Amanda Brown is an environmental engineer who has just returned from a 12-day voyage to the Auckland Islands in the Sub-Antarctic as part of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, Young Blake Expeditions.
Amanda Brown is an environmental engineer who has just returned from a 12-day voyage to the Auckland Islands in the Sub-Antarctic. She joined 27 other adventurers as part of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, Young Blake Expeditions. The objective of the Expeditions programme is to develop the leadership potential of young New Zealanders so that they may become champions for some of the planet's most unique and special places. We talk to her about her expedition and what she’s learnt following this adventure.
What was your role in this expedition? The opportunity for me to be involved in the trip came up through some pro-bono work that Beca has been doing on a proposed research station on the Auckland Islands called Blake Station. I hadn’t actually been involved in the work myself, but I was fortunate that my manager had been and when the opportunity for a young engineer to join the expedition came up he put my name forward. Being part of the expedition meant that I was able to visit the intended location of Blake Station on behalf of Beca. Hopefully, having had someone visit the site will be extremely helpful for any further work on the station.
The expedition crew was made up of 14 high school students from around New Zealand and 14 adult crew members from a range of different professional backgrounds. These included a microbial ecologist, a marine biologist, a marine ecologist, a marine scientist, a doctor, department of conservation rangers, a high school teacher, a journalist, a cameraman and representatives from the Sir Peter Blake Trust. In terms of the expedition crew, my role was to assist the scientists with the research modules that they were conducting during our time on the islands. I also had a role as a mentor to the students. Having a range of people from a range of different disciplines gave the students a unique opportunity to learn more about a variety of different career opportunities.
What was the most memorable part of your expedition? I think it’s difficult to pick just one aspect of the trip as being the most memorable. The trip as a whole was such an incredible experience. Everything that we had the opportunity to do, from living on a Navy ship for 10 days, to visiting a part of the planet that few other people have had the opportunity to witness, to being within a few metres of sea lions, albatross and penguins was a very special experience that few other people would have had the opportunity to do.
In addition to the incredible experiences that we had I think it was very special to have had the opportunity to work with such an inspiring group of people on research that has potential to teach New Zealand and the rest of the world a lot about climate change and ocean health. Each of the scientists was extremely passionate about what they did and the students were excited about getting involved in the work we were doing.
What do you think the impact of the expedition will be on the young generation? I think that most of the students on the expedition would say that it was a life-changing experience for them. Not only did they come away with a new group of friends and contacts, but the expedition helped many of them to figure out what they wanted to do post-high school or helped to reaffirm that they were on the right career path. For some students the expedition sparked a passion in a particular area that they previously knew nothing about. In fact I overheard on more than one occasion students telling the scientists that their passion for their particular discipline had inspired them to look into studying something similar at university.
Throughout the expedition the students were all super keen to get involved with the data collection and surveys. They were also excited about the fact that the trip was about more than just getting an awesome holiday, in that the scientific work that they were doing was very important and they wanted to share what they were learning with their peers when they got home. I would have to say this particular group of students was extremely high calibre and they will all make exceptional leaders.
What is the importance of the sub-Antarctic region for understanding the effects of climate change? What role will the data collected on this expedition have in addressing this issue? This is all pretty complicated and is related to changing temperature gradients, ocean currents and atmospheric circulation. To be honest I am still trying to get my head around how it all works but to put it simply, the Auckland Islands and other sub Antarctic Islands are located within the latitudes where the change in climate is likely to be seen most rapidly. As a result this region is likely to experience more dramatic changes in temperatures and winds. Because of these more dramatic changes scientific measurements would be able to be made more precisely and changes could be detected earlier.
The data collected during our expedition is being used to characterise some of the environments on the eastern side of the main Auckland Island, an area that has not previously been studied. However, to really understand change, it will be necessary to collect a time series of observations, rather than the snap shot of observations collected from one-off trips like our expedition. This is one of the key drivers for the construction of the proposed Blake Station. Having said that, while on-going monitoring will be necessary to quantify change, the data we collected during our trip will provide an important baseline of the current environment from which change can be measured.
Something exciting that came out of our debrief session in Dunedin is that the findings from our expedition, along with the findings from the previous Young Blake Expedition in 2014 will be combined to create a journal article. This will summarise what we know about what is there and provide a base point for further work in the area. The cool thing about this publication is that all members of the expedition crew will be listed as co-authors!
What is this journal article you are all co-authoring? The journal article will bring together the findings of the research conducted during our investigation as well as the findings from the previous Young Blake expedition two years ago. It will essentially have two roles. The first is to show what is there and the second is to provide a good base point of the environment as it is now. This base point will be able to be used as a reference point for further scientific research programmes and monitoring. It could also be used as a reference point for the state of the environment prior to the construction of Blake station (if it gets permission to go ahead) and prior to any potential eradication work on the main island.
What’s the best way of getting involved? Any advice for someone who’s keen to do this? To be honest I was a bit lucky in that I was in the right place at the right time but my advice would be to make the most of the opportunities. This message was made loud and clear to us by the senior scientists on the expedition crew. They essentially have gotten to where they are today (and they have been some pretty incredible places from Antarctica to deep-sea vents at the bottom of the ocean in a sub-marine) by taking opportunities when they have arisen.
The Sir Peter Blake Trust also runs a Blake Ambassador Programme, where they send young people to work on amazing projects in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and within New Zealand. The programme has been running since 2008 and aims to provide the recipients with life-changing experiences while preparing them to be leaders in science, the environment and heritage restoration.