01/04/2012 - They were nine of the South Pacific’s leading contemporary artists, known to derive inspiration from nature. They were ideal candidates to participate in an unusual voyage to the Kermadec Islands. In May 2011, Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy campaign organized a trip to promote the designation of a large highly protected marine reserve in the Kermadecs region, one of the greatest yet least-known natural wilderness areas in the world. For nearly a week, the artists followed in the path of explorers before them, from the earliest Polynesian voyagers to modern-day conservationists. The artists traveled on a Royal New Zealand Navy vessel, HMNZS Otago, to the Kermadecs, located between New Zealand’s North Island and the nation of Tonga.
Straddling both tropical and temperate climates, the region has some of the most geologically active and biologically unusual features on the planet. It is home to whales and dolphins, seabirds, fish and deep-sea marine life, as well as underwater volcanoes and a deep-sea trench.
“The prospect of traveling along the surface of one of the ocean’s deepest fissures was an exhilarating one—that was matched, conversely, by the sobering fact of the planet’s threatened ecosystems, and by the depth of the challenge we face to preserve them,” said Fiona Hall, an internationally acclaimed Australian artist.
The voyage resulted in the creation of some striking pieces of art. The artists shared stories of their Kermadec encounters at gallery and university events, and an exhibition of the artworks is to run until June 2012 at the Voyager Maritime Museum in Auckland, New Zealand.
“We took artists to the Kermadecs so they could experience its scale, see its surface, and imagine the diversity of its depths,” said Bronwen Golder, director of Pew’s Kermadecs Initiative. “I watched them gather impressions and emotions from the Kermadec Ocean and its islands, and with them, begin to conjure words and images.”
With so many environmental riches, the region has become not only a place for exploration and discovery but also an area to be safeguarded. Although more than 10 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial landscape has been set aside and safeguarded in parks, refuges and sanctuaries, less than half of 1 percent of the world’s oceans is highly protected.
But momentum has gained for creating ocean-scale marine reserves around the world. The Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group, was established in 2006 to focus on creating great parks in the seas to help safeguard the Earth’s marine environment. Its efforts have helped double the amount of ocean habitat that is protected comprehensively.
If designated, a Kermadec ocean sanctuary would become the newest, largest and most spectacular of a new generation of global marine parks.