Kermadecs earthquake/tsunami: Auckland Covid lockdown stops science team travelling to epicentre

A group of New Zealand scientists would have been in the Kermadec Islands today as a massive earthquake struck, but their trip had been cancelled because of Auckland’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Fifteen young New Zealand school and university students, along with five school teachers, were due to join a team of world-class scientists and environmental leaders on the scientific voyage to the Kermadec Islands/Rangitāhua, as part of Blake’sfifth expeditions programme.

They were to depart on the HMNZS Canterbury from Auckland on March 1 and return on March 12, but had to cancel the trip because of Auckland’s alert level 3 restrictions.

Originally the team was “very disappointed” until a series of massive earthquakes struck the area in which they would have been.

One earthquake, at magnitude 8.1, prompted tsunami warnings across the Pacific, including for most of the North Island.

“It’s been a strange week,” Blake Expeditions director Jacob Anderson said.

“We were really looking forward to getting up there and doing this marine research but Covid put a hold on it.

“Now we have this strange occurrence where we would have been right up around Raoul Island, right next to where the quakes struck.

“I don’t want comment on what might have been, it’s hard to know what could have unfolded.”

The 8.1 quake struck at 8.28am (NZT), sparking a series of Civil Defence warnings for many North Island coastal communities to evacuate to higher ground.

It was the third and largest quake above magnitude 7 to hit the Pacific region this morning.

A 7.4 quake struck near Raoul Island in the Kermadecs at 6.41am – and many New Zealanders were shaken awake by a magnitude 7.1 quake off the North Island’s east coast at 2.27am.

Despite some coastal surges, only minor effects have eventuated in New Zealand.

At 1.25pm, the National Emergency Management Agency said the threat level had been downgraded as the largest waves had passed.

Video shows wave surges hitting areas like Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast.

Located halfway between New Zealand and Tonga, the Kermadec Islands/Rangitāhua is one of New Zealand’s largest fully protected marine reserves and identified as one of only four pristine marine ecosystems on Earth, fully functioning with a unique mix of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate species of fish.

The islands are 1000km northeast of New Zealand and are a significant conservation area.

They’re the visible surface of a chain of about 80 volcanoes, stretching between Tonga and New Zealand.

The current marine reserve was created in 1990 and covers 745,000 hectares and supports New Zealand’s only truly subtropical marine systems.

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