Richard Robinson

The Voice of Tangaroa

93% of New Zealand is covered in salt water. 80% of our biodiversity is in our seas. And yet this is the part of our realm we understand the least and treat the worst. Today, attitudes are turning from harvest to heritage, and extraction to investment.

Science & Environment

Message in a bottle

This month, two dozen yachts depart the Bay of Islands to begin one of the largest-scale ocean surveys in the world. They’ll bring home hundreds of samples collected over thousands of square kilometres of ocean—data that will give an unprecedented insight into life in the sea and, perhaps, our own.

Science & Environment

The stuff of life

There are places in our seas where the great, whirring cogs of the world hold still. Where the process of decay pauses—for your lifetime, for your children’s, longer—and carbon sleeps, tucked safely away in the sludge. In New Zealand these places are the fiords, the ocean deeps, and the spongy, muddy fringes of our coastlines. And we’re only just beginning to understand them.

Living World

Fish out of water

People and livestock gobble so much fish that the seas soon won’t keep up. Is the answer to grow fish on land? After decades of research, scientists are cracking the secrets to commercially tank-rearing a handful of New Zealand’s iconic ocean creatures—pāua, whitebait, kingfish and hāpuku.

Living World

Kina-nomics

The market—and human appetite—are often to blame for ecosystem destruction. But in the case of kina barrens, they might be part of the solution.

Geography

Taking on water

New Zealand once led the world in marine protection. Now our underwater ecosystems are bottoming out. Why is stopping fishing so politically fraught? How might our ideas about marine protection need to change? And why, when our seas are in such desperate need, is it taking us so long to learn to talk to each other?

Living World

The future of the world is written in penguin blood

Erect-crested penguins are one of the most mysterious birds on the planet. We have little idea how many there are, what they eat, where they forage, or how their environment may be changing as the Southern Ocean warms. No one has even visited the Bounty Islands where they breed in three years. Scientist Thomas Mattern chartered a yacht and mounted a mission to answer some of these urgent questions before it’s too late.

Science & Environment

A clean sweep?

Every year, New Zealand vessels drag trawl gear across nearly 100,000 square kilometres of our seafloor. We are the only nation still trawling on the high seas of the South Pacific. Can we make bottom trawling better? Or should we ban it altogether?

Living World

Killer algae

The invasive seaweed Caulerpa brachypus was discovered in New Zealand just over a year ago, and it promises to ruin everything. On Aotea/Great Barrier Island, people are sacrificing their way of life in an attempt to contain the weed—and stop it reaching the mainland.

Living World

The Kelp

Where do young sea creatures spend their first weeks? What’s at the root of oceanic food chains? Kelp forests are to Aotearoa what coral reefs are to other marine ecosystems. Or they used to be.

Living World

The undersea orchestra

A symphony is taking place beneath the waves, as many different animals call to each other, scare off predators, stun their prey, or munch on algae. What happens when humans drown them out?

Science & Environment

Minerals in the deep

In February, three mining companies were granted permission to explore the Cook Islands’ submarine wealth: lumps packed with rare metals on the sea floor. What has the tiny Pacific nation got to lose?

Living World

The whales are back

Last century, southern right whales were hunted until there were none left—none that we could find. A small group of these whales, also called tohorā, hid from the harpoon. Deep in the subantarctic, the survivors birthed and nursed their young. Now, tohorā are returning to the coasts of New Zealand. Are we ready for them?

Geography

Billion dollar fish

Tuna are the gold of the ocean—and, because certain species are so sought-after, they’ve become synonymous with overfishing and modern slavery. But in some areas, populations that were teetering on the edge of total wipe-out seem to be making a tentative comeback. Are things finally turning around for these fisheries?

Geography

The price of fish

Are there plenty more fish in the sea? Reports of falling hoki stocks off the West Coast and the near-disappearance of crayfish from the Hauraki Gulf suggest that our ‘best in the world’ fisheries management may not be living up to the hype. Three decades ago, the right to catch and sell fish became a property right, one that has now accumulated in the hands of a few. How has that worked out for people—and for fish?

Living World

Castaways

Life is constantly in motion around the world, floating across oceans and colonising new shores, as frequently today as it did hundreds of millions of years ago. So what’s arriving along New Zealand’s coastlines?

Science & Environment

Sea change

“The sea has all our dreams,” writes Keri Hulme. For some, those dreams are of strange and wonderful creatures, such as you might find 70 metres below the surface at the Poor Knights Islands. For others, the dreams are of the ocean’s untapped riches: minerals, fossil fuels, sea creatures, energy. Which dreams will prevail in 21st-century Aotearoa?

Living World

No Take Zone

Rolling a fresh cigarette, Bill Ballantine gives a sardonic laugh as he recalls the headline in the local newspaper when New Zealand’s first marine reserve was opened in 1977—“Nothing to do at Goat Island Bay any more.” He had fought for 12 years to protect five square kilometres of marine habitat on the Northland coast. That protection was finally in place. To Ballantine it was the start of a new era. To the newspaper, voicing community opposition, it was the end of one.

Geography

Seas of bounty

Swept by the cold seas of the Southern Ocean, New Zealand’s outposts of the Bounty and Antipodes Islands are awash with life.

Living World

Where the wild things are

Barely seven per cent of New Zealand is land. The rest of it, the wet bit, covers four million square kilometres. In 2016, photographer Richard Robinson won a Canon Personal Project Grant that enabled a dozen expeditions into this vast marine prairie, arguably the country’s last great tract of undisturbed wilderness.

Geography

What we do in the shallows

The ocean is our playground, storehouse, transport corridor, driver of weather and coastal change. We’ve learned the hard way that it’s possible for us to exhaust its resources and overwhelm its natural processes. Now, scientists are mapping the web of relationships between the sea, the land and human industry, to figure out how fishing, aquaculture, tourism, land development, and recreation affect its health. What should be permitted, and what prohibited—and where? How can we best strike a balance between using and protecting our seas?

Living World

Blue Water Islands

A thousand kilometres north-east of the mainland, the Kermadec group basks in a subtropical environment and two decades of marine protection. In May this year, scientists scoured this untouched world to catalogue, collect and expand the list of species found there, and discovered an ecosystem unlike anything else in the country.

Living World

The wreck of the penguins

Why did hundreds of dead kororā—little blue penguins—wash up on beaches around the country two summers ago? Has their fate got anything to do with the weather? Or has it got something to do with us?

Living World

Speed Demon

Built for acceleration and power, the shortfin mako is the fastest shark in the world and an icon of New Zealand seas. Although heavily fished for decades by commercial longliners, mako populations are beginning to recover, and prospects look good for this oceanic speedster.

Science & Environment

Acid seas

The chemistry of seawater is changing, becoming more acidic, and this transformation is most profound along our coastlines. In this delicate borderland between land and sea, some places are experiencing a surge in acidity, peaking at levels that the open ocean isn’t predicted to reach until the end of this century. What does this mean for marine life?

Living World

Life on the edge

Like New Zealanders, penguins occupy the margin of land and sea, being dependent on both habitats, and vulnerable to changes in either as well. Their fate is wedded to our coasts, and as scientists have begun to understand, they are a perfect indicator of the health of this fragile boundary too. What can penguins tell us about our seas and shores?

Documentary - Our Big Blue Backyard Season 2

The Kermadecs

Alone in the Pacific, halfway to Tonga, sit the Kermadec Islands. This remote archipelago is New Zealand’s northernmost frontier and our toehold on the tropics. Everything that lives on and around these young islands has travelled far to be here and a unique mix of creatures thrive in its warm waters. As a marine community the Kermadec is unrivalled in New Zealand waters.

Geography

The Deep

Below the thrashing surface, the depths of our oceans are a wonderland of creatures designed to a very different pattern from anything found on land. In the spirit of the first explorers, French curator Claire Nouvian embarked on an expedition to collect underwater anomalies from our own backyard and exhibit them in the halls of Europe.

Living World

Deep trouble

The world’s smallest, rarest dolphin lives in New Zealand. After the expansion of gill-netting in 1970, the population and range of Hector’s dolphin diminished rapidly. One extremely isolated subspecies, Māui dolphin, now numbers barely 100 individuals. Yet science has revealed that the species may yet recover, even from the brink of oblivion.

Geography

The fortunes of fishing

A glassy sea, an open sky, fish on the bite. An alluring image, but often far from the day-to-day reality faced by small-scale coastal fishermen, who must compete for fewer fish while trying to stay on the right side of increasingly complex government rules. One of the few unregulated fisheries left is tuna, which attracts scores of fishermen to the West Coast each summer to try their luck with line and lure.

Science & Environment

Poor Knights, rich seas

French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau rated the Poor Knights Islands off Northland’s east coast as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world. Twenty-five years after they were gazetted a marine reserve, they remain as magnificent as ever, a place of rare undersea richness where exciting biological discoveries continue to be made.