Bright orange Lotella cod - one of the new species finds from the Kermadecs expedition

Bright orange Lotella cod - one of the new species finds from the Kermadecs expedition

Three fish new to science among final Kermadec species count 

Three fish new to science are likely to be among the final species count for the expedition team that arrived back from the Kermadecs expedition today.

Expedition leader Dr Tom Trnski of Auckland Museum says they have also recorded 12 species of fish that have never been recorded anywhere in New Zealand before, and collected a further five species that are new records for the Kermadec Islands.

The team which included scientists from Auckland Museum, Te Papa, Department of Conservation, Australian Museum and NIWA spent three weeks observing and collecting specimens to create a record of species diversity in the Kermadecs.

Trnski says the expedition has been a resounding success.

“We set out to explore the biodiversity of the Kermadec islands group, and to build our understanding of how this unique subtropical environment links temperate New Zealand with the wider tropical south-west Pacific.

“We really feel we have been working at the frontiers of marine research, both physically in the sense of working somewhere so remote, and also biologically in the sense of making new discoveries. Every day was exhilarating, as we never knew what we might find.”

The three new species include a bright orange Lotella cod, just 10cm long, which struck marine researcher Carl Struthers from Te Papa as soon as he got a glimpse of it.

“I knew as soon as I saw it in the collecting net that it was something different – it really stood out. I’ve been doing a lot of work on that group of fishes, and I’ve never seen any other Morids from New Zealand that are such a brilliant reddy-orange.”

One of the things that Struthers will do as he begins the process of describing the new species will be to take x-rays of the single specimen, as some of the significant identifying features include the number of vertebrae, and x-rays avoid the need to dissect the specimen.

Other possible new species include a small pipefish, known from just three specimens, and a small left-eyed flounder. Specimens of both will be sent to international fish experts for identification.

Trnski said that good weather allowed the expedition to dive every one of the 15 days they were on location.

Work began on Raoul Island, the largest and northern-most of the Kermadec group, and moved south via Macauley Island, Curtis and Cheeseman islands, and ended up at L’Esperance Rock. Between the fish team and the marine invertebrate teams, specimens were collected from 100 stations.

“It will be many months before Dr Mandy Reid and Dr Stephen Keable from the Australian Museum are able to sort all the invertebrate material and send it to the relevant international experts for identification,” says Trnski.

“But as far as fish are concerned, we collected around 4300 specimens, which we have sorted into 120 different taxa. It is possible that some of the specimens will turn out to be juveniles, so at the moment we think we have between 110 and 120 species.

“Then we have 26 further fish species that were either seen or photographed, so in total we have identified at least 136 species, of which 17 are new records for the Kermadecs.”

Another highlight of the trip is three species which belong to fish families that have never been recorded in New Zealand before. These include the brownspot bigeye, which was collected during the final dive of the trip, and a juvenile trigger fish which was found swimming under a plastic bottle floating past the boat.

“That was a classic example of the serendipity of science,” says Trnski.

The other new family record was juveniles of a tiny silvery surf fish which are found in the white water of the surge zone, a very difficult habitat to sample.

“I was very excited to get half a dozen specimens, and I’m looking forward to working on them when I get back to the museum,” said Trnski.

The honour of finding new species records wasn’t confined just to the fish scientists on board. Photographer Richard Robinson was on board to document the underwater world of the Kermadecs and the science taking place. He was out on the back deck of the expedition vessel Braveheart when a flying fish came aboard – he quickly grabbed it, and not only was it the first specimen recorded on the trip, but it turned out to be a new fish record for New Zealand.

On one of his dives Robinson noticed a flatfish that he didn’t recognise. “I nearly knelt on it. Then I realised it was a fish I’d never seen before, and took a photo. When I showed the photo to the fish scientists they identified it as a flowery flounder. It turned out it was another new record for New Zealand, and I was very pleased about that.”

Trnski says he is very pleased that the expedition has gone without a hitch and while the expedition members are very tired after so much diving and the long hours of work, they are also very satisfied with what has been achieved.

“It was a real privilege to come face to face with the pristine marine environment and inhabitants of the Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve. The large spotted black grouper and abundant Galapagos sharks were a real highlight, and we were all fascinated with the mix of tropical and temperate species that make these islands so unique.”

The specimens have been readied for shipment to the three participating museums.

“We have split the specimens between the Auckland Museum, Te Papa and the Australian Museum. Once the specimens reach the museums then we will begin to work on confirming the identity of everything. In about a year’s time we will publish a large report confirming the expedition’s findings.”

More videos, imagery and table of new fish species findings available on request:
email or phone 09 306 7098


Pipe fish and filmy ferns top new species list for Kermadecs expedition

At the halfway mark of New Zealand’s largest scientific expedition ever to explore the inshore coastal waters of the Kermadecs the new species finds are nudging double figures.

Auckland Museum marine curator Dr Tom Trnski says he believes two of the species collected on the expedition to date are probably new to science while a handful of species are brand new records for New Zealand.

The public have been able to follow the expedition’s progress through a daily blog

“We have two species that I’m pretty confident are new to science – a little left-eye flounder and a pipe fish.

“We suspect the flounder doesn’t grow very big as the largest one we have collected is just 10 centimetres long, but it’s a pretty wee thing.

“Probably the most exciting find is the pipe fish – again it’s small, just 10 centimetres long, and a white body with striking orange spots. Pipe fish are related to sea horses, and are really just like a sea horse that has been straightened out.”

The new species records for New Zealand include a shark, a zebra lionfish, a tropical banded eel, a blackspot sergeant and a tropical goatfish. Dr Trnski cautions final confirmation of these species records won’t be made until after the expedition returns in 10 days.

New species finds are also taking place on dry land for the 13-strong team of scientists which includes experts from the Department of Conservation, Te Papa, NIWA and Australian Museum.

Department of Conservation botanist Dr Peter de Lange has found three species of filmy ferns that are new records for the Kermadecs.

Marine invertebrate specialists Dr Mandy Reid and Dr Stephen Keable from the Australian Museum expect to find new species in amongst the great diversity of creatures they have collected but say it might take many months for the material to be sent to experts around the world to be identified.

Entomologist Warren Chinn from the Department of Conservation says he faces the same tantalising wait for the moths, bugs and flies he has collected ashore to be identified.

The expedition has been focusing its attention around Raoul Island, and

the small islands nearby, at the northern end of the Kermadecs.

The expedition will now move south to Macauley Island, and over the next

eight days the expedition will carry out surveys around the four southern islands in the island chain.

New Zealand’s subtropical Kermadec Islands group lie 1000km north east of the North Island.

Notes for editors
The Kermadecs Biodiscovery expedition left New Zealand on May 9 2011 and will return to Tauranga, New Zealand on May 29 2011. It is the largest scientific expedition ever to explore the inshore coastal waters of the Kermadecs and includes teams from Auckland Museum, Te Papa, Department of Conservation, Australian Museum and NIWA.

More information, including daily blog posts, is available from

New fish records for New Zealand
• Abudefduf sordidus – blackspot sergeant
• Leiuranus semicinctus – saddled snake eel
• Dendrochirus zebra – zebra lionfish
• Parupeneus pleurostigma – sidespot goatfish
• Mustelus sp – rig (small shark)

Fish species new to science (unconfirmed)
• Left-eye flounder from the family Bothidae
• “Orange-spot” pipefish from the family Syngnathidae (nicknamed by Dr Tom Trnski for its distinctive orange spots)

IMAGE CAPTION: Without a name: a pipefish found by the Kermadecs expedition team could be a new record for science but until it’s official it has been nicknamed the “orange-spot pipefish”.
CREDIT: C. Struthers

MORE IMAGERY, AUDIO AND VIDEO FILES FROM THE KERMADECS EXPEDITION ARE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST – please contact Auckland Museum publicist Melanie Cooper on 021 899 062 or


Week one: Kermadec expedition discovers species new to NZ 

The first zebra lionfish ever recorded in New Zealand has been discovered in the Kermadec Islands by a team of New Zealand and Australian scientists.

Zebra lionfish – scientific name Dendrochirus zebra – are brilliantly coloured with zebra-like patterning on their scales, fins and tail.

At the end of the first week of a three-week expedition lead by Auckland Museum, the expedition team believe the lionfish is likely to be just one of several new species they have collected.

“We have almost certainly already collected new species but we just don’t know it yet,” says Auckland Museum marine curator Tom Trnski.

“The other night we found an eel that none of the fish experts on the boat can identify – so it could possibly be a new species but we won’t know that until we get back from the expedition and can send it to an eel expert to confirm its identity.

“Every dive we make has the possibility of finding creatures new to the Kermadecs, new to New Zealand and even new to science.”

Daily discoveries from the Kermadecs expedition can be followed at

The expedition team includes researchers from Auckland Museum, Te Papa, the Department of Conservation, NIWA and Australian Museum and Trnski says it is an incredible privilege to be part of this scientific journey.

“We live for it. Expeditions like this are real highlights for biologists – an opportunity to go somewhere new, see things from the point of view of an entire eco-system and to get a different perspective from the usual one we have working on individual species in a lab or at the computer.”

Trnski says the marine life observed by the team so far reflects a truly unique marine environment.

“What amazes me is that the marine life here is a real mix of temperate and tropical, a unique blend that I haven’t experienced anywhere else in the world.

“We have seen everything from whales to tiny plankton. The waters here are rich in many kinds of fishes including the protected spotted black grouper – some up to 1.5 metres long – and Galapagos sharks, both of which are fearless and curious.

“It feels like the tropics in terms of how clear the water is, plus there are a few corals but at the same time there are invertebrates which are more typical of northern New Zealand rocky reefs.” The Kermadec Islands are located 1000km north east of New Zealand and have been protected as a “no-take marine reserve” for more than 20 years.

Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve is New Zealand’s largest marine reserve covering 7450 square kilometres.

The expedition team will return to New Zealand in two weeks.

 Small fish and marine plants being gathered from 1000km north east of New Zealand could be the key to tracking changes in species brought on by global warming effects.

A team of 15 researchers led by Auckland Museum is travelling to the Kermadec Islands for three weeks hoping to identify new species in one of the world’s most pristine marine environments.

“The remoteness and isolation of the Kermadecs means only a fraction of information has been collected about its marine life. The species have been left to their own devices without intrusion from humans. It is like a journey back in time.”

“We have several goals for the expedition and one of them is to establish a record of species diversity which we can use as a baseline to monitor changes over time,” says Auckland Museum marine curator Tom Trnski.

“This will be a really significant reference survey to track changes in species composition that may result from global warming effects on regional water temperatures and currents.”

“At Auckland Museum we currently have around 6000 specimens which sounds like a lot but actually represents a tiny fraction when you look at the species diversity of the Kermadecs. My interest area is fishes and we only have 8 species of fish within our collection.”

The team leaves from Tauranga on Monday, May 9 at 11.30am on the RV Braveheart. School classes and the public are being encouraged to follow the expedition through daily blog posts on

The experienced research team is made up of scientists from five agencies and they have superior knowledge of marine species in the region. The projects they are advancing during the three-week expedition complement each other and previous surveys.

Auckland Museum: Dr Tom Trnski (expedition leader and fish specialist), Stephen Ullrich and Ged Wiren.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa: Carl Struthers, Dr Vincent Zintzen (fish specialists) and Charles Bedford.

Department of Conservation: Clinton Duffy (shark specialist), Dr Peter de Lange (plant specialist) and Dr Ian Stringer (insect specialist).

NIWA: Dr Malcolm Francis (fish specialist and underwater photographer).

Australian Museum: Mark McGrouther (fish specialist), Dr Stephen Keable and Dr Mandy Reid (marine invertebrate specialists).

Radio NZ: Alison Ballance (science communicator and radio journalist).

New Zealand Geographic: Richie Robinson (photographer)

Download the press release: Kermadec specimens may hold global warming answers_5 MAY FINAL

Team photo

Kermadec team ready to sail © M Francis

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Kermadec specimens may hold global warming answers