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It’s the little things that count

Shaun Lee is a designer, illustrator, blogger and photographer who regularly visits The Noises. Passionate about conservation,  Shaun loves to take pictures of the natural world – on land and sea  – with a particular focus on the little things.

As Shaun explains, “there are two reasons I like to use a macro lens for my underwater photography. One, because water quality is less of a problem when I’m taking pictures at close range and two, little fish are easier to find than big fish in an overfished or degraded system.”

As a friend of The Noises, and a generous collaborator through his photographs, blogs and design work, when  Shaun brought his energetic curiosity to Ōtata over the summer, he and Sue went for some epic snorkels.

Kūtai / Green-lipped mussels growing on soft sediment at The Noises. Photo by Shaun Lee.

Shaun is also a trustee of the community group Revive Our Gulf, an initiative that aims to restore the seabed kūtai / green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) reefs of Tīkapa Moana / Te Moananui ā-Toi / The Hauraki Gulf. After diving around Ōtata, Shaun felt inspired to write a blog about kūtai/mussel restoration, where he pondered the complication of the lack of “reference beds” and concluded that, “if The Noises’ kūtai were protected and able to regenerate,  it would help us learn a lot about kūtai restoration.”

Shaun took many beautiful pictures while visiting and, after sharing his phenomenal imagery with us, we’re eager to show some of it to the wider world through our website.

This Variable triplefin (Forsterygion varium) is the largest triplefin species found at The Noises. It can reach up to 13cm long and when they’re not spawning, the males are vibrantly coloured. Photo by Shaun Lee.
This sea anemone is from the family actiniidae. The species doesn’t have a name yet because it has not been described, as there is a lot of marine science that still needs to be investigated. Photo by Shaun Lee.
This blue eyed-triplefin (Notoclinops segmentatus) only grows to 6cm. Triplefins are too small to be targeted by most fishers but overfishing impacts their habitat by creating kina barrens. Photo by Shaun Lee.
Unlike the adults, these juvenile New Zealand Big Eye (Pempheris adspersa) can often be found out and about during the day. Photo by Shaun Lee.
This Knobbed-triton snail (Charonia lampas) is the largest predatory snail on The Noises reefs. They can grow up to 40cm long, and tend mussel reefs by eating the starfish that eat the mussels. Photo by Shaun Lee.
Shaun was thrilled to find this Rhodolith / Mearl bed at The Noises. The seafloor here was pink with a solid mobile algae people often mistake for coral. Rhodolith beds are rare and in decline, but they dramatically increase the complexity of the seafloor, creating nursery habitat. Rhodoliths can live for thousands of years but grow very slowly. Photo by Shaun Lee.

Shaun also loves exploring the bush at night, to take photos of tiny critters, and likens this activity to looking for Pokémon. “I love counting and photographing birds, but I see so many more different species when I look at the small stuff – now that’s biodiversity! And as my camera gear gets better and better, I can see smaller and smaller things. With my current lens anything above five millimetres is fair game.”

The eyes of a Puriri moth (Aenetus virescens) under ultraviolet light while it lays its eggs on the forest floor. Photo by Shaun Lee.

On another trip to the islands over two years ago, Shaun timed his visit perfectly to photograph this giant wētā / wētāpunga moulting. As for Shaun’s reflections on watching weta moult their exoskeletons: “The first time I found one doing that, I thought. what’s going on? And when I’ve seen it, it’s felt so special, but also like I’ve interrupted them in this very vulnerable moment of getting changed.”

Shaun is also very conscious of the fact that, when he’s in a pest-free environment, he sees many more native invertebrate species, compared to places where there are introduced predators. “When I see the little faces of the creatures I photograph, I’m always aware they have a story to tell.”

New Zealand praying mantis (Orthodera novaezealandiae). Photo by Shaun Lee.

If this selection of imagery has merely whetted your appetite, you can see more of Shaun’s magnificent Noises pictures on where he catalogues most of his finds. And hopefully, the sight of these remarkable and beautiful creatures will intensify society’s efforts to protect the ecosystems they call home.

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