'Marine heatwave' brings tropical fish to New Zealand

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'Marine heatwave' brings tropical fish to New Zealand

May 30, 2018 - 20:05
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Queensland grouper spotted in Bay of Islands

Queensland grouper

After a record-breaking hot summer, rare tropical fish from Australia have been spotted in New Zealand waters, lured across the Tasman sea by warm ocean temperatures. A Queensland groper, also known as the giant grouper, was observed swimming around the wreck of the HMNZ Canterbury in the Bay of Islands, more than 3,000 kilometres away from its usual home amidst the coral reefs and estuaries off Queensland.

Largely propelled by a “marine heatwave”, New Zealand experienced its hottest summer, with sea temperatures rising as much as six degrees in some areas. Figures released by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research revealed the average January temperature was 20.3C, more than three degrees above normal.


The fish was spotted and recorded by skipper Craig Johnston from Paihia, a small coastal town in the far north of the country. The owner of Paihia Dive, Johnson said it was “very rare” to see them, and the odds of their survival were slim once sea temperatures dipped below 18 degrees. “This is unusual, I’ve been working in the industry 20 years and there hasn’t been a season like this before, it’s quite incredible,” he added.

Johnston said Australian marine creatures end up in New Zealand when they “hop on” the East Auckland current, which begins as the East Australian current and runs along the coast before making its way to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Sightings of marine life not usually present in New Zealand waters have been noted around the country, including kingfish in Dunedin Harbour, garden eels in the Kermadec Islands (1,000km north of New Zealand), sergeant major damselfish, striated frog fish and Lord Howe Moray in Northland and lion’s mane jellyfish in Wellington Harbour.

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