Introduction

A long range search helicopter has joined a boat and ground search team looking for a Department of Conservation volunteer on Raoul Island, missing since early yesterday morning.

Date:  03 January 2012

A long range search helicopter has joined a boat and ground search team looking for a Department of Conservation volunteer on Raoul Island, missing since early yesterday morning.

The helicopter left Ardmore at 11.30am today, arriving at Raoul Island, 1000km northeast of New Zealand around 5.30pm. As darkness fell, they had still failed to find any trace of the volunteer, who was two months into a six month stint and is thought to have been swept into the sea while carrying out routine monitoring.

Department of Conservation Warkworth Great Barrier Island Area Manager Tim Brandenburg says while there is still an active and intensive search underway, there are now grave concerns for the volunteer’s safety.
 
“The missing person is a passionate conservationist who was enjoying the opportunity to live and work in such a unique place. It was his high level of fitness and previous experience as a ranger that got him a place on the team. We are now very worried that he somehow ended up in the water and was unable to get back to the shore.”

Part of the volunteer’s job is to contribute to the meteorological work for MetService NZ, which he was carrying out just before he disappeared at the landing site at Fishing Rock, close to the DOC field base. The temperature gauge he was using was found floating in the water close to shore, about 150m from his vehicle.

The volunteer’s family have requested that his name not be released yet, asking for extra time to come to terms with the situation.

In the meantime, the search will carry on tomorrow morning, with coordination and oversight being provided by the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand. A decision will then be made to continue or scale down the operation.

Mr Brandenburg says volunteers are selected carefully and follow strict safety procedures while undertaking any work.

“All team members, both staff and volunteers go through an interview process and are trained for the tasks they undertake. At this stage we don’t know quite what led to this incident occurring, there will be a full investigation in due course.”

The six team members remaining on Raoul have covered much of the coastline on foot as well as conducting a boat search, once the helicopter arrived to provide them with safety back up. Although the events have taken an emotional toll, they remain committed to the task of trying to find their friend and workmate.

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.

Contact

Liz Maire, ph 021 234 0831

Operational search information: RCCNZ, ph +64 4 499 7318

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