For the people reading this post who are uninformed of where I grew up, the only beach within driving distance would be a sand bar off the Sacramento river which ran through my hometown. Although the endless patches of rice fields and almond orchards surrounding the valley I lived in resembled an ocean of their own making, salt water is as alien to me as rain is to a Californian. The only time I ever really got to smell the ocean and watch the waves was during my younger years when on the rare occasion my family would make the 6-hour drive to Fort Bragg. I remember always being so overwhelmed with joy once finally getting to touch the sand with my bare feet, still recovering from the carsickness. Both my father and sister were keen abalone divers, but I was too young at the time to join in on the fun. Now days I no longer call California home, let alone the United States. I’m currently based out of Gisborne, a town located on the north island of New Zealand. Here, I’m a hop and a skip away from the closest beach, which is pretty magical in itself. As part of the New Zealand and Māori culture, diving has been essential to the survival and livelihood of its people. While living overseas I’ve had the opportunity to go diving twice and although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I decided to give it a go regardless.
Now what can someone expect to look for when diving along the endless stretches of shorelines? Well, if you’ve decided to leave the spear gun at home there’s still heaps of treasures a person can dive for and collect by hand. For instance, crayfish are among the top critter’s divers can harvest. New Zealand crayfish are found all over the countries coast where they inhabit rocky reefs and enjoy hiding underneath coral ledges. Although crayfish may have the nickname “rock lobster” don’t be fooled because even though they might resemble a lobster, they lack the massive pinchers. They can grow to about 45 centimeters and typically weigh 2 or 3 kilograms but on the rare and special occasion you may find a crayfish weighing up to 8 kilograms!
Another sea creature, abalone or pāua (the Māori term used in NZ) is very sought after by divers all over the world but the ones here in New Zealand are a bit different from the ones I’ve seen on the coastlines of California. New Zealand pāua are much smaller in size and can grow up to 180mm, whereas the abalone found in the states have been known to grow to sizes of up to 304mm. One thing I came to learn about these marine snails is that their shells are not only gorgeous on the inside of its body, but if you remove all of the sea life from the exposed outside area of the shell, you’ll reveal the true and brilliant multi-colors underneath.
Lastly, we have the infamous green-lipped mussels which can only be found in New Zealand’s pristine waters. These underwater gems aren’t just well-known for their delicious taste and unique appearance but are renowned for their amazing health benefits. It’s not uncommon to hear of green-lipped mussels being used to relieve everything from degenerative joint disease’s in dogs, to helping heal horses with osteoarthritis. On my very first diving expedition a few months back, I accompanied a friend David Andrew to go harvest mussels off the side of a wharf on the east coast. Of course, I didn’t have to dive to the bottom of the ocean to retrieve them due to the fact they were anchored off the cement pillars of the wharf, but the larger mussels preferred to live towards the lower sections meaning I had to work for them. The waters were a bit rough but after a few hours we collected our limit and carried our precious cargo to shore. They made for a delicious feed later that evening and I felt very fortunate to have had the opportunity to harvest my own dinner provided by nature herself.
I’ve now been exposed to a whole new world and my list of questions are endless. There’s so much to learn when it comes to co-existing with our salt water friends underneath the surface, and the number one thing I’ve learned is to leave places better than I found them, even when it comes to diving. All amounts of effort count big or small, starting with picking up loose trash or debris floating around. I am but a guest when entering the sea with my flippers and snorkel and I won’t be the last, but we need to do our part by taking care of the environment around us for not only our own enjoyment but also the generations to come.