An extensive search and rescue operation has sadly failed to find the Department of Conservation volunteer missing on Raoul Island since Monday morning.

Date:  04 January 2012

An extensive search and rescue operation has sadly failed to find the Department of Conservation volunteer missing on Raoul Island since Monday morning.

The missing man has been named as 33-year old Mihai Muncus-Nagy of Romania.

Mihai Muncus-Nagy
Mihai Muncus-Nagy    

DOC Warkworth Great Barrier Island Area Manager Tim Brandenburg says that despite extensive efforts by DOC staff, working in consultation with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ), Mr Muncus-Nagy has not been located.

“Given the length of time that has now passed without finding Mihai, it’s unfortunately now gone beyond the point where he could reasonably still be expected to be alive. Therefore, in discussions with RCCNZ, the difficult decision has been made to formally suspend the search.

“Our hearts and thoughts are now with his family in Romania.”

Mr Brandenburg says support is being given to Mr Muncus-Nagy’s family back in Romania who have accepted that he is unlikely to have survived. Plans are being considered to bring Mr Muncus-Nagy’s wife to New Zealand and enable her to visit Raoul, should she wish to do so.

Fellow DOC staff have also found the loss hard to accept, he says.

“Everyone involved has found this a difficult time, trying to keep the search and hope going, but then having to accept that the outcome is not going to be good. We are devastated to think we have lost a dedicated conservationist like Mihai.”

Mr Muncus-Nagy joined the team on the island at the end of October, fulfilling one of his dreams to go to Raoul. His mountaineering experience and ability to work in small teams in the outdoors made him a good fit for the work involved.

“We do know Mihai was very happy to have the opportunity to contribute to the programme on the island. He was passionate about his work, both as a volunteer for the Department and as a ranger back in Romania. His workmates on Raoul tell me he was a popular, fun loving and capable person - and a joy to have around. He will be hugely missed,” says Mr Brandenburg.

DOC and the Department of Labour will be carrying out a full investigation into the incident to piece together what may have happened in this tragic incident.

Further information

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 Kermadec 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

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