Chris Hepburn

Hepburn_Chris Small.png

YOB: 1974
Experience: Marine Ecologist
Regions: Otago, Banks Peninsula, Catlins, Foveaux Strait, Rakiura/Stewart Island, Fiordland
Interview Location: Dunedin, NZ
Interview Date: 21 December 2015
Post Date: 17 May 2017; Copyright © 2017 Chris Hepburn and Steve Crawford


CRAWFORD: When was your first memory of spending a significant amount of time on or around New Zealand coastal waters?

HEPBURN: I guess younger than five, at Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, playing on the beach there.

CRAWFORD: Did you have a holiday home there?

HEPBURN: That's where we lived, on the back beach at Nelson.

CRAWFORD: Were you swimming, taking swimming lessons - that type of thing?

HEPBURN: I think we were allowed to swim. We moved to Rarotonga [Cook Islands] when I was four, something like that. In between Tonga and Tahiti.

CRAWFORD: What was your family doing way up there?

HEPBURN: My dad was teaching, he was a schoolteacher there. He was head of English. We were only there for three or four years. That's where I got into underwater stuff.

CRAWFORD: That was at the age of five?

HEPBURN: Yeah. My first day of school was over there. 

CRAWFORD: How long did you spend on Rarotonga?

HEPBURN: Probably about four years. Then we came back to Cromwell, which is about as far away from the sea as you can get in New Zealand. On the Clutha River.

CRAWFORD: Another teaching gig for your dad?


CRAWFORD: So, you went from an almost entirely marine environment, to an almost entirely non-marine environment, at least by New Zealand standards?

HEPBURN: Yeah, it was quite a cultural change. From somewhere that's quite immersed in Polynesian cultures, to something that's quite different from it.

CRAWFORD: You returned at about the age of nine or so?

HEPBURN: Yeah, probably. Eight or nine, sort of around that age.

CRAWFORD: Did you spend any significant amount of time at holiday homes, or touring to places on the coast?

HEPBURN: I guess it was the early 1980s through to about the 90s, we spent a lot of time at Kaka Point. My Auntie had a holiday home there, so we would go down there a couple of times a year, at least for a couple of weeks. Just go down and go fishing on the coast there.

CRAWFORD: You would've been mid-teens by this point?

HEPBURN: Yeah, yeah. Round that sort of age. We did a fair bit of fishing there, at the Clutha mouth. 

CRAWFORD: When you say ‘we’, was this you and your dad or you and your mates?

HEPBURN: Yeah, my dad and my brothers.

CRAWFORD: And you were line fishing?

HEPBURN: Yeah. Off the shore.

CRAWFORD: What kind of fish we looking for?

HEPBURN: Just anything. We were just playing. So, Spotties [Wrasse], Blue Cod. We never caught any Blue Cod, just caught Spotties. And a lot of trout fishing - Kahawai.
CRAWFORD: In the river or off the coast?

HEPBURN: Both. Always off the rocks, or at the river mouth, or up the river. We were mainly fishing when we were down here, because we did a lot of freshwater fishing up in Central Otago. We were mainly going saltwater fishing. I was pretty obsessed with fishing in the sea, because you would never know what you would catch. You knew what you were going to catch up in the rivers. 

CRAWFORD: This was several weeks a year?

HEPBURN: Yeah, maybe a couple weeks a year.

CRAWFORD: Ok. An active interest in fishing. Any other activities like sailing or boating or anything else?

HEPBURN: Not really. Maybe go for a bit of a swim. But it was quite funny, the disconnect between. I wouldn't go in the water there. It was quite different from what we used to.

CRAWFORD: Different from Cromwell?

HEPBURN: Different from Rarotonga. It's completely different. A tropical lagoon system can be one of the most exposed coastlines in New Zealand. We just didn't get in the water. We were quite frightened of it, I would say.

CRAWFORD: Because of the hydrodynamics?

HEPBURN: It was just dirty. You couldn't see anything. Cold. Waves. There weren't many people diving back then. You didn't even see people in the water.

CRAWFORD: What about surfers?

HEPBURN: I can't ever remember seeing a surfer. 

CRAWFORD: And yet now, both swimming and surfing are big deals in that region.

HEPBURN: I don't remember seeing any at the time. People would go swimming at the beach. But I don't remember seeing any surfers, and I don't remember seeing people skindiving. There were wetsuits, masks, and scuba diving. It wasn't very common. Even in the 1980s.

CRAWFORD: I'm guessing at some point you started to show an interest in scuba diving?

HEPBURN: It wasn't until I was down here at university in Dunedin.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Hold on to that for a second. Your seasonal pattern with the holiday house at Kaka Point, was that pattern generally the case until you started university?

HEPBURN: Yeah, pretty much.

CRAWFORD: You started university when?

HEPBURN: 1993.

CRAWFORD: Here at Otago?


CRAWFORD: What program were you in?

HEPBURN: I got a zoology and botany degree.

CRAWFORD: You would've been about 20 years old?

HEPBURN: Yeah, I guess so. I didn't really start to get into scuba diving until my little brother… he started diving probably at the end of my study, may be in 1997. Something like that. He started snorkelling and diving, so I just started hanging out with him, and got back into it again.

CRAWFORD: When your brother was diving, where was he doing that?

HEPBURN: Around the harbour, the Otago Harbour.

CRAWFORD: Whereabouts in the harbour?

HEPBURN: The first place I went in the water snorkelling here we were at Harrington Point, just at the entrance of Otago Harbour, right at the narrowest point where it goes out.  I wore a balaclava and an ill-fitting wetsuit, and it was frickin freezing in the middle of winter. 

CRAWFORD: That diving was with your brother, and you were mid-20s, an undergrad student?


CRAWFORD: Was that a combination of scuba diving and snorkelling?

HEPBURN: Yep. We snorkelled and dove everywhere we possibly could. Every day, everywhere. In the water a lot.

CRAWFORD: Did you do any spearfishing?

HEPBURN: Not till later. I started spearfishing in the 2000s, probably around 2003, something like that.

CRAWFORD: But at this point it was just free diving and scuba diving?

HEPBURN: Yeah, just playing around. Getting Crayfish, if we could.

CRAWFORD: What's the next big change in your coastal activities?

HEPBURN: I graduated about 1998, and then I started a Ph.D. That was 1999.

CRAWFORD: Here at Otago as well?

HEPBURN: Yes. It was at Harington Point, the same place I did my first snorkelling. The reason it happened was that [I found a bit of kelp], and I took it to my Supervisor. She had just finished her postdoc in Canada. In the kelp, there was the same animal that she had worked on in Canada. So, I started my Ph.D. with her on that.

CRAWFORD: Same animal here, as an invasive species?

HEPBURN: No, it's on the Pacific Coast. It's not invasive on the North American West Coast, though it is invasive on the East Coast and cause a lot of damage.

CRAWFORD: But it's native here?

HEPBURN: Yeah, it seems to be. It's hard to tell sometimes. Because some of this stuff could have come over in the old ships. We don't know.

CRAWFORD: What was the specific nature of your Ph.D.?

HEPBURN: It was nutrient relationships, like mutualism and how things operated together; whether it was antagonistic or mutualistic.

CRAWFORD: When did you start that research?

HEPBURN: 1998/99.

CRAWFORD: You finished around 2003, 2004?

HEPBURN: Yeah, 2003.

CRAWFORD: I would imagine that you spent a large proportion of your field seasons in the water?

HEPBURN: Yeah, we did a lot of diving around the mouth of the harbour. Scuba diving and free diving. Whatever was required to get the job done.

CRAWFORD: Mostly around the harbour mouth?

HEPBURN: The mouth of the harbour, and further north around Warrington, Karitane, those sorts of places.

CRAWFORD: When you say the mouth of the harbour, does that mean inside the breakwater? Near the groyne? Where?

 HEPBURN: No, it means the other side. on the Taiaroa Heads side, Harington Point is the next headland in. Through the spit wharves on the other side. It's right out, so you've got the mole, the breakwater - it's on the other side of the harbour. The first point in from Taiaroa Head is Harington Point. So it's got waves, it's partly exposed. 

CRAWFORD: That field work was 1999 to about 2004?

HEPBURN: End of 2003. I also did a part-time position down at Stewart Island for a year, on and off working at Paterson's Inlet. That started about 2001.

CRAWFORD: Was that a contract?

HEPBURN: Yeah, it was a research grant that my Supervisor got and I did it, and it sort of built a bit off the work I had been doing for my Ph.D. We were tagging kelp down there. Doing a lot of diving there as well.

CRAWFORD: Tagging kelp? What was the purpose of that?

HEPBURN: Measuring growth.

CRAWFORD: That was in Paterson Inlet, close to the neck, close to the mouth? Or further in?

HEPBURN: It was all around Ulva Island. Manawahei, Nugget [northern side of Ulva]. You probably know all these places now. Inside of Native Island. Did a bit on the outside of Native Island.

CRAWFORD: Anything in Big Glory Bay?

HEPBURN: No, we didn't work and Big Glory.

CRAWFORD: Up towards Freshwater River?

HEPBURN: No, it was out further. Ringaringa Beach. You know the beaches on the outside? Sort of around the outer regions.

CRAWFORD: That was for one year? Did it displace the thesis work you were doing?

HEPBURN: I was doing a bit of both.

CRAWFORD: 70:30? 70% Stewart Island?

HEPBURN: Nah, it was 50:50.  I still had my scholarship work to do back up here [University of Otago].

CRAWFORD: While at Paterson Inlet, that was both free diving and scuba diving?

HEPBURN: Yep. A lot of time on the boat too. We spent hours and hours out there, and a lot of time in the water.

CRAWFORD: And that was 2001?


CRAWFORD: Ok. Your Ph.D. comes to a completion in 2004. Then what happened?

HEPBURN: I did a postdoc on ocean acidification in the Botany Department. That was more focused on the north Otago Coast. We moved our research effort up to the Karitane area. I supervised students working on that section of coast.

CRAWFORD: With reference to your research, what topics were you working on?

HEPBURN: Lots of different things, but we focused on scuba diving, snorkelling, in situ stuff, so we were in the water a lot. Ocean acidification, things that drive primary productivity.

CRAWFORD: Karitane region? Did you go into the estuary, upriver at all?

HEPBURN: We were just on the coast, in the kelp forests.

CRAWFORD: About a kilometre from the bar?

HEPBURN: Oh no. We were right along, from further north up around Cornish Head, those reefs further north. But Mainly focussed on the Huriawa Peninsula, which is quite close to the bar. It's just the next bay around. But also a lot of places further south. We had a good look around.

CRAWFORD: That was one year, or multiple years?

HEPBURN: Probably until about 2008. What's that, maybe three years - around there.

CRAWFORD: What happened in 2008?

HEPBURN: I got a postdoc here at Otago [Marine Science]. Working on customary fisheries management, looking at indicators of productivity.

CRAWFORD: How much of your time for that postdoc did you spend on or around the water?

HEPBURN: Heaps. That's what it was, it was field-based, doing assessments of Paua fisheries, and relating them to kelp growth rates. Basic fisheries information for a bunch of different management areas all around.

CRAWFORD: Lots of field survey work, combination still of scuba and free diving? Or mostly scuba now?

HEPBURN: A lot of free diving, and scuba too. We tried to do as much as we could for free diving - it was just easier. If you can hold your breath long enough, you can get quite a few things done. The scope of what we were doing has extended out. When we’re talking about the work I was doing, I was also working in Fiordland. And also did trips to southern Stewart Island, and things like that.

CRAWFORD: Where those one-off things?

HEPBURN: Probably a number of times for Fiordland. I’ve probably been over there about eight times, or something like that.

CRAWFORD: At Milford Sound? Doubtful?

HEPBURN: Milford and Doubtful, yeah. Mainly Doubtful.

CRAWFORD: What kind of work did you do there?

HEPBURN: Seaweed work. Also did work on some quite big surveys that were seaweed-related. Crayfish. I did some work for monitoring the tail race out at Manapouri.

CRAWFORD: The what?

HEPBURN: The tail race - you know, the Manapouri Power Station? It pumps water into Doubtful Sound. There's a monitoring program there, so we went and set up monitoring sites throughout Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound.

CRAWFORD: That was part of an environmental assessment?

HEPBURN: Yeah. They just had students doing odd jobs here and there. Yeah, a fair bit through that area. I know it fairly well. I've done a bit of diving there. And some diving just for fun as well.

CRAWFORD: Ok. That takes us up to what, about 2010?

HEPBURN: Yeah, around there. 

CRAWFORD: What happened then?

HEPBURN: In 2011 I finished that postdoc. Where I worked for the stuff when we worked at Waitutu. We are going down there next year to look at some stuff. We worked at Kaka Point, a place called Te Puna O Wai Toriki [customary fishery area]. Which is a place there, East Otago. We also worked up here at Port Levy.

CRAWFORD: Is that out on the north side of Banks Peninsula?

HEPBURN: Yeah. And East Cape of the North Island.

CRAWFORD: Were all of these customary fisheries related projects?

HEPBURN: They are all reserves, ‘customary fishery protection areas’ they call them. We were providing baseline information for management.

CRAWFORD: This was part of a multiyear field assessment in support of reserve designation?

HEPBURN: It was more the beginning survey, so that their community ... Ngāi Tahu could assess how they were doing with their management interventions. More or less it's grown and they’re just looking at doing rotations. They've got huge numbers of these reserves, I’ve probably got about a dozen now that we've worked on. So, it's a big job. But we continue to go to new places and to do all that sort of stuff.

CRAWFORD: That work started, effectively, around 2008?

HEPBURN: Yep. 2011 I got a job here [Otago] as a Lecturer in Science. And I continued that work on since 2008. That customary fisheries work is a key part of what I do, and it has been since 2008.

CRAWFORD: When you took on the new responsibilities as a Lecturer, did your time in the field decrease?

HEPBURN: Yes. Yes it has.

CRAWFORD: By 20%? 50%? 80%? If you had to guess?

HEPBURN: Well, compared to what I was doing as a postdoc, when I was in the field every day that the weather was good, it was a decrease of about 80%. I'm just thinking, my memory is not all that good - maybe too much diving. I'm thinking about the number of times I went diving this year, and it would be pretty minimal. I might have had two weeks of diving this year.

CRAWFORD: Right. Now you're a Lecturer in a major university's marine science department. You’ve got teaching responsibilities, graduate students, postdocs of your own. That all adds up.

HEPBURN: Yeah. The diving gets reduced, at least for the meantime.

CRAWFORD: What else changed, if anything, in terms of your activities?

HEPBURN: They probably broaden, just a little bit. Supervising students, working on a range of projects that are quite different in different places.

CRAWFORD: Let’s specifically focus on Southland, Fiordland, Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island. Over the past ten years what kind of projects have you been directly involved in?

HEPBURN: Probably exclusively at Stewart Island, I've mainly been working. I guess at Waitutu as well, which is sort of getting out into Fiordland, doing baseline surveys there.

CRAWFORD: Baseline surveys for Paua?

HEPBURN: Yeah. I'm just trying to think about Stewart Island, how many Masters students I've had go through there. 

CRAWFORD: When did those student projects start?

HEPBURN: We probably started 2011/2012. That's when we started working down there. We went down there and did a big scallop survey of the inlet - that was right in the middle of winter. We surveyed about ... I think it was 15,000 hectares of Paterson Inlet. We swam the whole bloody thing. I've also had field classes down there a bit. And I've dived during them. We went and did a dive out at Bench Island - that was kind of memorable. That would have been about 2011, probably just when I started. We had students doing scallop work, sharks - the Sevengill work, seaweed, aquaculture work, basic kelp forest ecology. We might've had maybe 10 students.

CRAWFORD: Tell me about the shark work.

HEPBURN: Jordan Housiaux’s doing work on Sevengill Sharks, tagging and looking at their population in Stewart Island.

CRAWFORD: Population, in terms of distribution?

HEPBURN: Distribution, genetics, migration.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Population discrimination, population structure, individual movement - abundance and distribution?

HEPBURN: Yeah, mark and recapture methodology.

CRAWFORD: Who's doing the recapturing?

HEPBURN: We are. Using tags, But that hasn't been very successful. So, using marks on the animal.

CRAWFORD: What kind of tags?

HEPBURN: They’re from a place called Hallprint.

CRAWFORD: Are these harpoon tags?


CRAWFORD: If you see an animal, you can probably, if you know what you're looking for, see that it is tagged or not?

HEPBURN: What we found is that the tags get covered up quite a lot with crap. It seems as though it's a very large population there, but Jordan can talk about that better than I could. The sharks were shedding the tags. One of the tags was found at Moeraki - the tag was just sitting on the beach - from an animal that had been tagged at Stewart Island.

CRAWFORD: When did that shark tagging work begin? Soon after 2011?

HEPBURN: Nah, that would have started last year [2014].

CRAWFORD: So, it's only been two years or so then?

HEPBURN: Yeah, so she's writing it all up at the moment.

CRAWFORD: Two field seasons at Stewart Island?

HEPBURN: Yes, last year and this year. She's finished now. She didn't get that many recaptures. Will Rayment's got a student starting on these sharks next year. They'll continue the work that Jordan had started.  

CRAWFORD: What's the most important thing, do you figure, that research has shown about these Sevengillers in Paterson Inlet?

HEPBURN: Probably that there is a reasonable population of them there. It's hard to know, it's still pretty preliminary. Also, we didn't find any on the open coast. That seems to be quite interesting.

CRAWFORD: When you say a decent population abundance, if you had to guess what would we be talking about?

HEPBURN: Hundreds, yeah. They catch them a lot in trawls. They are quite a common fish. And when you are spearfishing, you see them a lot.

CRAWFORD: Trawls in Paterson Inlet?

HEPBURN: No. That's just from talking to the [commercial] trawlermen who catch them.

CRAWFORD: They catch them with your tags on them?

HEPBURN: No, not really. Recently, that was this winter, the guys went down, I couldn't go this year, and did a big survey of the Bravo Islands, a Paua survey.  Bravo islands are at the entrance of Big Glory Bay. 

CRAWFORD: Just east of Ulva Island?

HEPBURN: Yeah. I'm probably not remembering a lot of the things we've done down there. But I'd say that I've had a wee bit of a look around.

CRAWFORD: And you have had several fingers in several pies over the past decade.

HEPBURN: Many pies, yeah.

CRAWFORD: Well, when you talk about having 10 graduate students, and they're not sequentially lined up on the same project, you're looking at several different things ...

HEPBURN: Yeah, that's right.

CRAWFORD: Does that pretty much bring us up to date?


Copyright © 2017 Chris Hepburn and Steve Crawford