The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is transporting 51 government staff and scientists, 20 students and eight tonnes of equipment and material to the Kermadec Islands this week to support four agencies undertaking scientific and advocacy work there.
Commodore Jim Gilmour, the Maritime Component Commander, said amphibious sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury and an embarked SH-2G(I) Seasprite helicopter would be providing logistic support to the Department of Conservation (DOC), GNS Science, MetService and Sir Peter Blake Trust during a resupply mission to Raoul Island from 26 February to 9 March.
“The NZDF has a longstanding partnership with these agencies. Their work is vital for our country’s biosecurity and public safety and for scientific advancement and environmental awareness,” Commodore Gilmour said.
DOC program manager Phil Hancock said NZDF support was vital to the short- and medium-term monitoring programs set up by the agency to track the spread and impact of myrtle rust disease on pohutukawa trees in the Kermadecs.
“The monitoring will give us a good understanding of how both the Kermadec pohutukawa and the island’s ecosystem are being affected, including already observed crown and tree death in some situations. It will also show the spread of myrtle rust over time, and how it’s affecting canopy cover and regeneration,” Mr Hancock said.
“Results of the monitoring programme will help DOC predict how myrtle rust may affect mainland species and ecosystems, and support the trial of treatment,” he added.
Myrtle rust was found on Raoul Island in March 2017, about six weeks before the first cases were reported on mainland New Zealand. It has affected mainly pohutukawa and ramarama trees.
Steve Knowles, MetService’s Network Operations Manager, is going to Raoul Island to train DOC staff on the safe use of hydrogen so they can release hydrogen-filled weather balloons carrying instruments that measure wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity and pressure.
The data from the weather balloons was used in forecasting global weather and tracking tropical storms in the area, Mr Knowles said.
“NZDF’s logistical support is critical to Raoul Island’s sub-tropical weather observing program,” he said.
Three technicians from GNS Science will repair and update the tsunami gauges at Raoul Island and carry out a survey of Macaulay Island.
In addition, two GNS volcanologists will collect gas and water samples and make other observations at Raoul Island to understand better the status of its volcano.
Commander Matt Wray, the Commanding Officer of Canterbury, said it was the fourth time the NZDF was hosting the Sir Peter Blake Trust’s Young Blake Expeditions.
As part of the program, 20 students from across New Zealand would travel to the Kermadecs and learn more about their unique and near pristine environment, Commander Wray said.
“We are thrilled to host these potential young leaders on board. The whole crew takes part in expanding their knowledge of the ocean as well as of the Navy and the critical part it plays for New Zealand.”