The New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands consist of five island groups.
- The Snares
- Bounty Islands
- Antipodes Islands
- Auckland Islands
- Campbell Island
They lie in the Southern Ocean south-east of New Zealand, spanning six degrees of latitude, from 47 to 52 degrees south.
Described by the United Nations Environment Program as “the most diverse and extensive of all sub-Antarctic archipelagos”, all five island groups were honoured with World Heritage status in 1998. They are also National Nature Reserves under New Zealand’s Reserves Act 1977. The Department of Conservation (DOC) is charged with protecting and preserving these islands in perpetuity.
Of the five islands, DOC has advised that only main Campbell, main Auckland and Enderby are open to visitors. All other island islets and rock stacks are closed, including The Snares.
The Bounty Islands are a bare and wind swept group of 22 slippery granite rocks 700km east-south-east of New Zealand. They are the most remote and least visited of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, having no safe anchorage or easy landing sites.
Unlike the Aucklands, Campbell and Antipodes, which are primarily volcanic in origin, the Bounties are made of igneous rock, pushed up from the floor of the ocean.
The Bounty Islands are divided roughly into three groups: Main, Centre and East. Their total land mass is only 135ha, with Depot Island being the largest in the group at 800m in length and 88m at its highest point.
The Bounty Islands were discovered and named by Captain William Bligh of the British naval ship “Bounty” in 1788, just months before the infamous mutiny.
Despite the hostile conditions, the islands host thousands of seabirds, including the world’s rarest cormorant, the Bounty Island shag (of which there are only 500-600 individuals), during the summer breeding season. The Bounty Island shag is also one of the few birds present on the island throughout the year.
The islands are also the primary breeding area for erect-crested penguins (whose only other breeding site is the Antipodes group) and Salvins mollymawks (75,000 pairs estimated to be breeding here with several hundred pairs breeding on the Snares). Antarctic terns, fulmar prions, Snares cape pigeons and Southern black-backed gulls also nest here in lesser numbers.
Because of its significance as a breeding site for Erect-crested Penguins, Salvin’s Albatrosses and Bounty Shags, the Bounty Islands have been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International.
The Bounty Islands are also one of the main bases for the New Zealand fur seal in the subantarctic after they were hunted to near extinction in the early 19th Century. In 1992 the population was estimated at 20,000.
A diverse community of terrestrial invertebrates also inhabit the Bounty Islands. Their existence depends on the debris generated by the seabirds and seals. The insects include a flightless beetle Bountya insularis, whose nearest relatives are in Australia and South America; an endemic weta Ischyroplectron isloatum; and two moth species Proterodesma turbotti and a new species of Reductoderces. Two spiders have been discovered so far: Pacificana cokayni, a Bounty Island endemic, and Rubrius mumosus.
Until 2004, terrestrial plant life at the Bounty Islands was thought to have been restricted to lichens. However in November 2004, an expedition discovered Cook’s scurvy grass Lepidium oleraceum – the group’s first vascular plant.
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