Tending tide pools

Steve Journee is all smiles in front of the tidepools he’s ‘gardening’ back to life.

A rainy, grey Monday morning with a sharp southerly sweeping the shoreline by Frank Kitts Park should have anyone out in the elements frowning, but Steve Journee has a big grin on his face: the nudibranchs are laying eggs.

“It means it’s working. This is a good environment for them to reproduce,” says the PADI Master scuba diver, owner of The Dive Guys, and organiser of the upcoming Educate to Eliminate, an annual underwater cleanup of the Taranaki wharf area – a place Journee’s taken under his wing with a special sort of stewardship.

We’re leaning over the wharf’s edge, examining the man-made tidepools constructed outside The Boat Shed when the area was redeveloped about 20 years ago. Here, Journee plays a sort of god, planting certain seaweeds and relocating their greatest predator, kina, in order to encourage more marine diversity – like fish, rays, sponges, limpets, snails, and the small, shell-less mollusks called nudibranchs. Ultimately, he’s hoping to create a flourishing marine ecosystem in a place where hundreds of people walk by every day.

“I’ve been actively ‘gardening’ here for 18 months,” says Journee, pointing to the tide pools and an area beneath them where red seaweed, strap weed, red algae, and sea lettuce shimmer in the low tide. Next to it the rocks grey and lifeless – a clear line in the tidepool where Journee’s influence ends and a harsh display of the difference between a healthy and unhealthy coastline.

When he comes across an 11-armed kina-eating starfish, he adds it to the ‘defensive ring’ around the garden. Underneath the wharf, he says several fish species lurk and when the seaweed thickens, they’ll start coming out where people will be able to catch glimpses of them.

“It’s showing people there is a lot of life in the harbour, so don’t pollute it,” says Journee.

The same principle applies to Educate to Eliminate, which he started four years ago, with the idea to invite the public – divers, non divers, and some high-profile Greens like Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and MP Gareth Hughes – to assist in dredging up rubbish from the marine floor. Cans, bottles, traffic cones, trolleys, bicycles, you name it, are carefully picked over by the non divers to remove living critters, like starfish and octopus, which are put in a tank provided by Island Bay Marine Education Centre, where people can observe them before they’re returned to the ocean.

“We’re encouraging people to look and say there’s rubbish in the water, but also life in the water. Which would you rather have?” asks Journee.

He’s hoping people will notice the tidepools, too, which should experience an infusion of life over the next few months. Ultimately, he wants to develop three different areas rich with critters, like living museums with a “blue belt” connecting them to Taputeranga Marine Reserve and turning Wellington into a destination to observe marine life.

“Zealandia is great, but we’re an island. We’ve got to enhance the water, too,” he says.

It’s already working. Two boys running by skid to a stop and one points to the tide pools. “Whoa, there’s mussels,” he shouts to his friend.

“Yes, there are,” says Journee, with a big smile.

Originally published November 14, 2012 in Capital Times. 

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