Since the 1950s recreational divers have assisted scientists by gathering specimens. Scientists, notably from Auckland University, also began to use scuba diving to do research in the 1960s. Divers and scientists collaborated in some important discoveries: for instance, when divers discovered unusual corals and brachiopods on the walls of fiords in the South Island in 1979, marine scientists initiated a study.
In 1985 diver Kelly Tarlton established Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World in Auckland. Visitors walk through a perspex tunnel in a giant aquarium, enjoying a diver’s eye view of sharks, stingrays and other underwater creatures. There are also scientific interpretations of the marine life in a ‘discovery room’ at the complex.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research is one organisation that uses scuba diving for projects such as counting species of fish, mapping and monitoring weeds and plants in lakes, and investigating Antarctic aquatic life.
The needless killing of fish in spearfishing contests, and the depletion of fish in popular dive spots began to worry some divers in the 1970s. Clubs began fining members who took undersize pāua, and in 1982 the New Zealand Underwater Association banned taking crayfish with hooks and wands. Increased appreciation of New Zealand’s underwater environment turned many divers into ardent conservationists. They organised a series of conferences between 1976 and 1990, to discuss issues affecting the world’s oceans.
The ocean’s wealth
Wade Doak is a diver-conservationist who has published numerous books. His interest shifted from salvage of historic wrecks to exploration of the oceans, particularly the undersea cliffs, caves and reefs of the Poor Knights Islands. He became fascinated by the behaviour of dolphins and established the international Project Interlock to research dolphins in their natural element.
In 1989 the New Zealand Underwater Association formed the Aqua Trust. One of its objectives was to promote establishment of marine reserves. After intensive lobbying, a number have been established, mainly in the 1990s and 2000s.