Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sailing the High Seas

(A diversion from raptors, for a change ...)

A few months ago I received an unexpected email from the Royal Society. They asked if I would be interested in supervising three students who had been chosen to sail with the Royal New Zealand Navy to the sub-Antarctic, delivering a group of scientists to Campbell Island for a research expedition ... was there ever more than one answer to that question??!!

Two days ago I returned to land and have yet to shake off my sea-legs; there's currently a moderate swell in my living room that has yet to die down. Modestly, I make a great sailor (no seasickness for this intrepid young lady), but on a seven day voyage, traversing the roaring forties and furious fifties, what exactly did we get up to?

Campbell Island, approx. 700k south of mainland New Zealand, is the southern-most point of land in NZ's EEZ (exclusive economic zone). We entered Perseverance Harbour surrounded by snow-dusted peaks, swooping antarctic terns, giant northern petrels, Campbell Is shags and an inquisitive Hooker's sealion keeping a watchful eye.

The southern royal albatross kept us enthralled as we trekked across the island, experiencing the full plethora of sub-Antarctic weather: cloud, sun, snow and wind. Lunch among a mega-herb field? Why sure. A beautiful, contemplative time to reflect on the exquisite land and ecology around us, I sat there thinking "Nature, I love you just so incredibly much."

It would be hard even for the most non-environmentally minded not to be moved by the wonder of Campbell Island or the Auckland Islands (we visited Enderby Island, part of the Auckland Is group, after two days at Campbell). From navigating the sealion gauntlet, walking past 'penguin alley', having albatrosses soar effortlessly overhead, being surrounded by a collection of plants that exist nowhere else, the heritage and legacy of our sub-Antarctic islands showed exactly why they have the highest level of protection possible.

These World Heritage Status places are largely untouched by human presence and nature is slowly redressing the impact of the sealers, whalers, castaways and unsuccessful farmers from a century or two ago.

This trip has upped my nature-geekiness to new levels and has provided much knowledge and understandings to share with future students and acquaintances alike. I could easily move to the sub-Antarctic in a heartbeat. Inspired and awe-struck, I loved every single second we were present in these special places and am already dreaming of a time that I can return for more.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In the Presence of Knowledge

Last week saw me attending the Ecological Society of New Zealand's annual conference. It is a chance for scientists from around New Zealand (and several from far beyond our shores) to meet and hear about just some of the many projects and research that is being done in the realm of ecology.

What amazed me, being a lowly quasi-scientist, is the enormous scope that these projects cover and just how vast this discipline of science is. From mountain to ocean, slug to pigeon, native to invasive, it was a non-stop week of immersion and gained knowledge. There were attendees who have spent their whole studying and working lives dedicated to knowing and protecting the world we live in. Very humbling.