Astrolabe cave survives Rena wreck

First confirmation that a sea cave on the Astrolabe Reef has survived the Rena, came out of a recent dive survey contracted by the Rena’s owners and insurers.

It was undertaken by award winning underwater photographers, Maketu-based Andy Belcher and Aucklander Darryl Torckler, who found and photographed an intact tomo when they commenced a dive survey of the reef in July.

Some of the pictures can be seen on line at: http://www.renaproject.co.nz

The dive is part of a two-dive process, with the next one likely during summer after the sunken container ship’s accommodation block has been removed by salvors. The second dive will view the Rena’s stern section, which slipped down the reef into deeper water after the ship broke in two during a storm early in 2012.

“We won’t be going to the bottom, it’s too deep,” says Andy. “But the top of the rear section is still in reasonably shallow water, still within 30 metres of depth.”

The common recreational dive limit is 30 metres or 100 feet – and is the depth at which nitrogen narcosis symptoms begin to appear in divers breathing compressed air.

“So that plan is for us to photograph that section. We have done all the bow section including the reef around it, including the tomo, and then the next part is to go on the rear.

“It’s quite a complex thing for us to do because they won’t let us anywhere near the barge. It’s very, very carefully controlled, the whole thing, as far as safety goes.”

Both photographers have dived the reef before the container ship ran aground there on October 5, 2011. But Andy says it still looks “the same as ever”.

“On the reef close to the wreck there is a debris field between the two halves of the wreck and a little way around it. You would expect that. That’s still there, but there is already stuff happening on and around – even on the huge steel parts of the hull there’s growth on it already.

“Our opinion is that the reef close to the wreck is at least as good as it was, if not slightly better. The reason for that is because it hasn’t been fished, it hasn’t been touched.

“It’s almost, you could almost say, been a marine reserve for the last two years. I mean there’s been stuff going into the water and there’s been debris, but we were quite surprised how good it is. There is lots of fish out there – probably more than ever.”


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