Swimmers' buoys spark concern over 'suspicious' activity in marine reserve

Michele Surcouf and Margaret Johnston, who sparked a complaint to DOC after their flotation devices were mistaken for ...
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Michele Surcouf and Margaret Johnston, who sparked a complaint to DOC after their flotation devices were mistaken for fishing equipment.

The mystery of some suspicious looking activity in a marine reserve has been solved.

The intruders in Nelson's Horoirangi Marine Reserve, photographed and reported to the Department of Conservation for possibly illegally fishing, turn out to be two innocent swimmers with orange flotation devices.

The Glen resident Linda Nichols sent photos to DOC saying it was a boat that "appears to be towing buoys rather than fishing but we can't be sure".

Michele Surcouf and Margaret Johnston.
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Michele Surcouf and Margaret Johnston.

No fishing is allowed in marine reserves and there are hefty penalties for offenders.

However, swimmers Michele Surcouf and Margaret Johnston weren't doing anything wrong as they swam 6 kilometres from Cable Bay to the Glen, and in the boat was personal trainer Jaron Steffens who was shadowing them.

The two 60-year-old women are regular sea swimmers who like to do some adventurous swims.

MYSTERY NO MORE: Swimmers using orange flotation devices in the Horoirangi Marine Reserve at the Glen prompted a ...
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MYSTERY NO MORE: Swimmers using orange flotation devices in the Horoirangi Marine Reserve at the Glen prompted a concerned resident to contact the Department of Conservation.

Surcouf said they have taken to using the bright orange flotation devices so they are visible to boaties.

"They're a new trend to make swimmers more visible. You don't want to be run over by boaties and boaties don't want to run into us."

The devices are inflated bags with a line to a belt that goes around the swimmer. They had the added benefit of a pouch to put a drink, keys or cellphone in, she said.

She realised they had caused a stir when a friend showed her the article about the reported illegal activity in the marina. "My first thought was I hope I didn't do anything wrong."

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However, she wasn't upset at being reported to DOC.

"I am an advocate for marine reserves and protecting them, so good on the residents."

Surcouf said they'd been a little apprehensive about swimming through the marine reserve because of bronze whalers, so wanted the boat for support. They did swim by a school of kingfish and she found the clarity of the water "stunning".

"It was one of the things on my bucket list to do."

Both women are Sports Nelson Tasman Trust trustees and keen to see other swimmers use the brightly coloured devices to increase their safety.

Their sighting by the resident in the Glen showed that they worked, Surcouf said.

She had realised how effective they were when she was in Samoa with Christina Harris doing a 5km open water swim in challenging conditions.

"Her partner Phill drove to a hilltop above the race course to have a look. The only swimmer he could spot from up there was the one guy wearing his orange swim buoy. Even the kayakers weren't visible. That actually made an impression on me."

Bruce Robertson, who skippers The Ferry to Haulashore Island and the Boulder Bank, is also keen to see swimmers use them.

"From a boatie's point of view, I am out there on the ferry in every different condition possible and there are a lot of people swimming in the harbour, in the shipping lanes. Some days they're virtually impossible to see, even with your eyes peeled. These devices are brilliant, you not only see the colour you see an object on the water. It draws your attention so you think is it a buoy. I think they're great."

On Saturday from the port hills he was able to spot Surcouf and other swimmers out at the Boulder Bank in the water with the devices.

 - The Nelson Mail

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