Two Dunedin brothers have been in a prime position to
witness changes on Otago Harbour in recent years. Kim Dungey
Dunedin brothers Sean and Phil Heseltine love their
ocean-going lives but are concerned about some of the changes
they have seen.
These include reduced public access to Otago Peninsula
beaches and the depletion of fish stocks in some areas.
One of the brothers skippers award-winning tourist vessel
Monarch; the other is the crewman on the University of
Otago research vessel, Polaris II.
Those jobs, along with years of recreational fishing, diving
and boating, put them in an ideal position to observe changes
on the sea.
However, they emphasise their views are personal ones, not
those of their employers.
"One of the things that is a bugbear of mine is the closure
of a lot of [Otago] peninsula beaches," says Sean, who,
before working on Monarch, was a
signwriter,schoolteacher and deckhand on the university
research vessel Munida.
As youngsters, he and his brother played at Papanui Beach and
surfed at Pipikaretu Beach, but now members of the public
trying to gain access are likely to be met by a guide or a
farmer and turned away.
"It's a bit controversial for local people who remember the
chance to wander at will around these places."
The sheer number of independent tourists wanting to see
wildlife free of charge has caused problems, the 44-year-old
says. Access to Pilot's Beach was modified after a well-known
travel book advertised "free penguin viewing at dusk" and
restrictions could follow in the future at places such as
Allan's Beach, Boulder Beach, Sandfly Bay and Victory Beach,
which would be "sad for regular local users".
The presence of sea lions at Aramoana and Tomahawk beaches in
recent years also changed the way the public could move
around those beaches and people have been criticised for
walking dogs on Allan's Beach for the same reason.
While it is "great" New Zealand sea lions have returned to
the Otago coastline and they need to be protected, he hopes
wildlife tourism does not become too regulated.
"When you travel overseas you see how lucky we are to be able
to walk out free of charge at the moment and go see these
things. I don't want that to change."
The keen diver would like to see a marine reserve around
Purakaunui and Aramoana, saying fish and paua have been
dramatically depleted in a short time as more people have
been doing dive training and boats have become cheaper.
And he suspects there is a link between sonar gear used by
seismic survey vessels and fewer dolphin sightings in Otago
"There could be other factors involved but it is my belief
that dolphins, with their sensitive echo location [system],
just don't like the pulses being sent out. I draw
similarities between this and the known problems around
Canada with whales holding their heads out of the water or
fleeing frantically when sonar vessels are operating."
"There are now laws in Canada that control use of powerful
sonar in areas where marine mammals are found frequently."
He also questions whether, after "200 years of environmental
degradation" from foreign species being introduced into New
Zealand, salmon should be released into Otago Harbour to
compete with other fish and sea birds for sprat, yellow-eyed
mullet and munida.
"It's like stoats, ferrets, cats and native birds ... We
would never do that again, never release an introduced
predator into the forests. So why are we doing it on the
harbour ... It's unusual that it's not been publicly
challenged in any great way.""Then again, I'm quite happy to
go catch salmon so maybe I'm being two-faced." he says,
adding that by speaking out on such issues he risks getting a
"hard time" from the boating fraternity he is part of.
Phil Heseltine (42) is unworried about salmon releases and
says seismic survey vessels generally stop operating when
marine mammals are about. But he shares his brother's concern
about access to the "back beaches" that were their playground
as children and agrees that Purakaunui where they and their
father once dived for paua has been "totally hammered".
While Sean has seen the eastern side of Otago Harbour become
shallower over the years, both men say the water quality has
improved now raw sewage is not pumped directly into it.
"There's also been a definite seasonal change," Phil says,
adding he thinks this is of a cyclical nature rather than
down to global warming.
"Our summers are a lot later than they used to be and a lot
of the school fish and birds are here later in the year ...I
think the water temperature is up a bit."
While Monarch rarely ventures more than a mile and a-half
from shore and its skipper gets sick in certain sea
conditions, Phil Heseltine can be away for up to seven weeks
when working in the subantarctic ocean.
On one trip to the Campbell Islands, when they encountered
8m-10m of sea and 50-60 knot winds, the students and academic
staff on board "disappeared downstairs" for two days, he
"There's a lot of them don't cope with it too well. But every
trip down there, the weather's generally pretty borderline."
"It's quite exhilarating when you're sitting there looking at
it, until you think about where you are and what you're in.
It's quite a small boat to be working in an area like that
and you're 400 or 500 kilometres from land so ...you're on
your own pretty much."
However, the job also gives him the chance to see things the
public may not be aware of, such as the sheer number of
foreign fishing boats working in the area and sea lions
feeding on albatross.
The 21m, round-bilged Polaris II has side-scan sonar
equipment, sleeps 16 and is mostly used by the university's
botany, chemistry, marine science, surveying and geology
departments. However, it has also done private work, checking
Meridian Energy's monitoring buoys in Deep Cove and Milford
Sound, and putting equipment off Cape Saunders to measure
wave heights and water currents for oil and gas company OMV.
While Phil is helping students to study climate change, trace
the Akatore fault line out to sea or use a sub-bottom
profiler to date when lakes in Fiordland filled with salt
water, Sean is showing the public the best of Otago
The older brother does his best to make sure passengers see a
variety of wildlife, from albatross to fur seals and
Two more unusual sightings were two blue whales, which swam
past Taiaroa Head following a Greenpeace vessel, and a
sunfish cruising along at sea one calm morning, he says.
"My favourite part is being at Taiaroa Head because that's
where the animals are. There's always the chance a whale will
swim by or that you'll see a sea lion eating a fur seal. It's
not the nicest sight to look at but it's ...nature in the
Raised at Broad Bay, the pair grew up around the water.
Their father, Clive, was a Portobello marine laboratory
technician and crewman on Munida and took the family
on day trips in his 30ft clinker boat, built about 1902 as an
oar and sail fishing vessel.
His sons began racing out of Broad Bay and Port Chalmers as
soon as they were old enough to be "thrust out in a terrified
state" in small Optimus yachts and Phil still sails
Both of them are practical by nature, Sean doing maintenance
work on Monarch and former cabinetmaker Phil helping
to refit Polaris II, an former long-line tuna fishing
boat, in 2007. Both live in Port Chalmers, in sight of the
"I guess the harbour gets into you and you can't get away
from it," Sean says. "You're more watchful of the weather and
the tides ... It just becomes part of you. It's home."
While both enjoy spending their work and leisure time on the
water, they also rib each other about who has the better job.
Phil says he operates in a more diverse area and his brother
is probably jealous of the wildlife he gets to see, giving
the example of the hundreds of southern right whales
Polaris II encounters at Port Ross in the Auckland
Sean enjoys seeing many of the species Phil does, from just
outside Taiaroa Head, and returning to the comfort of home
each night. He also points out that Monarch skippers -
including wife Rachel - contribute in a small way to wildlife
data by keeping daily records of what they see.
"I guess they're doing the research and, in a way, we're
presenting the findings."
While the pair say both types of work have their place, for
Sean there is something more important.
"Research and tourism both foster preservation and that's the