23 Feb 2023

When plans change

From Our Changing World, 5:00 am on 23 February 2023

We thought this episode would be different. Maybe filled with the noisy shriek of hoiho as researchers fit them with satellite tags, or the chortle of southern royal albatrosses as Department of Conservation rangers check their nest numbers. But, plans change.

In the foreground is a person with a backpack walking along some rocks. In the middle ground is the shed at Campbell Island wharf, to the left are a group of people digging up a path. In the background are rolling green hills.

The shed at Campbell Island wharf Photo: RNZ

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And so it was for people aboard the HMNZS Canterbury last week for Operation Endurance. 

Op Endurance is a long-running collaboration between the NZ Defence Force and government agencies to enable research and conservation work in far-flung New Zealand territories.

As part of the operation this year, staff and representatives from DOC, MetService, the Defence Technology Agency, the Sir Peter Blake Trust, and mana whenua Kāi Tahu were all onboard.

Three young women are wearing black dry suits, lifejackets and helmets. They are smiling and two of them are showing thumbs up. They are on a wharf and behind them rises Beeman hill and you can see army personnel and the MetService hostel.

Sir Peter Blake Trust expedition students (L-R) Freya High, Una Drayton and Nicola Stanton at the Beeman Base wharf in dry suits and helmets ready to board a boat back to the HMNZS Canterbury. Photo: RNZ

The plan was to sail 660km south from Bluff to subantarctic Campbell Island. Over 10 days, the defence forces would facilitate the transfer of equipment and personnel that would allow different agencies to get their work and research done.

DOC had plans to do hut and track maintenance and inspection, as well as research on hoiho, sea lions and albatrosses. MetService wanted to do some clean up tasks at their old meteorological station. The Sir Peter Blake Trust had a team of scientists, students and teachers planning to collect samples for a range of scientific investigations. And so on.

The three people are smiling in the sunshine, they are on a stony beach beside the water. Bob, in the middle holds a large rock to his chest.

Margaret Christensen, Bob Bowen and Vanessa Horwell, Kai Tāhu representatives on Operation Endurance at Lookout Bay. Bob holds the rock thought to perhaps be a punga/puka, an anchor stone. Photo: RNZ

The HMNZS Canterbury is a good fit for the operation. As well as its massive cargo space to accommodate numerous shipping containers and heavy equipment, it can sleep over 360 people, and onboard it houses helicopters, Zodiacs and rigid-hulled inflatable boats to shuffle things to and fro.

These features also make it an excellent humanitarian and disaster relief ship.

And so, after just one night at Campbell Island, the HMNZS Canterbury was recalled to help with the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Thus began a massive effort to get as many tasks completed as possible before the ship departed north again. Birds were tagged, fixes were made, clean-ups completed, wave buoys deployed, and communication methods trialled. Peat, plankton and kelp samples were collected, as well as a rock that could turn out to be an important taonga for Kāi Tahu.

Listen to the episode to hear the story of the expedition and what the team were able to achieve in two hectic days at Campbell Island.

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