The sea that surrounds our sun-drenched sub tropical Kermadec islands supports a vibrant community of resident whales, predatory fish, seabirds, turtles and luminescent fish that live in one of the most geologically active areas on earth.
A small part of this marine environment has been protected by a marine reserve out to the territorial sea limit of 12 nautical miles (7,450 square kilometres) since 1990, but this only protects some of the habitats found in this region.
New Zealand has the 4th largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world and New Zealanders have a global obligation to look after this inheritance on behalf of humankind.
Located about 1000k m northeast of New Zealand, the islands form a chain stretching 250km. Five large islands – Raoul, Macauley, Curtis, Cheesman, L’Esperance and a number of smaller islets make up the group. These islands are just the emergent peaks of undersea volcanoes which are part of a much longer underwater mountain range extending from White Island to Tonga. Beside this volcanic arc is the very deep Kermadec-Tonga Trench.
Why does it need further protection ?
The range of depths as well as the unique environments created by the seamounts contribute to an extraordinary diversity of life in the region.
Hydrothermal vents on the sea-mounts support a unique form of life that doesn't need sunlight. Life around these vents depends on hydrogen sulphide spewed out in hot volcanic fluid from chimney stacks called "black smokers".
Thick bacterial mats form around the vents on which creatures such as crabs and shrimps can feast.
These waters are some of the deepest in the world (98% over 1000m and 33% over 5000m). Indeed, if you plunged 8850 metre high Mount Everest into the Kermadec trench, its summit would not even break the surface.
Most of this area remains unexplored, and new sea creatures are being found on every new expedition.
The Kermadec Islands are internationally recognised as significant cultural 'stepping stones' for the expansion of Polynesian peoples to New Zealand. Polynesian travellers lived for extended periods on the islands before continuing to Aoteoroa.
By enhancing protection in this area, New Zealand could protect –
>>A significant section of the Kermadec arc and trench including seamounts with their associated hydrothermal vent systems. This is the only place in NZ where these exist.
>>The whole range of marine habitats from the second deepest trench in the world over 10,000m, including vent fauna such as crabs, other deep water habitats and associated fauna such as the pink snail fish found at 7000m, and fish species such as convict grouper, bass, bluenose and kingfish.An extended sanctuary would join up with the existing marine reserve, which protects the shallower habitats around the Kermadec Islands.
>>The only place in NZ where there is a convergence of tropical, subtropical and temperate seabirds and other marine species.
>>Migrating great whales such as sperm and humpback whales as well as numerous other species of whales which make this area their home. A tiny species of bottlenose dolphin found here may also be new to science.
>>>Large migratory open ocean predators such as striped marlin, tuna and white sharks may use the region as a migratory corridor, as well as local apex predators like the Galapogas shark..
>>The 10 -15 million seabirds that use this area as a fishing ground and breed on the Kermadec Islands such as the endemic white-naped petrel and Kermadec storm petrel, These birds are among 14 species which breed here. Many other seabirds migrate through the region. The Kermadec islands themselves have recently become completely predator free providing the opportunity for the return of seabirds to their former numbers
- >>Some species new to science are also endemic to the region, for example, the spiny dogfish Squalus raoulensis. Many species still to be discovered!