the hard volcanic remnants of what was once a large volcano, the Poor Knights have steep cliffs and steep drop-offs underwater. The volcanic rock has many adventurous caves, archways and passages. The Poor Knights are easily reached from the nearby safe harbour of Tutukaka, where fast dive boats take visitors to the islands within an hour.
    The rohe (traditional grounds) of the Ngatiwai tribe extend from Cape Brett, just north of the map to Tawharanui, just south of the map and includes all islands in the sea, including Little Barrier I (east of Goat I), and parts of Great Barrier I (far east of Goat I).

    Why are the Poor Knights so highly valued?

    What values do people appreciate?
    charter boat and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
    bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
    f992718: the adventure often begins while underway to the dive destination, as boats pass wild dolphins. There is always some interaction between people and dolphins, often making it possible to swim with the dolphins. Top photo: a pod of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

    f200120: left photo: the charter boat has slowed down to allow bottlenose dolphins to ride its bow wave, while divers look on.

    Since 1998 the Poor Knights have become a fully protected marine reserve, which means that one cannot take anything home or damage the environment. The Poor Knights have for a long time a totally protected terrestrial reserve on which nobody is allowed to land without a permit. Permits are given only if one can show that one's presence is of important benefit to the islands.

    Because of this high standard of protection, it is hoped that the underwater environment will improve even beyond what it is today. Unfortunately, as you will read in the chapter on degradation, a new threat has appeared, for which marine protection cannot help.

    Rules and regulations
    Navigation and mooring is permitted within the Poor Knights Marine Reserve. While landing on the Islands is prohibited, the marine reserve around them is yours to enjoy, provided you observe the rules and follow environmental care code. In the interests of preserving the environment and retrieving your anchor, please use the minimum of chain necessary.

    Visitors to the marine reserve are welcome and activities like boating, snorkelling, scuba diving and canoeing are encouraged. However a number of other activities are prohibited to protect the marine life of the area.

    • Fishing of any kind is an offence.
    • The taking or disturbing of any marine life, including shellfish, seaweed and sea urchin is also an offence.
    • It is an offence to take any part of the seafloor, including rocks and shells, from the reserve, or to erect any structure.
    • Do not feed the fish. This disturbs their natural behaviour and is an offence.
    • It is an offence for boats or jet skis to exceed five knots within 200m of the land.
    • Please take your rubbish away with you. Littering and pollution are offences.
    Commercial fishing
    Commercial fishing is prohibited in the marine reserve and MAF regulations also state: (i) No commercial fishing except long lining is permitted within three nautical miles of the islands, and (ii) No commercial fishing (all methods) is permitted within one nautical mile (5,556 metres) of the Islands.

    Nature reserve rules
    Landing on any of the islands, stacks or rocks of the Poor Knights Islands, including the Sugarloaf and High Peaks (Pinnacles) to the south, is prohibited without a permit from the Department of Conservation. Boats must not be tied to any part of the shoreline.

    These rules are to protect the Islands from fire and the accidental introduction of pests like rats or cats and invasive weeds. Any one of these could result in an ecological catastrophe for the islands and the species that survive on them.

    Vessel ban
    Vessels over 45 metres long are banned from travelling through an area around the Poor Knights Islands. In 2004 the Maritime Safety Authority established a protected area extending 9 kilometres (5 nautical miles) from land between Bream Head and Cape Brett north of Whangarei.

    Ngatiwai are an ancient people who were known as Ngatiwai ki te Moana (those who lived along the east coast and offshore islands) and Ngatiwai ki te tua Whenua (those who lived inland e.g. Ngatihine). Ngatiwai descend from Manaia, Tamatea and Tahuhunuioterangi. The mana of Ngatiwai is water and this is remembered by Manaia saying to his descendants, "Although you stand on land, you stand also in the sea." Ngatiwai occupies the shoreline from Motukokako (Cape Brett) to Tawharanui (south of Cape Rodney) to Aotea (Great Barrier Island). They also occupied many islands including Tawhitirahi and Aorangi (Poor Knights). They are the kaitiaki (guardians) of a sacred covenant placed on the islands by the ringa kaha Te Tatua (chief) in 1822. This tapu was placed following the massacre of his people while he and his warriors were absent. It also covers the surrounding waters because some of the occupants had jumped the cliffs to avoid being taken prisoner of the invaders. Ngatiwai fully supports the marine reserve and considers it to be a small step in the right direction of protecting the significant tapu over these islands and surrounding waters. Ngatiwai request that visitors respect the area and hope you enjoy your visit.

    This very large section about the Poor Knights islands was written to document this unique place such that visitors will be better prepared and New Zealanders able to learn about this magical place. On the Seafriends web site we have also documented other marine reserves, and the Poor Knights fill an important gap on the transect Leigh (Goat Island) - Poor Knights - Kermadecs - Niue, documenting marine environments from coastal green to cool-tropical deep blue water.

    About this section
    As you may guess from the extensive contents index above, this section about the Poor Knights is very large (over 160 pages with over 450 images). It also provides a richly illustrated and accurate map of places of interest, which ties everything together. The co-ordinates of the map have been verified, and in many cases precise GPS co-ordinates have been provided. All dive sites have been tested, and depths verified. Even so, the underwater environment of the Poor Knights will probably remain a mystery forever.

    A common thread through the many chapters on the Seafriends web site (www.seafriends.org.nz) is the fostering of understanding of the weird marine environment. If we want to save the sea, we must understand how it works, and for this understanding we must also experience the sea from a diver's perspective - what it looks like, its adventures, its mysteries, its many habitats and species. In other words, we aim to bring the sea to the surface, for all to see and enjoy.

    In the history of the islands, we have been able to consult many sources, which enabled us to piece a picture together of the Maori settlement and later European management.

    The chapter on the ecology of the islands, begins with its ancient geological history and how this has resulted in the islands we know today. The chapter on ecology deals mainly with the islands' marine environment, because this is the place that interests us most. For the reader it provides the key to understanding what lives where and why. Separate chapters have been devoted to the mystery of Barren Arch, the mysteries of Rikoriko and the awesome Taravana Cave. Even those who are very familiar with the Poor Knights, may find these chapters astounding and challenging.

    The most important chapters for divers describe the many dive locations in four parts, from the northernmost quarter to the southernmost. Most dive sites are illustrated with photographs above and under water. North, mid-north, mid-south, south, squires.

    Separate chapters have been devoted to snorkelling and nightdiving with valuable tips and advice. Beginners may wish to learn the advanced techniques of snorkelling without fear.

    One can never document all marine creatures found at the Poor Knights, so we have limited ourselves to the most common ones, still a very respectable number. The legendary schooling fish and awesome moray eels deserved a chapter of their own, as well as the socialising stingrays.

    The many remaining organisms were organised in three chapters: the fishes, the cliff dwellers and the seaweeds. The chapter about reef fishes was not arranged in taxonomical order but according to where they are found. As far as the cliff dwellers go, we had to limit ourselves severely, and not with an apology either. The Poor Knights' sessile life is simply too varied, and remains therefore an inexhaustible source of enjoyment. Also the seaweeds have been left largely untouched for the same reason.

    A sad but necessary chapter Going, going, gone is devoted to the marine degradation that is now encroaching on the Poor Knights. Long hushed up for commercial and political reasons, it has had disastrous consequences that are now clear to for anyone see. The sea is sick and marine reserves do nothing to prevent or mitigate the loss of both quality and quantity of life. Only by saving the land can we save the sea!
    You may now be interested to read more about marine degradation affecting New Zealand's coastal seas. Begin with the samples of decay. Note that this is the ONLY place in the world where you can read about the principles of degradation, the plankton balance hypothesis and the Dark Decay Assay with which the six most important ecological laws on this planet were discovered (!!). Only reading is believing. (large chapters)

    The many links to related chapters on this web site are all worth pursuing in your quest to begin to understand the sea. Visit the Seafriends home page, the recent additions , the big overview and the very extensive and complete sitemap that also shows what is still missing.

    This large chapter about the Poor Knights did not happen overnight, but is the result of decades of preparation, study, photography and observation. I hope that it will not remain an effort just by myself, but that others may contribute with valuable knowledge, corrections and suggestions. In this manner these pages can remain alive and uptodate. -  Floor Anthoni.

    Further reading
    References in blue are available from the Seafriends Library
    • Ayling, Tony and David Schiel (Andrew, N & M Francis, eds) (2003): Poor Knights Islands in The Living Reef, the ecology of New Zealand's rocky reefs, p210-223. Craig Potton Publ.
    • Schiel, David (1984): Poor Knights Islands marine Reserve - a biological survey of subtidal reefs. 
    • Doak, Wade (1994): The Poor Knights a real marine reserve at last? Forest&Bird. 273 Aug 1994 p18-23
      • Beneath NZ seas.1971.
      • The cliff dwellers.1971. 
      • Fishes of the NZ region.1972. 
      • Wade Doak's world of NZ fishes.1991. 
    • Francis, Malcolm (1988-2001): Coastal fishes of New Zealand: an identification guide. Reed Publ (NZ).
    • Hayward, B W (1992): Prehistoric archaeology of the Poor Knights Islands, n-NZ. Tane 34, Journal of the Auckland University Field Club. p89 
    • McCallum, J (1981): Reptiles of Tawhiti Rahi, Poor Knights Islands. Tane 27, Journal of the Auckland University Field Club. p59
    • Russell, B C (1971): A preliminary annotated checklist of fishes of the Poor Knights Islands. Tane 17, Journal of the Auckland University Field Club. p81
    • Shears, Nick T (2007): Shallow subtidal reef communities at the Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve after eight years of no-take protection. Report to the Department of Conservation, Northland Conservancy. This report is also available from the DOC web site (PDF, 48 pages)
    • The Poor Knights. New Zealand's Nature Heritage 1975 No11. Hamlyn House Books, Auckland. This series contains more articles of interest to the Poor Knights.

    Internet links:
    www.wadedoak.com/ Wade's World: the web site of veteran diver, photographer and prolific writer Wade Doak enables you to purchase many of his books on CD as well as underwater photographs.
    www.doc.govt.nz/  The official web site of the Department Of Conservation contains a small chapter about the Poor Knights marine reserve. This site is rather messy, so you'll need to find it from the home page.
    http://www.goodearthgraphics.com/virtcave/seacaves/riko_only.pdf an account of the Rikoriko cave survey for size. (3p)

    What's new?
    20071022 - All chapters completed, and published on the Web as a preliminary version, still needing to be verified.
    20070914 - After so many years, the need for a comprehensive section about the Poor Knights became more urgent than ever. A beginning made.

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