June 13th, 2024

New Zealand completes its largest subantarctic marine research season

Comprehensive fieldwork aims to protect vulnerable species in remote island groups.

Antipodes Island coastline from the water. (Photo: Leon Berard, DOC)
Antipodes Island coastline from the water. (Photo: Leon Berard, DOC)

New Zealand's Department of Conservation (DOC) has successfully concluded what is described as the largest marine field season in the subantarctic region, involving extensive research and maintenance efforts across all five of its remote island groups. This task was achieved despite past challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather conditions, according to a media release.

Zoom in:

  • Extensive Reach: The field season saw coordinated efforts on Bounty Island, Antipodes Island, Snares Island, Auckland Islands, and Campbell Island.

  • Species Focus: Key research was directed at understanding the health of species like the hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion, alongside long-term monitoring of the Antipodean and Gibson’s albatross.

Details:

  • Conservation Status: New Zealand's subantarctic islands are recognised as national nature reserves and hold World Heritage status, underscoring their global ecological significance.

  • Challenges Addressed: The team worked under difficult conditions, including strong winds and rain, to complete essential maintenance on infrastructure like roofs and boardwalks, alongside their scientific endeavours.

Emerging trends:

  • Population Changes: Preliminary data indicates a slight increase in the number of sea lion pups on the Auckland Islands, although not as much as hoped, and high pup mortality rates on Campbell Island due to exposure and starvation.

  • Disease Monitoring: Teams have collected samples to monitor for pathogens like avian influenza, though highly pathogenic strains have not been detected in the region.

The bottom line: This year's field season in the New Zealand subantarctic islands has been a critical step towards the ongoing conservation of some of the world's most vulnerable species. With the combined efforts of multiple teams and the support from fisheries levies, DOC aims to mitigate the impacts of external threats such as commercial fishing on these unique ecosystems.