Sunday, March 8, 2015

Raoul Island

Paradise and devastation in the Pacific – Friday 6th March 2015 – Raoul Island

Today we were fortunate enough to visit Raoul Island while supplies and people were offloaded from the HMNZS Wellington. After a day of sea sickness, I was really looking forward to some nice solid land, even if it was a volcano! The fact that Raoul Island is a volcano should not be understated, it last erupted in 2006 unfortunately resulting in the death of a Department of Conservation (DoC) worker. Raoul Island is also a DoC controlled bird sanctuary. Evidence of how DoC managed to do this was seen the night before we landed on Raoul Island, as we were subjected to a rigorous quarantine and inspection process to make sure we were not bringing any seeds or unwanted creatures (e.g., rats) onto the island.
Raoul Island from the HMNZS Wellington

The day begin bright and early to make sure enough time was given to the workers getting their supplies off the ship. To get onto Raoul Island was a bit of an interesting experience to say the least! First we were transported from the ship to close to the island by a navy zodiac (basically a jet boat that gets deployed from the ship). We would then jump from the zodiac onto a smaller zodiac which would transport us up onto a rocky platform known as “Fisherman’s Rock”. We would then have to leap (without any hesitation) from the boat onto the rocky platform in between the waves which could knock us off. All that was going through my head while watching others attempt this was that I was going to be the one who would screw this up and look like an idiot. Thankfully, it went without a hitch!




Inside the Navy zodiac about to be deployed from the ship, photo from Fabio Caratori Tontini

  Our mission for the day was to head into the caldera crater to look at how things have changed from before the 2006 eruption and now. I also had the additional responsibility of filming footage for the TVNZ crew, which was also pretty cool! It was my first experience entering a volcanic crater, and my first lesson was just how tough it is to do. Steep crater walls were navigated using ropes to get down into the crater (and up to get out). 

From the inside, the crater looks like a wasteland with charred trees stripped of vegetation, and volcanic ash and bombs littering the site. Some very slight bubbling from the crater lakes could be seen due to gases being released from below, indicating that this is very much a volcano still simmering away. But it was very minor. Putting on my geologist’s hat, what struck me was the variety of rocks that could be seen in the crater. Rocks that were formed within the magma chamber prior to eruption sitting alongside rocks that at one time formed parts of the crater wall and crater lake was clear evidence the 2006 eruption was an explosive one (as if the charred trees stripped of all vegetation wasn’t a dead giveaway).


A view from within the crater, photo from Fabio Caratori Tontini

After navigating our way back out of the crater, we were fortunate enough to be invited to the accommodation for DoC volunteers and workers. A beautiful view from the deck of the accommodation out onto the Pacific Ocean was truly amazing. If the view wasn’t enough, I also tasted the best orange juice I have ever had (perhaps a bit of hyperbole due to overwhelming thirst from climbing the crater walls), squeezed from oranges taken from the 135 year old Raoul Island orange orchard.


View from the deck of the Raoul Island accommodation, photo from Fabio Caratori Tontini

Before my visit to Raoul Island, I wondered who in their right mind would want to spend up to 18 months on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, away from all the home comforts. I still think 18 months is a little extreme, but my view has definitely softened. I think I could do stint of a month or two in the summer time assuming no volcanic activity was being registered (I am a bit of a fair weather geologist)!
On reflection, Raoul Island really does tell two contrasting stories. First, the story of destruction from within the crater, and second the story of perhaps New Zealand’s greatest predator free sanctuary and the workers who made it happen. I think I speak for everyone in the team when I say it was a fantastic experience that none of us will ever forget.

Finally, as I write this we are planning our first actual deployment of Sentry which should be entering the water early morning on March 7. This first deployment will be shortened (about 12 hours) to make sure that all the equipment on board is operating properly.

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