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About the Kermadec Islands Trip

What is the Vessel we will be heading there on?

 The vessel we use is the MV Flightless. A 27m ex navy ship which is built for the open ocean. This stable vessel is a perfect dive platform.

Where are the Kermadec Islands?

 

Lonely outposts in the southwest pacific this isolated group of islands are the summits of huge undersea volcanoes situated along the western edge of the Kermadec trench, protruding above the ocean.

The Islands have an unique assemblage of subtropical and temperate species, testimony to the process of evolution arriving from climate and isolation. Both the plant and bird communities have been heavily modified by people who attempted to make a living from these islands, but a conservation program is restoring the island, the goats and rats have been removed and many introduced plants controlled.

The marine ecosystem which is protected by an extensive Marine Reserve is unique in the world and offers amazing dive opportunities. Because of its location far from the main shipping routes it is one of the more difficult places in the world to get to. Our annual expedition provides an opportunity to explore the island and dive in the marine reserve.

Marine Ecology

The marine areas surrounding the Kermadecs are the only true example of sub-tropical waters in New Zealand, and are sufficiently far away from the mainland to have escaped heavy commercial fishing. Because of the great depth of water surrounding the islands, the area around the Kermadecs shallower than 200m extends (on average) only approximately 2km from the shore line.

The marine biota has strong tropical elements, and provides a link between the Indo-Pacific province and the New Zealand region. It is so different from the rest of New Zealand as to require separate status at a major bio geographic level.

A total of 145 fish species have been recorded from around the Kermadecs. Six marine species are endemic (4.6%), and a further six are endemic to the Norfolk-Kermadec region. Fifty-four percent of the Kermadec Islands species occur around the mainland or other offshore islands of New Zealand, but only 29% are common there. The Kermadecs fauna has a greater affinity with that of Lord Howe Island (66%). Furthermore, the species which occur in both the Kermadecs and around mainland New Zealand are not generally abundant in both, only 8 (27%). Therefore, the fauna of the Kermadecs differs markedly from that of other parts of New Zealand in both species composition and in those species which are abundant

Marine algae number 165 species, with red algae making up over half of the total species listed. The seaweeds found around the Kermadecs are characteristically of small size, with most plants 15cm in height. Several algal genera show warm water affinities.

The marine communities are important for their special populations (including the endemic giant limpet (Patella kermadecensis), and the spotted black groper (Epinephalus daemelii), interesting absences (many of the tropical herbivorous fish, most of the larger brown algae), populations of species at their geographic limits (corals and crown of thorn starfish). Marine reptiles which only straggle to the mainland, such as seasnakes and green turtles, are present around the islands.

With a total marine area of 4,300,000 square kilometres, New Zealand has one of the world’s largest Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) – 15 times the New Zealand land mass. The Kermadec region represents around 15% of this marine environment.

The seabed around the islands is extremely deep. Almost all of it descends to over 1,000 metres and more than a third of it to over 5,000 metres. And the Kermadec – Tonga trench plunges more than 10 kilometres beneath the ocean’s surface – about five times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

The Kermadec Arc is the longest under water volcanic arc on the planet. More than 50 submarine volcanoes extend along the 2,500 km collision zone between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.  The largest volcanic islands of the Kermadec region - Raoul, Macauley, Curtis, Cheeseman and L’Esperance - are the only uninhabited subtropical island group in the Southern Hemisphere

It is estimated as many as 35 species of dolphin and whale - including the blue whale, fin and sei whales - migrate through the Kermadec region on their seasonal journeys between the tropics and cooler waters around New Zealand. A survey in 2009 recorded more than 100 humpback whales off Raoul Island in a single day.

Of about

 

350 species of seabirds worldwide, 39 are found in the Kermadec region, ranging from tiny storm petrels to large wandering albatrosses. Some are found only in the this region, while others – many from mainland New Zealand and our subantarctic islands – forage for food or migrate through. Up to 6 million seabirds breed on the Kermadec Islands each year.

Three of the world’s seven sea turtle species are found in the Kermadecs: hawksbill, leatherback and green. These species regularly wander through the region en route south from their mainly tropical habitats. All are considered endangered or critically endangered.

Of the 1339

species

of fish known in the New Zealand EEZ, 431 of them (32%) occur along the Kermadec Ridge and Trench. But large areas of the Kermadecs– particularly those below depths of 600 metres – are virtually unexplored and it is highly likely that future surveys will reveal new and rare species.

The Census of Marine Life (the gold standard for measuring ocean biodiversity) published in 2010, estimated there were more than 230,000 species in our oceans. But the 10-year global study by 360 scientists warned of mass extinctions.

The Kermadec region is unusual for its mix of tropical and temperate species of crustaceans (crayfish, crabs, prawns and shrimps). Altogether, 88 species of crustacean are known here, of which 17 are known only in the Kermadecs. Some are new to science and some are specialised for Kermadec habitats – for example, two species of ‘vent crabs’ have adapted to survive one of the harshest environments imaginable, including searing temperatures, high acidity and toxic chemicals.

The Kermadecs have a unique population of tiny sea anemone-like animals known as bryozoans. Of 256 species identified so far, at least 38 are endemic and many are new to science. Some are ‘living fossils’, present in the oceans since the time of the dinosaurs tens of millions of years ago.

The Kermadecs contain one of the few shallow marine areas between mainland New Zealand and the coral reefs of the tropics. Together with the communities on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands, which are at similar latitudes, the marine ecosystems are possible unique.

Historical Features:

Although occupation had ceased when the first Europeans visited the islands in the late 18th Century, archaeological records show that Raoul Island was settled by Polynesian seafarers, probably during the phase of expansion into the south-west Pacific about one thousand years ago. The islands may have also acted as a stopping off point on journeys between the islands to the north and New Zealand. The traditional Maori name of Rangitahua has been ascribed to Raoul Island. This may represent a European interpretation made specifically to account for an early collection of Polynesian adzes found on the island.

The absence of ethnographic records means that our understanding of the prehistory of the Kermadecs is now dependent entirely on the remaining archaeological evidence. Research and artefacts found on Raoul to date indicate that the island was occupied about the mid-14th Century, probably from the Society Islands, although Anderson (1980) has suggested two periods of occupation dating from around the 10th and the 14th Centuries. There is preliminary evidence on Raoul of material sourced from New Zealand.

There is some evidence that Polynesian occupation of Raoul may have ended as a result of volcanic eruption. Elsewhere in the Kermadecs, the presence of kiore (Rattus exulans) and charcoal (dating from the 15th Century: Johnson, pers comm.) point to Polynesian contact with Macauley Island. However, the lack of water on the island would probably have precluded long term settlement.

Polynesian settlement areas on Raoul are known to have included Low Flat and the eastern end of the Terraces, and probably Denham Bay. The inhabitants subsisted on marine mammals, muttonbirds, fishing and gardening. Crops possibly introduced by these early settlers include taro (Colocasia esculenta) and kumara (Ipomea batatas). Other Polynesian introductions included kiore, and probably candle nut tree (Aleurites molucanna) and ti (Cordyline terminalis).

The Kermadecs have had a varied history of European contact since their “rediscovery” by a British convict ship in 1788. During the first half of the 19th Century Raoul was used as a base and provisioning point for ships working the rich whaling grounds of the area. Goats were introduced to Raoul and Macauley Island prior to 1836 to provide food for these activities. Pigs were also introduced to both islands but did not thrive.

Macauley Island appears to have been burnt off during the early 19th Century, possibly in conjunction with these introductions.

From 1837 onwards there were a number of attempts to settle Raoul Island and to establish farms and crops. Although these enterprises met with little success, sheep and cattle and a number of exotic crops and adventive plants were introduced, and areas were cleared for pasture and gardens. Volcanic activity resulted in at least one evacuation from the island, in 1870.

Cats arrived on Raoul Island during the 19th Century and Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) appear to have been introduced to Raoul from the wreck of the “Columbia River” in 1921, but may have been introduced. In 1908 the first assessment of the natural history of the Kermadecs was made by W.R.B. Oliver. His recommendations included reserve protection for the island he “foretold the damage rats and goats would have on indigenous fauna and flora”.

The Kermadecs were annexed by New Zealand in 1887, and the last settlers left Raoul in 1937 when a Government party arrived to establish the radio and meteorological station on the island.

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