The Antipodes Islands are the most remote group among the New Zealand sub-Antarctic islands. Located 860 km south-east of Stewart Island, the group comprises Antipodes Island (2000 ha), Bollons Island (20 ha) and a number of smaller islets and rocks. Together with the other four sub-Antarctic island groups in the region the Antipodes form part of a World Heritage Site, in addition to being a National Nature Reserve and both an Important and an Endemic Bird Area. In addition, the intention to create a marine reserve around the island group has been declared. Like most sub-Antarctic islands, early human presence on the island was dominated by sealers and ship-wreck survivors. Today visits to the islands are infrequent and tourist landings are not permitted.
The above photo of the main island shows the Central Plateau and Mount Galloway, the highest point at 366 m. Tussock grassland, dominated by Poa litorosa and P. foliosa, covers most of the island from coastal cliffs to the top of inland peaks. The darker areas are patches of the small tree-fern Polystichum vestitum and Coprosma antipoda, a woody shrub growing up to 2 m in more sheltered locations: these dense stands are traps for unwary researchers. The verdant green plant in the foreground is Anisotome antipoda, one of three megaherb species that grows on the island.
The ACAP-listed Antipodean Albatross Diomedea antipodensis nests across the island in tussock habitats. The Antipodes population of this species is darker than the Gibson’s subspecies D. a. gibsoni of the Auckland Islands and this female, sitting on the nest, shows a plumage typical of adult females on the island. Adult males are paler than the females but are still darker than most other wandering albatross species. Eggs are laid from early January through early February on the Antipodes and chicks start fledging from late December onwards. Breeding birds have been tracked foraging in areas in the Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.
Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria palpebrata breed on cliffs around the island. As for most populations of this species there has been little research or monitoring undertaken in the island group. They are one of the four ACAP-listed albatrosses breeding on the Antipodes. Black-browed Albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris breed on Bollons Island along with a small number of White-capped Albatrosses T. steadi.
Photograph by Dave Boyle
The sound of White-chinned Petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis clacking is a vital component of the spring and summer night-time chorus on the Antipodes. This ACAP-listed species breeds in burrows across a variety of inland habitats. Wet and muddy burrows with moats in the entrance form dense colonies on several slopes and hill tops; however, the majority of burrows are dry and are interspersed amongst burrows of the more numerous White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii.
Photographs by Erica Sommer unless stated
Grey Petrels Procellaria cinerea, another ACAP species, are winter breeders. Their burrows are mostly found on slopes in both tussock and Polystichum habitats, particularly around the coast. There is some overlap between White-chinned and Grey Petrel habitat, and burrow sharing occurs. Due to the prolonged breeding seasons for both species, burrow sharing inevitably means failure all around.
Photograph by Dave Boyle
Northern Giant Petrels Macronectes halli breed in loose colonies scattered across the northern two-thirds of the main island. They regularly congregate in groups of up to 200 birds in Anchorage Bay on the north coast where they are occasionally joined by the odd non-breeding Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus. They scavenge on seal and penguin carcasses on the island and are also one of the few native predators. The introduced House Mouse Mus musculus is another potential predator but an eradication attempt is in the fund-raising (with nearly NZ$ 700 000 raised towards an intended one million NZ Dollars to date) and planning stages (click here).
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Tennyson, A., Imber, M. & Taylor, R. 1998. Numbers of Black-browed Mollymawks (Diomedea m. melanophrys) and White-capped Mollymawks (D. cauta steadi) at the Antipodes Islands in 1994-95 and their population trends in the New Zealand region. Notornis 45: 157-166.
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West, C.J. 2003. New Zealand Subantarctic Islands Research Strategy. Invercargill: Department of Conservation. 38 pp.
Erica Sommer, United Kingdom & John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 11 April 2013