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Subantarctic Islands

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Subantarctic Islands

Hooker sea lion, Joseph Wolf, Zoological Sketches, 1861-67
Photograph: Rob Suisted — Nature's Pic Images
Print: William Curtis, Anistome, 1911

New Zealand’s subantartctic islands have been described as the most diverse and extensive of all subantarctic archipelagos, all five island groups: the Bounty Islands, the Antipodes Islands, the Auckland Islands, Campbell Island and the Snares Islands, were honoured with World Heritage status in 1998. They are also National Nature Reserves under New Zealand’s Reserves Act 1977.

The five island groups that make up the subantarctic islands are located in the Southern Ocean south to south-east of New Zealand. Spanning six degrees of latitude, from 47 to 52 degrees south, the five island groups occupy the stormy latitudes of the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, known also as the Albatross Latitudes. The Macquarie Islands, belonging to Australia, could also be said to belong to this group.

The subtropical convergence, where the subtropical waters and subantarctic waters meet, extends around and beyond the southern shores of the South Island of New Zealand and east to the Chatham Islands. These conditions combined with the topography of submarine landforms create areas of upwelling where nutrients, fish and seabirds are abundant. The area is particularly notable for the large number and diversity of 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 bird and plant life, especially the endemic albatrosses, cormorants, landbirds and “megaherbs” are unique to the islands.

Discovered and then plundered in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s by sealing and whaling gangs, the islands are now a sanctuary for seals, sea lions, and, of course, whales which are now protected within New Zealand's waters.

Farming was also attempted on some of the islands.

(page last updated  July 3, 2011)