This blog originally appeared on The Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy's New Zealand Country Director, Michael Looker, reflects on his Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand expedition aboard the Caledonian Sky, with Conservancy travel partner Zegrahm Expeditions.
You recently joined Zegrahm Expeditions on a trip to the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand; what was the most memorable part of the trip?
There were a number of memorable parts on the trip, but each time we arrived at another island across the vast Southern Ocean was exciting. It was very special to see, close-up, the wildlife on each island—penguins, seals, sea lions, and a range of birdlife in general. Seeing nesting southern royal albatross on Campbell Island was particularly memorable. There were also many great times sharing the experience of the journey traveling across the ocean with the tour staff and guests on the trip.
Being a seasoned scientist and expert in the region, was there any wildlife that intrigued you or got you specially excited?
I was really excited to see the number and range of seabirds on the ocean and on all the islands we visited. It was interesting to note the recovery of many species following the pest animal eradication programs that have taken place on the islands we visited. I was totally intrigued by the different penguin species we saw and the large rookeries we observed on a number of the islands. The rockhoppers were truly intriguing and almost comical in the way they jumped across the rocks! We were all fascinated by the huge number of king penguins that surrounded our ship and Zodiacs as were undertaking shore landings on Macquarie Island. As a botanist, the plants were also interesting, especially seeing the megaherbs on Campbell Island; these are unusually large leaved herbaceous plants growing in a cool island environment with prominent and showy purple or yellow flowers. They seem to sit low on the ground soaking up the sun, protected from the prevailing high winds by the surrounding tussock grass and shrub layer.
What's so special about traveling to see this remote side of the world?
Traveling to this remote region is a rare opportunity given the large ocean distances required to reach each sub-Antarctic island. The vastness of the Southern Ocean and the isolation and geology of the islands rising out of the ocean was a special experience. It was fascinating not only to see the unique wildlife on remote islands, but even on the way to observe the seabirds that live a large part of their life on the ocean. For example, the southern royal albatross lives the first five years of its life on the ocean without ever touching land; it is easy to understand why New Zealand is recognized as the seabird capital of the world!
What's it like traveling with an ecotourism company?
It was great to travel with a company that really cared for the environment and organized activities each day to ensure we had as little impact as possible on the places we visited. This came down to making sure we followed strict biosecurity procedures so that we didn’t transfer pest plants and animals or soil borne pathogens from place to place that could impact the native wildlife. The information and lectures provided about each of the places we visited, and the wildlife we would see dispersed through the program, was also a special part of the tour and well received by guests. There were always experts on hand to point out and describe the various habitats and wildlife we encountered.
What's unique about this partnership?
The Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends, and travel is an effective vehicle to help people understand, firsthand, the true importance of conservation. By partnering with these three leading ecotourism companies, our supporters get a chance to not only travel to beautiful places around the world, but also get the unique opportunity to travel with scientists from the Conservancy. During my trip, I really enjoyed traveling with some of our members and helped them understand our regional work.