The Story: The New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands lie south of mainland New Zealand, in latitudes known as the "roaring forties" and "furious fifties". They are New Zealand's southernmost islands and are of significant ecological and historical importance to our nation. The United Nations Environment Programme has described these islands as "the most diverse and extensive of all Sub-Antarctic archipelagos". Below the waves, the marine environment around the Sub Antarctic islands is like nowhere else on earth, and each of the four islands supports its own unique range of species. For example, underwater at the Bounty Islands the rock walls are covered in brightly coloured animals such as sponges, massive barnacles and mussels; at Antipodes Island there are coral-like pink seaweeds encrusting the reef, creating refuges for a huge range of other species. At the Auckland Islands, the diversity of the rocky reef communities is similar to the diversity of the Caribbean and Galapagos Islands, but the islands also mark the southernmost distribution of a number of species common around mainland New Zealand, such as the spiny lobster or crayfish. Compared with mainland New Zealand, relatively few fish species are found in shallow water at the Auckland Islands. Some of the most common are the Antarctic cod (or "small-scaled notothenid"), Maori chief (named for their striking colour patterns, similar to a moko) and thornfish, which are often found sheltered in rocky crevices and cracks, or resting on the rock walls, camouflaged against their background. Several small triplefins are also found at the Auckland Islands, not only in rock pools, but also hiding amongst the sponges, bryozoans and ascidians that encrust the rock walls".The linkages between the land and sea are vital at the Sub-Antarctic Islands. Many species such as seabirds and marine mammals depend on the sea for food, but need to return to the islands to rest, breed, moult and raise their young. For example, species such as yellow-eyed penguins forage in the seas around the Auckland Islands, but need to come ashore at certain times of year to moult, lay eggs and raise their chicks. Also, many species on land, such as some plants and invertebrates, use the nutrients brought back to shore by seabirds and marine mammals. For example, some plant species are reliant on penguins and other seabirds for the rich source of nitrogen they bring to shore in their guano. These complex interactions make it especially important to ensure that both the land and sea receive adequate protection, either through establishing protected areas, or through conservation management activities such as pest control on shore.
The Sub-Antarctic Islands themselves have been National Nature Reserves since the 1950s and the islands and their surrounding marine environment were afforded World Heritage Area status in 1998, recognising their international significance. The Auckland Islands (Motu Maha) Marine Reserve was established in 1993 and is New Zealand's second largest marine reserve, at nearly 500,000 hectares. This marine reserve protects the marine environment around the islands out to 12 nautical miles (about 22 km) offshore, extending to depths over 3000 metres. There are a range of habitats around the Auckland Islands, including large sheltered bays of muddy sediments. Remote underwater video surveys have revealed that there are abundant populations of crab-like animals living on the seabed
in these bays.
The Auckland Islands Marine Reserve will ensure that the marine environment around the islands is maintained in a pristine state for future generations to explore, enjoy and learn from. In 2014, three new marine reserves were established around the remaining three Sub Antarctic Islands (Campbell Island - Motu Ihupuku, the Bounty Islands and Antipodes Island), ensuring that the unique and globally-important marine species and habitats of the Sub Antarctic Region are protected.
The Scientist: Dr Debbie Freeman - marine scientist with the Department of Conservation.
Debbie undertakes research and provides advice on a range of issues relating to the marine environment. She has been working for several years on establishing marine reserves around the Sub-Antarctic Islands. In 2009, Debbie led a marine research expedition to the Bounty and Antipodes Islands, to learn more about the marine biodiversity of the islands. This work contributed toward the proposal to develop marine protected areas for the islands. In 2014 she went to the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island on the Navy vessel Wellington, a trip that coincided with the opening of new marine reserves around Campbell Island, the Bounty Islands and Antipodes Island.
Ascidians: often called "sea squirts", these are a type of animal that often appear similar to sponges, and have a tough outer "tunic". They can occur as individuals, or in large colonies.
Bryozoans: tiny animals that can aggregate to form massive structures. Colonies are made up of small units that each have a tiny opening for their feeding tentacles. They are often brightly-coloured, with a range of shapes, from encrusting sheets to plant-like or hard coral-like forms.
Guano: the excrement, or "poo" of seabirds, bats, or seals.
Moult: what animals do when they lose and then replace their feathers, skin, hair or shell.
Sponges: marine and freshwater animals, usually attached to reefs, that feed by filtering water through complex systems of pores and channels. They have diverse forms, and are often brightly coloured.
Video clip about Auckland Islands: