20 Jul 2020

Whakaari/White Island eruption: Victim's brother hopes tours can resume

7:40 pm on 20 July 2020

The brother of a man killed in the Whakaari/White Island eruption says he hopes a new warning system will mean tours on the island can resume soon.

Mark Inman.

Mark Inman. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mark Inman, the brother of tour guide Hayden Marshall-Inman who died in the eruption, said a new warning system which could forecast future eruptions would be good to use alongside other systems already in place.

The eruption warning system has been developed using a decade of data collected from Whakaari/White Island.

If in use over those 10 years, it is believed it could have predicted four out of the five eruptions which occurred, including the most recent eruption in December.

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Hayden Marshall-Inman. Photo: Supplied/ Facebook/ Stephen Parker

Inman said the research was encouraging.

"I think for the Whakatāne area, it certainly would give you an opportunity to go back to the island, and rediscover what Whakaari has to offer," he said.

"If [the research] is as good as they say, maybe it is a beneficial tool to start to use, but you wouldn't want to get rid of other indicators, or the other guidelines that have been set."

A WorkSafe and Coroners' investigation is under way into the deaths at the island, but Inman said he just wanted to see tourists and tour operators returning as soon as possible.

"Our family would open it with open arms. We've loved the place, we've enjoyed it and it's got a lot to offer.

"It's a beautiful spot, I've just always said, it was the right place at the wrong time."

No timeline for new warning system's deployment

It was not yet clear when the new warning system would become operational, or how it would work.

Researchers at Auckland University said it was ready for deployment, but GNS Science volcanologist Nico Fourier said there was still a lot more research to be done.

"They are showing some promising results, in terms of possibly some early detection of symptoms, on the monitoring data, which could basically precede some of the eruptions at White Island," Fourier said.

People at the active White Island volcano. (file image)

Tourists at the Whakaari/White Island volcano. (File image) Photo: muha/123RF

"The reality is that this is still very much at the development stage, so we're hopeful, but there's still a lot of work to be done."

With the warning system's deployment not looking likely any time soon, there are outstanding concerns for tour operators who rely on Whakaari/White Island being open.

The scientists are next looking to Ruapehu and Tongariro to undertake similar research, and hopefully create a similar model, but the warning system would never be 100 percent reliable, and Adrift Tongariro Guiding director Stewart Barclay said an element of risk was unavoidable.

"I personally love walking over the volcano for many reasons," he said.

"The fact that it has recently erupted is one of them ... they are awesome natural geological places of the world. Absolutely I would hate to see things shut down completely, because there is a one in a 100, or one in a 500-year event."

He said it was their job as tour guides to be able to manage that risk - at which point, the new research would come in handy.

"Excitement generally comes with some type of risk, and it's a matter of managing that risk with reward. Volcanoes are no different to driving a car or walking down the street - you've got to manage that risk."

Volcanologist Nico Fourier said while the research was no silver bullet, it was encouraging and required further attention.

He said what was particularly exciting about the research was the combination of old technology with the new.

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