Navy inflatable operating in Tagua Cove in the Auckland Islands with HMNZS WELLINGTON in background.
HMNZS WELLINGTON has returned from the sub-Antarctic islands, where it helped Department of Conservation workers carry out important research on Auckland Island wildlife.
WELLINGTON transported the DoC team 465 km south from Bluff to the Auckland and Campbell Islands, New Zealand’s southern-most outpost.
During the operation the ship used its RHIB (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat) to help DOC undertake a census of the rare rockhopper penguin on the Auckland Islands, and transported DoC workers and scientists studying the island's ecology.
WELLINGTON’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Commander Rob McCaw, said supporting DoC was part of the Navy’s wider role.
"As well as undertaking maritime surveillance we’re here to help other government agencies – Customs, Police, Fisheries and DoC - reach the outer limits of New Zealand territory."
The Wellington recently deployed with Fisheries Officers board vessels on the outskirts of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and was involved in the search last year for the yacht Beserk in Antarctic waters.
DoC’s Programme Manager for Outlying Islands, Pete McClelland, said the WELLINGTON provided the ideal platform for DoC’s research.
"The Navy’s two OPVs are built for this sort of thing – they have space built in for extra personnel, and cargo space on the back."
"Frankly, we couldn’t do this work without the help of the Navy."
Mr McClelland said the census of penguins indicated that they are in a similar state of decline to populations on the more southerly Campbell Islands. The reason for the decline in rockhopper penguin numbers was unclear, but could be related to the fish the penguins eat moving further south as the oceans warmed.
The sub-Antarctic islands are part of the Southland DoC conservancy, but are difficult to reach because of their remoteness.
Mr McClelland said the voyage had also enabled planners writing the management plan for the islands, which will cover such issues as increasing tourist demand and introduced species management, to assess the island and its issues firsthand.