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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

March 03, 2020

Human Uses of Ocean Space Census: Aotea Great Barrier Island

Ella Simon, Bennington College


Above: View of Aotea GBI from the bow in Kaiarara Bay; Below: Amelia, Ashby, and Gillian gaze into the forest of the Aotea Trek.

Ship's Log

Northeast bound from Aotea Great Barrier Island

Souls on board

The nature of our adventure means we don't always get to experience every moment of every day on the ship. I woke up to stillness the day we arrived at Aotea Great Barrier Island having slept through our anchoring in Kaiarara Bay. After hoisting myself out of my bunk and making my way on deck, I found myself completely surrounded by lush, green, jagged hills, and calm water in every direction.

When I say we were surrounded by beauty, I really mean it. Unlike the other anchorages we have experienced on this trip, with tons of people, ships, and development, Aotea Great Barrier Island is pretty desolate. We were one of only two boats anchored in the bay. Aside from the handful of homes we could see from the RCS, the island was primarily undeveloped. Similar to our other port stops we conducted a human uses of ocean spaces census, but the development of this bay is extremely minimal, and lucky that is because it does not deter from the view.

Before we would get to set foot on this incredible island, researcher and member of the Department of Conservation (DOC) for NZ, Sarah Dwyer, came aboard RCS to share some knowledge about the island and the surrounding ecosystems. We learned that GBI was home to about 1,000 residents, 3 elementary schools, it takes 1 hour to drive from one end of the island to another, and groceries have to be ordered from off island a week in advance so they can be ready for the 5hour ferry ride from Auckland. To say the least, it's a different lifestyle.

But because there are so few people on this island, the people who live here are striving to protect it. The island is primarily a nature reserve, full of trekking trails, and most importantly home to many species of flora and fauna. The Kauri tree, famous for its height, width, sap, and building strength, is extremely susceptible to a new disease called Kauri dieback.

The DOC is working hard to minimize the number of trees infected by the disease by installing shoe cleaning areas before and after you enter and exit any natural reserve. This isn't just for Kauri dieback, GBI is working towards a predator free island by 2050, including eradicating disease and rodents, feral cats, possums, and stoats alike. Preservation is not just being emphasized by members of the DOC, but also being instilled through life and during school in the children of this special island. Dwyer said that the children of GBI are invested in their home and are actively engaging in combatting the effects climate change has on their environment.

This is really powerful to me, giving me hope that people care about the environment.

And how can they not be invested when their backyard is a magical wilderness full of enormous trees, beautiful birds, curious rock formations, and the water is full of life? Along with Dwyer, a small feathered visitor waddled up on board, demonstrating how much life this island holds. The brown teal, a duck kind of bird, is important to the ecosystem of GBI and sadly facing endangerment. GBI is not only a home for animals like this brown teal, but also a resting spot for many marine mammals, mainly bottlenose dolphins, false and real killer whales. Fun Fact: Did you know every bottlenose dolphin has a unique dorsal fin? This is really cool for marine mammal researchers like Dwyer because they are able to photo-identify the bottlenose dolphins that return to Great Barrier Island every year. It's not surprising to me that this preserved island has a following of creatures returning to its ecosystems. It's a natural paradise for humans and animals alike.

- Ella Simon, Bennington College

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,The Global Ocean: New Zealand, • Topics: s290  study abroad  port stops • (2) Comments
Previous entry: Culture Shock on a Boat    Next entry: A Foul Undertaking


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by Grace on March 11, 2020

I love you!!! So glad to hear amazing wonderful things. Learn it up!!!!

#2. Posted by Susan Gentry on March 11, 2020

Thanks for sharing your experience Ella.  It sounds like Great Barrier Island is a beautiful, remote place that most will never get to visit in their lifetime.  How amazing for you and the rest of your shipmates to be able to spend time is such a wonderland.

Keep enjoying the ride!
Ashby’s Mom



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