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Wrecked on a Reef

The Auckland Islands today

The Auckland Islands today

Human involvement in the Auckland Islands is marked by a series of dramatic episodes and failed attempts at colonisation. The nature of the soil, the climate and their isolation are largely responsible. Yet if men have found it difficult to survive in these surroundings, flora and fauna have adapted well to the islands over the millenaries and thrived on the particular conditions they offered — provided there was no human interference.

Rabbits, pigs, goats and other animals released in the 19th century created ecological havoc in the balance, especially on Enderby Island. For the last fifty years a new policy of conservation has gradually come into being. Introduced animals have been removed, cattle in 1992 followed by rabbits and mice in 1993. Every year while more endemic plants and birds disappear in the rest of the world, in the subantarctic islands their preservation is assured.

Declared a National Nature Reserve in 1986, and recognised a World Heritage Area by Unesco in 1998, these islands have the highest possible conservation status.

Guidelines to visitors issued by the Department of Conservation ensure minimal disturbance to the reserves. These islands are home to some of the southernmost forests in the world, together with unique endemic ferns, megaherbs and flowers. They are the nesting grounds of seabirds, from huge albatrosses to tiny petrels, shearwaters, molly-mawks and many others, and breeding grounds of fur seals and Hooker sea lions, and five species of penguins.

Pleurophyllum criniferum, Bulbinella rossii, and Pleurophyllum speciosumfrom New Zealand Coast & Mountain Plants, John Dawson & Rob Lucas, Victoria University Press, 1996

Pleurophyllum criniferum, Bulbinella rossii, and Pleurophyllum speciosum
from New Zealand Coast & Mountain Plants, John Dawson & Rob Lucas, Victoria University Press, 1996

page 227

For ornithologists the islands are a paradise, with their eighty species of land-birds and forty of seabirds. Subantarctic flora has similarly attracted countless botanists, fascinated by the profusion of megaherbs and the diversity of flower colour. Only a small group of visitors is allowed in the islands every year, and must be accompanied by members of the Department of Conservation.15

Tourists who have had the rare privilege of visiting the subantarctic islands can appreciate the elemental quality of the land. The wilderness has its own rugged beauty, nowhere else to be so completely experienced, with its large-leafed plants, clustered red rata, birds wheeling above, and everywhere around the coast the incessant struggle of sea and land. I personally treasure the memory of watching a baby sea lion on land, playing like a puppy with a piece of wood. We kicked that piece of wood to and fro until I remembered that baby sea lions have rather large parents, and abandoned the game in a hurry.

Weather and the years have worn out the tangible traces of human passage on the land. A few objects, mementoes of past tragedies, are on display in Canterbury Museum, Christchurch and in the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Invercargill. On page 215 objects are noted as having been donated by Raynal to the Melbourne Museum, but the curator of its mammology collection wrote to me on 3/12/92 saying that although the museum does hold sealskin items, the donors and sources are not recorded.

Black and white photograph of seal

The names of Musgrave and Raynal are inscribed in the topography of Auckland Island, with Musgrave Inlet on the east coast, Musgrave Harbour replacing 'Middle Harbour,' Musgrave Peninsula and Raynal Point in Carnley Harbour, while Mount Raynal, 644 metres high, stands over 'La baie du Naufrage'.

Yet is it enough to preserve the writings of those who contributed to Auckland Island history among the rare book collections in our libraries? They must reach the general reading public again, for their testimony remains as valid today as it was in the 19th century. They remind us, among other things, that tenacity, intelligence and cooperation are effective human tools against the most adverse circumstances.

Reason enough to rescue Raynal's book from oblivion and allow new generations to share in its exemplary message. The authentic account of his Auckland Island experience transcends time as it becomes an epic of human endeavour.

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