Date: 02 January 2012
A Department of Conservation volunteer is missing after going on a routine mission this morning to carry out meteorological work on Raoul Island in the remote Kermadec Island group.
The volunteer’s vehicle and gear were found close to where he was carrying out water temperature readings at 6am today. The remaining three staff and three volunteers have been carrying out a shore search of the area but have found no further sign.
A fixed wing aircraft has been sent up to Raoul by the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ) to carry out an aerial search and is due to reach the area at approximately 7.20pm. After using the remaining daylight, the intention is for the aircraft to return to base tonight and at that stage any further response will be assessed.
RCCNZ is coordinating the search and a mayday relay broadcast has been sent out to all vessels in the area for assistance if required.
The Department is monitoring the situation, with the safety and well being of the remaining staff and volunteers being the top priority.
The Kermadecs islands, 1000km northeast of New Zealand, are a nature reserve managed by the Department of Conservation. The chain of islands some 250km along the western edge of the Kermadec Trench, with Raoul Island being the biggest at 2900ha.
Only one of the Kermadec Islands is inhabited. This is Raoul, the largest island where a DOC base is located. It’s currently home to 3 DOC staff and 4 volunteers.
A major part of the conservation work conducted by DOC staff and volunteers based on Raoul Island is eradicating weeds to protect the 113 plants that are native to the Kermadec islands.
As well as their conservation work DOC staff and volunteers based on Raoul island:
- Run a weather station for the New Zealand Met Service
- Monitor seismic and volcanic activity for the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS)
- Collect air samples for the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) which is important in monitoring global warming
- Monitor and maintain equipment for the United Nation’s Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation
The weed eradication programme is vital for the ecosystems that sustain the rich birdlife on the Kermadecs. The islands are home to 35 bird species, five of which are unique to the islands. Birds found only on the islands include the Kermadec petrel, Kermadec red-crowned parakeet and Kermadec little shearwater.
Fourteen species of seabird nest on the Kermadecs with an estimated six million birds involved in breeding every year.
There are 23 species and sub species of plants that are unique to the Kermadecs. These include the Kermadec pohutukawa, the Keramdec nikau and the Kermadec nettle tree.
DOC has eradicated rats, mice, feral cats and dogs that were threatening the Kermadec’s unique birdlife. As a result Kermadec petrels and Kermadec parakeets, that were breeding only on outer islands, are now breeding on Raoul Island again.
The pest eradication has also seen the recovery of the Kermadecs as an internationally important stronghold for seabirds ranging from tiny storm petrels to wandering albatrosses which have the largest wing span of any bird in the world.
The 745,000 hectares of ocean surrounding the islands are also protected as New Zealand’s largest marine reserve. This means these waters can not be fished.
Liz Maire, ph 021 234 0831