Archives For kermadecs

Thanks to a beautiful new paint job and our Dulux partnership, the buildings of Raoul Island now have their whites a little whiter, and their brights a little brighter.

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Two tracks on Raoul Island in the Kermadecs have been dedicated to the memory of Mark Kearney and Mihai Muncus-Nagy.

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Problem – how to get an 800 kilogram light utility vehicle across 1,000 kilometres of water, landed on a rock then winched up a bluff. Solution – pull it apart.

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Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by volunteer Katie Grinsted.

Interested in becoming a volunteer on Raoul Island? DOC is recruiting for volunteers for August 2013 to February 2014 now. See www.doc.govt.nz/raoulvolunteers for more information.

On our way

It has been just over a month since us five volunteers departed Auckland, waved goodbye to the world we knew, and began our life on Raoul Island. I have been to some pretty special places in my life but I think this may just take the cake. We are actually marooned on a (sub) tropical island. We’re stuck here with the volcanoes, the earthquakes, surrounded by sharks and we are lovin’ it!

The journey began with a five day crossing on the sailboat Ranui. Sometime on a Friday morning, the high cliffs of Hutchison Bluff appeared.  We were almost there!

Cripes! Look at this place! View of Raoul Island from the Ranui.

Cripes! Look at this place! View of Raoul Island from the Ranui

It seemed no time at all that we were onshore, after so long at sea firm ground felt like an illusion. Thankfully we were steadied by the welcoming arms of our new island mates. The nine Cruisers of Sunday Island united!

The island itself

Raoul Island is a beautiful place. Everyday as I walk around I try and take a moment or two to look around me and yell, more often out loud: “Woo hoo! So lucky to be here.”!

Despite being located so far from NZ, much of the flora and fauna here is identical or at least very similar, to NZ. The plant and animal life has had a boost with the removal of mammalian predators. The climate here is excellent for growing and everything here seems to shoot up so fast.

This is actually a five-finger tree for those of you who recognize it in NZ.

A five finger tree on Raoul Island.

Massive five finger tree. Woop!

What we do

With the animal pests removed it is now it is up to us to get rid of the other pests on the island – the unwanted plant species. Condemned for their lack of consideration for other plants, and their effects on the habitat of the animal species, the weeds on Raoul Island are the focus of the work here.

Volunteers weeding on Raoul Island.

Weeding – serious stuff on Raoul Island

The forest here is no walk in the park! Sometimes it is even a walk in a volcanic area!

Volcanic landscape on Raoul Island.

Volcanic landscape on Raoul Island

Yep! Weeding can take it out of you!

Volunteers lying on the beach.

Flat out on the beach after a hard day’s work

Downtime

But it is a lot of fun and life isn’t all hard work! There are plenty of other things to entertain your average cruiser. There are the water sports – snorkeling in New Zealand’s largest marine reserve for example…

Three people diving in the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve.

Having fun in the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve

And brewing high-quality beverages for another…

Volunteers check on the beer in the storehouse.

Checking out the brew

Then there are the forest sports. The other weekend we spent a night at the wee sky-blue Mahoe Hut before battling our way down a large dry waterfall to the coast. We emerged sweaty and exhausted but none the less, happy.

Mahoe Hut on Raoul Island.

Our weekend getaway, Mahoe Hut

And of course, there is the sport of ‘just cruisin’, a natural and accepted progression of island life…

Who could ask for more?

Pair of Tasman boobies, North Meyer Island.

Pair of Tasman boobies, North Meyer Island

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC have a small team of staff and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by Raoul Island Ranger – Threats (Weeds), Biodiversity & Mechanic, Tim Butcher.

The Otago arrives

Usually for me, the month of May means one thing—duck shooting! This year however, May brought with it a whole new variety of activities. It was early in the month that the HMNZS Otago arrived for our resupply.

HMNZS Otago near Raoul Island.

The HMNZS Otago steaming to Raoul Island

On board, along with our food and gear for the next six months, were our winter vollies, aka volunteers (a cyclone clean up crew), the Minister of Conservation and her party, a group of artists, a representative from the Pew environment group, two radio presenters and two sparkies (one of which was our DOC staff member from Warkworth, Paul Rennie).

A busy day of unloading saw everything and everyone landed on the island. The artists and the Minister set about exploring the island as they were here for only two days.

The short period of the Otago’s stay was a busy time; we were not used to having so many people to talk to! We were joined on shore by the Commanding Officer of the Otago on the day before their departure. We had organised a lunch and presentations for the VIPs which was held on the front lawn. I was a little concerned about giving a speech to the big boss (aka the Minister!), but it all went off without a hitch.

The next day we once again manned the fox (the flying fox, that is) and derrick and offloaded everyone’s gear. It was somewhat tricky with a solid northerly swell coming into Fishing Rock. To offload the people we had to launch our lancer (boat) with Toby driving and Zarak assisting. They were able to get right up to the rocks to pick people up and then deliver them to the Navy inflatable. No one went in the drink and Toby and Zarak did a mighty job pretending they were on Piha rescue!

Kermadec petrel chick, North Meyer Island.

Kermadec petrel chick, North Meyer Island

It was then time to say goodbye to our summer vollies Nigel, Maree and Terry. We were all sad to see them go as we’d had many a great time with them over the summer. They put a huge effort into the weed programme and into looking after the island.

Other ships in our waters

While the Otago was here we also had the Braveheart and Tranquil Image floating around with groups of scientists checking out the underwater life (as well as some who came ashore to catch insects and look at plants). Three boats out at the Meyer Islands all at once! Madness! The findings of the research conducted will be very interesting.

The clean up crew

Now that the Otago had left, we had a few extras for a month or so. The cyclone clean up crew (Mike, Zarak and Ian) got to work on cleaning up Boat Cove Road, which was hit hard by fallen trees and slips during the cyclone. After that they tidied up some other tracks and also repaired the derrick shed. They got through a mountain of work that would have taken us the rest of our time here to complete otherwise.

Tasman booby preening, North Meyer Island.

Tasman booby preening, North Meyer Island

The two Pauls got stuck into testing wiring, replacing fuse boards, digging holes, listening to Frank Sinatra and putting my tools were I couldn’t find them. As well as all this activity, we were getting the new vollies (Ed, Amy, Danielle and James) up to speed with the things that go on here.

The time with the extra people on the island was pretty fun. Mike celebrated his birthday during that time so a traditional dress up party was a must.

Out to the Meyers

A trip to the Meyers was a highlight of the month. We had two bird recorders to install—one on North Meyer and one on South Meyer. I spent most of the day sitting on the hill taking photos of the sea birds.

There were thousands of Kermadec petrels of all colour phases nesting, many with chicks ranging from newly hatched to bordering on being fully fledged. Hopping around between the nests were several kakariki.

There were still a good number of red-tailed tropic birds nesting on the cliffs. My best experience of the day came when a pair of Tasman boobies landed about three metres away from me. Without a care in the world they went about their business of preening and calling to each other. One was picking up small stones and sticks and giving them to the other as little gifts. Maybe a stick is the booby equivalent of a bunch of flowers?

There was also a juvenile that repeatedly flew low overhead, looking in on proceedings, but it never landed. At one stage, one from the pair walked to within a metre of me a stood there looking at me with a quizzical look on its face. Several hundred photos and a few hours later I left them to their business (even though they didn’t seem to care I was there) and headed back to the boat.

Red tailed tropic bird on nest.

Red tailed tropic bird on nest

From there we headed to South Meyer to install the second recorder. Once again it was covered with nesting Kermadec petrels. An interesting find was a recently deceased Kermadec little shearwater.

And back to normal life

Apart from our weekend activities, the hard work of running an island continues. There is always something that requires attention. But that’s what makes the job so diverse and interesting!

Warren Chinn, our invertebrate ecologist in Canterbury Conservancy, was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to the Kermadec Islands last month. The 20-day expedition, led by Dr Tom Trnski, marine curator at Auckland Museum, aimed to explore the remote islands for new species. Warren filed this report on his return…

…We tend to form mental pictures of new places based on prior knowledge, other people’s comments, pictures, maps and to a large extent, imagination of ‘how it should be’.

My mental image of the Kermadecs was a scene of romantically isolated semi-tropical lost worlds, the stuff of Joseph Banks and La Peruse. Sea sickness immediately erased such nonsense within hours of leaving Tauranga.

Our vessel: The Braveheart at Tauranga.

Our vessel: The Braveheart at Tauranga.

Our first sighting of the Kermadec group was L’Esperance Rock, a mutilated knuckle of basalt erupting from the heaving ocean. It was better than my imagination – a good start.

L’Esperance Rock comes into view, after two days.

L’Esperance Rock comes into view, after two days.

We steamed past as it was too rough to land and over the following days three more islands in the chain slowly came into view, these were; Cheeseman, Curtis and Macauley.

Each island seemed to me like a massive billboard in the ocean, with an explicit natural history message: “HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?” Followed by two smaller messages: “when did this happen?”, and “what lives here and from where?”

Petrels fill the air above South Meyer Island.

Petrels fill the air above South Meyer Island.

We anchored near Raoul Island, where I landed on the Meyer Island group with (the very erstwhile) Peter de Lange.

The Meyer islands are steep-sided, clad in a dry, friable soil that is shot through with Petrel burrows. An equal number of birds fill the sky, forming a constant blizzard of flapping and diving.

Here was another ecological message: This is what mainland coastal New Zealand would have been like prior to our arrival and the introduction of mammalian predators. These Islands are a nature reserve of the highest value and this is clearly why – they are well-insulated.

Petrel burrows on North Meyer Island.

Petrel burrows on North Meyer Island.

The insect fauna on the small islands comprised big headed ants, flies, crickets, leaf hoppers and small moths. Spiders were common and small in size, which probably reflects their arrival on the islands by ballooning, that is, travelling through the air on filaments of silk. Centipedes and millipedes were also present, along with mites and silverfish.

The next week I spent four days on Raoul Island, a proper volcano with a crater lake. After a lovely evening with the DOC staff and volunteers, I tramped over to Denham Bay to collect invertebrates there. Here I set up a malaise trap and collected numerous moths, flies and even spiders.

The most interesting find was a large wolf spider, Geolycosa tongatabuensis, a species that occurs from Tonga to Northland. These spiders represent the invertebrate situation on the Kermadecs, the fauna is composed of a mixture of pacific island and northern New Zealand elements, which makes sense biogeographically.

It is clear that cyclones, drift wood, ocean currents and air systems all carry invertebrates within and between land masses in this part of the globe.

A wolf spider found between Northland New Zealand and Tonga.

A wolf spider found between Northland New Zealand and Tonga.

We left Raoul Island and anchored at Macauley Island. Here Peter and I spent two nights. The foot travel was difficult as moving through the chest-high Kermadec fern and Cyperus grass was like step-plugging in deep snow.

However, I collected more crickets, moths, beetles and spiders. I even saw a yellow admiral butterfly but was unable to catch it. Butterflies no doubt get blown to these islands frequently so there will always be some present.

Landing on Cheeseman Island.

Landing on Cheeseman Island.

We then steamed to Cheeseman and Curtis Islands. These two are active hotspots on the earth’s surface and this was obvious by the smoke coming from Curtis Island.

We landed on Cheeseman; a strange, almost lunar landscape. The most exciting find was Senecio kermadecensis – a plant endemic to the island – which had Peter very excited. I collected spiders, flies, beetles and crickets.

A Solomona cricket on Esperance Rock.

A Solomona cricket on Esperance Rock.

Our last landing was L’Esperance Rock which was a little hair-raising. A steep pile of volcanic rubble best describes this Island.

However I found two species of pseudoscorpion, numerous crickets and another wolf spider species on the rock. The pseudoscorpions probably got onto the rock via birds, as they are flightless and wouldn’t survive on flotsam. L’Esperance Rock was the very last place I expected to find pseudoscorpions, so there it is; reality was more creative than my imagination.

Peter on the summit of Esperance Rock.

Peter on the summit of Esperance Rock.

You can find out more by visiting the expedition pages on the Auckland Museum website.