New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands

New Zealand Subantartic zone
S50 45 0 E166 6 16
Date of Inscription: 1998
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Property : 76,458 ha
Ref: 877
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The New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands consist of five island groups (the Snares, Bounty Islands, Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island) in the Southern Ocean south-east of New Zealand. The islands, lying between the Antarctic and Subtropical Convergences and the seas, have a high level of productivity, biodiversity, wildlife population densities and endemism among birds, plants and invertebrates. They are particularly notable for the large number and diversity of pelagic seabirds and penguins that nest there. There are 126 bird species in total, including 40 seabirds of which five breed nowhere else in the world.

The New Zealand Sub-antarctic Islands (NZSAI) encompasses five island groups that lie between latitudes 47o and 53o south; Snares Islands/Tini Heke, Bounty Islands, Antipodes Islands, Auckland Islands/Motu Maha and Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku and the islands surrounding it. The World Heritage status also applies to the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles from each group. Including a total land area of 76,458ha, the marine area takes in 1,400,000 ha and constitutes one of New Zealand’s remotest protected natural areas, including some of the world’s least-modified islands.

The property lies between the Antarctic and Subtropical Convergences and the seas have a high level of productivity, biodiversity, wildlife population densities and endemism. While the NZSAI’s are all located on the Pacific Tectonic Plate, the different geological history and age of each island group, and their geographical isolation from mainland New Zealand and from each other, has shaped the unique and remarkable biodiversity of the islands including distinctive plants, birds, invertebrates, marine mammals, fish and marine algae assemblages. The biota contains numerous endemic and/or rare elements, and some extraordinary examples of adaptation.

Particularly notable is the abundance and diversity of pelagic seabirds and penguins that utilise the islands for breeding. The property supports the most diverse community of breeding seabirds in the Southern Ocean. There are 126 species of birds, including 40 seabirds, eight of which breed nowhere else in the world. The islands support major populations of 10 of the world’s 22 species of albatross and almost 2 million sooty shearwaters nest on Snares Island alone. Land birds also display a surprising diversity, considering the limited land area available, with a large number of threatened endemics including one of the world’s rarest ducks. More than 95% of the world’s population of New Zealand sea lion (formerly known as Hooker’s sea lion) breed here and the marine environment provides critical breeding areas for the southern right whale.

The plant life of the NZSAI is notable for its diversity, special forms and unique communities, yet another outstanding example of the biological and ecological processes significant in the property. The Snares Islands and two islands in the Auckland group (Adams and Disappointment), are among the last substantial areas in the world harbouring vegetation essentially unmodified by humans or alien species. Another notable feature about the NZSAI is the land-sea interface and the close inter-dependence of both environments for many of the species – the inclusion of the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles in the world heritage property recognises this.

Criterion (ix): Isolation, climatic factors, and seven degrees of latitudinal spread have combined to significantly influence the biota of the islands. Consequently they provide scientific insights into the evolutionary processes affecting widely-spread oceanic islands, varying from relatively mature endemic forms to relatively immature taxa, constituting a fascinating laboratory for the study of genetic variation, speciation and adaptation, particularly in the insulantarctic biogeographic province.

Evolutionary processes, such as the loss of flight in birds and invertebrates, offer unique opportunities for research into island dynamics and ecology. Another outstanding feature is the preponderance of ‘megaherbs’ within the plant biodiversity. These large herbs, often with brightly coloured flowers are considered to display unique evolutionary adaptation to the distinctive sub-antarctic climate – with its cloud cover (and lack of solar radiation), lack of frosts, strong winds, and high nutrient levels (derived from seabird transference of nutrients).

Criterion (x): The NZSAI, and the ocean that surrounds and links them, support an extraordinary and outstanding array of endemic and threatened species among the marine fauna, land birds, and invertebrates. As a group they are distinct from all other island groups, having the highest diversity of indigenous plants and birds. Of particular significance: the most diverse community of seabirds in the world with eight species endemic to the region; including four species of albatross, three species of cormorants (one of which, the Bounty Island Shag, is the world’s rarest cormorant) and one species of penguin; 15 endemic land birds including snipe, parakeets and teal; breeding sites of the world’s rarest sea lion (the New Zealand (or Hooker’s) sea lion); and a significant breeding population of the southern right whale.

Together with neighbouring Macquarie Island, the NZSAI represent a Centre of Plant Diversity and have the richest flora of all the sub-antarctic islands with 35 endemic taxa. The “megaherbs’ are unique to the NZSAI and Macquarie Island.  The Snares Group and two of the Auckland Islands are of particular biodiversity conservation significance due to the absence of any human and exotic species modification.

Suggested Bases:

Bluff is a small port town and the southernmost town on the South Island of New Zealand. It is 30 km south of the city of Invercargill. Bluff is a small place. Find a place to park along the main street or at the viewpoint at the south end of town and walk. See: Good views can be had from lookoff hill, a short drive or hike up from the main street in town. On a clear day, you can see Stewart Island as well as a couple of other minor islands off the south coast. Bluff Maritime Museum, 241 Foreshore Road. M-F 10:00 – 16:30, S-S 13:00 -17:00. Museum about whaling and oyster fishing, featuring the oyster boat Monica which was in use from 1909-1998. $3. Go next: Stewart Island, most of which is a conservation area, is accessible by ferry. The trip takes an hour and can be very rough if the wind is strong, which it often is [read more].

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