Unfortunately, all great expeditions come to an end. Today is the start of the end for us. The day we leave Raoul Island and make for Tauranga. The day dawned with blue skies and strong winds from the southwest. With the RV Braveheart tucked away in Turtle Bay, in the lee of Raoul, the science and NHNZ teams headed out for their final morning of work.
The science team dove at Wilson Point, the easternmost part of Raoul Island, collecting a few final urchin and crown of thorns specimens to add to the data set. It was a great dive to finish on. The site is rarely diveable due to it’s exposure, but today we got lucky! The reef was characterised by dramatic rock pinnacles, lots of soft and hard corals, and patches of sand where we found several species of flat fish. After a quick turn around back on the Braveheart, we headed out on Thomas the tender for one final time to catch the low tide at North Meyer Island and conduct a last limpet survey.
Meanwhile, the NHNZ crew was also making good use of their final hours at the Kermadecs. Two filming sessions were had at Nugent Island, New Zealand’s northernmost piece of land. They said goodbye to all the usual subtidal suspects, sharks, grouper and bluefish. They were also pleasantly surprised to come across bluenose (Seriolella labyrinthica), normally found in much deeper water, and a school of longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus).
Then it was time to pack away all our equipment. Dive gear and cameras were stripped down and stored below decks, bucket loads of specimens stored in ethanol and formalin were secured, and the ship was made ship-shape to head out into stormy seas. Kina Scollay, eager to grab a few more film sequences, defied winds gusting 30 kts and flew his drone mounted camera to an altitude of 400m to shoot into the crater of the volcano.
And then at 14:00 we hauled up the anchor and we were off. Captain Matt steered us around the north side of the island and performed a drive-by salute to the DOC staff on Raoul and headed for Hutchison Bluff, the western cape of Raoul. The winds are strong and the swell is high. For the first day at least, it is unlikely to be a comfortable ride. Everyone is sad to be leaving and many have started plotting a return to these wonderful islands.