There and Back Again

I’m sticking with the Middle Earth theme for titles for the time being. because why not – I’m in New Zealand, so if I’m allowed to make these references anywhere, it’s here! Between coming back from the West Coast and going back up to Kaikoura, I had just under a week in ChCh (at least I knew I’d be going away again before I left) though it was very nice to be going up again. The plan, as far as I could tell, was basically to be doing a similar sort of thing as last time. We were going to be going to different sites around and below the peninsula and see how the shore had been impacted by the earthquake, and how it is dealing with and / recovering from this uplifting. Something that I noticed on the way up was that even though it’s only been a month since we were last up, the piles alongside the road were tidier, so they must have been doing something (and their workload gets added to any time there is heavy rain, as it causes more slips). Also, the interesting bridge we investigated last time has now been closed to public access, as apparently it’s seen to be a safety hazard (to be fair, they’re probably right).

We went to one of two sites by a place called Rahui (which is a no-take zone). One of these two sites is by the old wharf, the other by the new wharf – and today we were by the old wharf. It wasn’t too long before we could smell the distinct scent of seal on the air, and sure enough, there were two seals just on the other side of the gully. So long as they stayed there and decided not to venture over to our side we wouldn’t have to move. We were doing our usual – quadrat samples along a transect – though at times I think we probably weren’t being as random as we could have been. From time to time, we would look specifically at the substrate of the different environments before deciding if we should sample there. In our defence, there are certain substrates where you won’t really find anything living – and Islay and I know from experience that doing a load of quadrat samples where there’s nothing there, is fairly dull and depressing. One of the seals did decide to come over and investigate a bit closer, but it stayed in the gully out of the sun (it was getting too hot) so we could stay where we were. Something I found very interesting here was the shear number of catseye gastropod / Lunella. It was the species we were specifically looking for, but in most places we’d just see them around – here they would be completely filling the cracks and crevices. It’s nice to see that while a lot may not have survived the quake (the hermit crabs are doing well right now) there are still areas where the Lunella are thriving.

As well as our not-so-random quadrat sampling, we also went around the shores looking for young and juvenile paua. We went around several shores looking for them, and we did actually find quite a few. The ones we measured varied from 14mm to 150mm, so there are still a range of individuals around. Not that the names of where we found them would mean too much to you, but I got the impression from Islay when she was doing a talk in the Kaikoura museum that this information about where the juvenile paua were was one of those ‘we know where they are but probably shouldn’t be telling you’ things. It’s interesting. I’ve never known ‘non-disclosable’ information before, so that’s something new! At one shore, we actually found a rock that was absolutely covered in larger paua. From what we could see of it above the water, there must have been around 25 paua at least! At another shore our ‘interesting animal’ for the day was a juvenile rock lobster that I somehow spotted under a rock. This somehow led to a comment about how good my young eyesight must be (a comment I have actually received a couple of times recently). While I appreciate the compliment to my spotting abilities, the fact that my glasses seem to be getting thicker by the year kind of goes against this!

Over the weekend, Jan joined us up in Kaikoura so I recon we managed to get more work done. While you only really need two people to get all the tasks done (counting, identifying, measuring) it’s much quicker with 3 people. Along with our shore transects, we started trying to level the shore at one of our sites, which is strangely satisfying. We’re using the traditional methods, with a spirit level / bubble level thing (very technical here) sellotaped to a pole. Only the best, and most high-tech equipment can be used for this. There’s a rock that is actually higher than the road level – about 5-7m above the low tide level, and it actually still has small gastropod snails virtually all the way up. Islay and I decided that, while they’re still all living NOW, unless some of the higher ones move soon, they probably won’t be living for much longer. Around this part of NZ the tide varies by about 2m per day, so there’s no chance of those littorinids getting covered by the tide at that height.

I think, on this trip, we managed to take a look at all of the sites that we will be doing sampling at – and revisit a couple of our sites from last time. Since this is the first time in a while we’re looking at some of the sites there were a couple that Islay decided were no longer appropriate for the study. I guess some of them might have changed a bit too much, and there’s only so much work you want to have to do on a dead site. One of our sites, South Bay, is near where the Kaikoura Marina is, so we got to watch the machinery dredge out the area. They had some sort of conveyer belt system going, with some digging and others moving the product. We weighed up the pros and cons of each job – personally, I’d prefer to do the digging. While both jobs look fairly repetitive, the diggers just had to keep spinning around while the drivers had to keep turning around in a small area which seemed like it would require you to stay completely focused the whole time. It was interesting to see, either way. At this site, there were still living things, but not really any appropriate transect line that we could make so we just wandered around (it was also INCREDIBLY windy while we were down there, which would have made surveying quite difficult. I have already dropped all the contents of the clipboard in the sea before, and that was without this wind. A repeat of that would not be ideal).

On our last full day, we went to a site further south where there are greater amounts of uplifting. I have to say, I have never seen quite so many empty paua shells around. It definitely made you think that this was a place that had been hit harder. Luckily, I had made the decision the day before to stop collecting paua shells (I have loads of them – and that’s when I’ve been restraining myself – I could easily have over 100 by now). I now have been keeping an eye out for catseye operculum, which have a very pretty spiral on them and, like paua, are also commonly used in jewellery around here. Although there was a lot of death and decay around here (it smelt terrible) it was still an interesting site to look around. While it didn’t have many of the animals that we’re normally looking for and measuring, it did have quite a few more fish than we’ve normally found. Some were quite small in rock pools, and others were larger and swam about in small schools, periodically jumping out of the water! This was also the site that had more living macroalgae than anywhere else we’ve seen, so it was good for that.

That evening, Islay was doing a talk, along with one other person from the uni. There were meant to be 3 of them giving talks, but one of them lives very close to where the big Port Hills fire had been breaking out (and had been evacuated the night before), and so understandably we not present. I believe he is actually giving his talk this week, if the whiteboard in the lab is up to date. Islay’s talk was basically covering what we’ve been doing on the shore, featuring a number of photos from yours truly. The museum is new to Kaikoura, and was going to have it’s official opening in the middle of November. For some reason, that official event didn’t really happen… It was just quietly opened. (For those of you who don’t quite remember – and there’s really no reason why you should remember the exact date, since it’s more of a thing here than anywhere else – the big 7.8M earthquake was on the 14th November, so funnily enough, they were focusing more on making sure everyone had food and water rather than official museum opening ceremonies). The other person from the uni gave a brief talk on paua, and showed us some drone footage of some of their preferred settling habitats post-quake. He also made some comment about how, even now, the juveniles were fairly abundant at one of the sites south of Kaikoura, which is great to see, all things considered. Islay and I exchanged very confused looks here, as the site he was talking about was the one we had been to earlier in the day – and we were struggling to find any living animal at all, let alone a small, newly settled paua! Maybe we weren’t looking properly (surprise – my eyes aren’t so good after all!!)

After a very nice sun set, and a chat to the other people in the hostel we called it a day. The drive back to ChCh to following day was fairly uneventful. The day was beautiful and clear, but as soon as you got past the mountains around Kaikoura, you could see the haze over ChCh. The smoke from the fire could be seen from a considerable distance away – and back in ChCh, if the wind was blowing the right way you could just about smell it too. Luckily, on the Friday (it started on the Monday) the weather stopped being so dry and sunny, and they started to be able to get it under control a bit. It’s got to be one of the only times everyone really wanted it to rain heavily for several days!! After we got back from Kaikoura, I got the afternoon off, which is always fun!

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