The Norfolk Island expedition

The Australian Museum, known for its exciting scientific expeditions to places like Lord Howe Island, Balls Pyramid and the Solomon Islands, will conduct scientific research on Norfolk Island for its 2022-2024 expedition. Norfolk Island has a diverse environment and notable historic sites offering a unique heritage seldom found elsewhere around the world.

The Australian Museum and its collaborators will be travelling to Norfolk Island to undertake multiple phases of research over the next two years. This expedition is a broad-scale, multi-pronged collaborative program of biodiversity surveys and archaeological fieldwork.

The expedition will take place over three phases:

  • 2022: Phase 1: Terrestrial biodiversity survey and archaeological excavations.
  • 2023: Phase 2: Shallow marine biodiversity survey.
  • 2024: Phase 3: Deep water marine biodiversity and oceanographic survey.

Phase 1: October-November 2022

In collaboration with the Norfolk Island community, Parks Australia, the Australian Institute of Botanical Science and the Auckland War Memorial Museum, Australian Museum scientists have conducted biodiversity surveys of native and introduced fauna and flora, adding to the existing scientific knowledge of the biodiversity of the Island and inform management practices.

A program of archaeological fieldwork, including excavation, was conducted by Australian Museum scientist Dr Amy Way and University of Sydney Masters student Nicola Jorgensen, in collaboration with the Norfolk Island community. This excavation has furthered our understanding of pre–European, Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island and explored the nature and extent of this occupation through the objects they left behind.


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Norfolk Island is located in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and New Caledonia, 1,412 kilometres (877 mi) directly east of Australia's Evans Head and about 900 kilometres (560 mi) from Lord Howe Island. Together with the neighbouring Phillip Island and Nepean Island, the three islands collectively form the Territory of Norfolk Island. At the 2021 ABS census, it had 2,188 inhabitants living on a total area of about 35 km2 (14 sq mi), its capital is Kingston.

The first known settlers in Norfolk Island were East Polynesians but they had already departed when Great Britain settled it as part of its 1788 settlement of Australia. The island served as a convict penal settlement from 6 March 1788 until 5 May 1855, except for an 11-year hiatus between 15 February 1814 and 6 June 1825, when it lay abandoned. On 8 June 1856, permanent civilian residence on the island began when descendants of the Bounty mutineers were relocated from Pitcairn Island. In 1914 the UK handed Norfolk Island over to Australia to administer as an external territory, but as a distinct and separate settlement.

This remote island is also of major biological importance, still relatively poorly understood in a marine sense, and has many rare and endangered species unique to the island and surrounding area. This expedition offers a rare opportunity to survey nearshore biodiversity not impacted by commercial fishing with an expectation of discovering new species amongst its broad array of unique habitats. Changing global weather patterns and oceanic circulation impacts marine fauna and a key goal of this expedition will be looking for evidence of changes in distributions of open water and nearshore vertebrate and invertebrate marine species.

On the Islands themselves, the status and origins of NI terrestrial fauna will benefit from further scientific investigation. The AM will clarify the status of vertebrate and invertebrate species, native and introduced, on the main and offshore islands to inform management of these areas and contribute to an understanding of the origins of these species and how they fit into the global puzzle of species radiation to inform management of the fauna on other similarly remote islands. An example of how AM scientists can work together with Norfolk Islanders to promote conservation management, is the recent rediscovery of land snail Advena campbellii by Norfolk Island local Mark Scott in 2020, leading to a conservation program initiated by the AM.




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We acknowledge the Polynesian/Tupuna/Tipuna who first called Norfolk Island home, whose story is still being written and pieced together. Through our work, we endeavour to add pages to their widely unknown narrative. We honour their connection to this land/whenua and fauna in times gone by and invite them to guide and breathe life back into the treasures which they left for us to uncover and to piece together the story they did not tell.

We extend that acknowledgement to the descendants of the Pitcairn Islanders who still walk this land and whose Polynesian ties link them back to the East of this Great Ocean – Tahiti. We honour their Pacific story on this land, we acknowledge their Tupuna/Tipuna ancestors and the culture they forged here on Norfolk Island. A culture that continues to thrive today.

And finally, we acknowledge the other Pacific Island communities that now call this Island home. The Pacific diasporas from across the Great Ocean – whose connection to this land may be more recent but whose presence also adds to the Pacific narrative of Norfolk Island in the here and now.


THANK YOU

The Australian Museum would like to thank donors and the Australian Museum Foundation for their support of this three-phase expedition. The first phase was made possible by the generosity of the Vonwiller Foundation and Vanessa Tay.


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