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Our Story


This regionally and nationally recognised project aims to discover and document the subtidal rocky reef communities found in the South Taranaki Bight.

Initially focusing on one target reef (approx. 11km offshore and depth of approx. 23metres), a number of surveys will be conducted throughout the year allowing us to capture the ecological variance across seasons. A range of basic scientific methods will be employed by local community groups to survey the reef. It is hoped that this research effort will continue into the future and expand to incorporate additional reefs.

Six survey methods employed are: A camera (situated for many weeks at a time on the reef, until retrieved for maintenance) taking short video bursts overnight and day, benthic (reef floor) surveys involving a diver transect method, with the diver capturing images of 0.5m2 quadrats randomly situated around the reef, fishing surveys (conducted by Hawera High School and Patea Area School), baited underwater video, acoustic surveys through a loaned hydrophone and we conduct plankton trawls.


Awards - 2016-2017: The Project won the 'Protecting our Coasts and Oceans' category in the 2017 Green Ribbon Awards, held at Parliament on the 8 June. And in 2016 won a Taranaki Regional Council Environmental Award for 'Environmental Action in the Community'.

Partners in the Project are: South Taranaki Underwater Club, Hawera High School, Patea Area School, Te Kaahui o Rauru and Te Runanga o Ngati Ruanui Trust.

The Project is fortunate to have had since its inception (until early 2017) the support of scientific officer Thomas McElroy who holds a Bachelor of Science majoring in marine biology, ecology and biodiversity with a Masters in Marine Conservation. In early 2017 Thomas left to go overseas. Fortunately for the Project - Joshua Richardson had joined the Project back in 2016 and has been a treasured addition. Joshua holds a Masters in Marine Science. The Project also has two other scientists working with us - Nicole Sturgess (assists with benthic analysis) and Charlotte Borra (assist with plankton). We also have Luke Colmer, a qualified PADI instructor, who after joining the team, headed north in 2019. Luke stays in touch with us over distance and we're extremely fortunate to have his diving/marine expertise on hand.

The Project has made efforts to engage with the wider scientific community and now collaborates with Auckland University’s Leigh Marine Lab, Dr Radford, an acoustic specialist, Andrew Stewart of Te Papa (fish ID work), NZ sponge specialist at NIWA, Dr Kelly and Sadie Mills of NIWA for other species ID work. CSIRO Australia scientist Julian Uribe Palomino has assisted with plankton ID, as well as NIWA’s Janet Grieve.

All species observations are uploaded to 'I-naturalist NZ' an extremely user-friendly free database available to anyone. This database allows us to share all our results and connect to a wide network of experts who can validate our sightings. Check out ‘Coastblitz Patea’.


In June 2019 the Project was presented with the prestigious Wyland Award at the NZUA’s AGM. In November 2019 Project Reef Life, the South Taranaki Underwater Club and our Project Partners were awarded (at the NZ Coastal Society’s Annual Conference) the prestigious Terry Healy Coastal Project Award.

Initial funding: for the Project came as part of the Government’s National Plan for Science in Society - via the 'Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment' (MBIE) funding the ‘Curious Minds’ initiative (young people, communities and scientists collaborate on a science project.) In 2015 the Curious Minds initiative was launched and Taranaki (administered by Venture Taranaki) was one of the pilot regions given funding. This Project received funding from the first and second funding rounds of $19,321 and $19,681 respectively. The TSB Community Trust has also supported the Project, via the South Taranaki Underwater Club receiving funding to purchase a high-quality underwater camera. The TSB Community Trust is now our major funder - with a Programme Grant for three years, conditional upon meeting outcomes - as well as a Capital Grant in 2018.

Significant donated time and resources (boats and fuel) come from the South Taranaki Underwater Club members, as well as the local charter vessel owners who support the Project and significant voluntary labour components from the Project team members.

The Project also exhibited for five months at Aotea Utanganui, the South Taranaki Museum during 2016/2017 and are looking forward to an upcoming exhibition opening May 2020 at Puke Ariki in New Plymouth.

Other highlights are: photographs of sponges, taken by Bruce Boyd of the South Taranaki Underwater Club have made their way into version 2 & 3 of the NIWA Sponge Guide! The Project has expanded to incorporate art as a means of sharing marine knowledge - with the completion of a mural depicting the Project Reef, in Patea. In 2018 Lift Education featured the Project in a school journal ‘Connected’ and joint Project lead Karen talked about her journey with the Project in a local TED-x New Plymouth talk in 2018.

The Project and community is working on another art installation - ‘Patea Pou’. Sculptures on poles leading to Patea beach should be installed during 2020. Patea Area School have helped with the designs.

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