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Meet the Local Species At Taputeranga

25 August 2008

Meet the Local Species of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve

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New species of nudibranch discovered during the 2007 South Coast Marine Bioblitz. Geoff Read, NIWA


With the opening of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve planned for the 28 August and Conservation Week (7-14 September) just around the corner – what better time to meet some of the ‘local’ species of the Wellington South Coast? Here are some of the creatures you may spot while out snorkelling, diving, taking photos, kayaking, building sandcastles, picnicking on the beach or investigating rock pools in the Taputeranga Marine Reserve.

Images courtesy of Rob Marshall

Sea hares

Well camouflaged in their feeding ground of sea lettuce and red and green algae, the black sea hare, Aplysia brunnea, sprays a purple dye to ward off predators.

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Sea horses

New Zealand’s only seahorse is the manaia, Hippocampus abdominalis. They are common close to the coast, below the low tide level. Seahorses are not good swimmers - they wait for a meal to swim by! Male seahorses give birth to up to 500 babies.

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Giant kelp

This seaweed prefers colder waters and is often called bladder kelp because of the pods that keep it afloat, This brings the blades closer to the surface and the sunlight they need for photosynthesis. Giant kelp is one of the fastest growing seaweeds in the world – growing more than 30 cm a day and can grow to lengths of 30 metres.

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This fish has no scales, no bones, no jaws and no eyes! The hagfish is sometimes called the blind eel and tends to live in dark places where eyes are less important for finding food. It has six barbells around the mouth which it uses to sniff out prey.

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Sometimes it is hard to tell if things in the sea are plants or animals. Many animals live attached to rocks and have evolved tactics to obtain their food from the water passing by. Some, like anemones, have developed special stinging cells to actively acquire their prey.

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Sponges are animals that obtain their food by sieving the water. There are almost 700 species of sponge in New Zealand and come in a dazzling array of colours, shapes and sizes.

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Nudibranchs are sea slugs which come in such a vast array of colours they are real treats to spot while diving. A new species was discovered during the 2007 Marine Bioblitz on the south coast. Possibly taking on the colour of the seaweed on which it feeds, it was temporarily named the ‘Christmas nudibranch’ due to its red, white and green colouration.

Sand flounder

Widespread in muddy and sandy sea floors, this fish is well camouflaged by its flat shape and colour (which it can change in seconds). As larvae they swim upright and their eyes are on either side of their head, but as they get older the left eye ends up on the right side of the head and they flatten.

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You can find out more about the species that inhabit the south coast and the Taputeranga Marine Reserve during Conservation Week on Sunday 7 September. People involved with the reserve will be giving 15 minute talks at points along the coast between Island Bay and the Owhiro Bay visitor centre between 11.30 am and 3 pm.

For more information about Conservation Week events, the Taputeranga Marine Reserve, or the species that inhabit our coastal waters, check out the DOC website or contact the Wellington Visitor Centre on 04 384 7770 or email


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