The Chatham

The Chatham Islands has a number of ecologically significant conservation reserves and habitats with rare plant and bird life, including 18 bird species unique to these Islands. Of the 320 indigenous flora on the Chathams at least 29 species are found nowhere else in the world.

Visitors can obtain rare Chathams plant specimens including the beautiful Chatham Island nikau palm and famous giant forget-me-not from Island nurseries.

The Islands are also home to one of the world's great conservation success stories - The Chatham Islands black robin. Other extremely rare bird species which call the Chathams home include the taiko, the New Zealand shore plover and endemic Chatham Island species of pigeon, tui, oystercatcher, snipe, petrel, fulmar prion and mollyhawk.

These plant and bird species are the uniquely Chatham product of several million years of evolution in island isolation. They also reflect the varied habitats the Islands provide.

Birds have always been a large part of the islands culture. Early inhabitants wore albatross and parakeet feather ornaments, and harvested several species as food. More recently, bird names have been used to identify the birthplace of Chatham islanders ("Weka" identifying those born on the island, compared to "kiwi" for the New Zealand born). while black robin and taiko appear on souvenirs, local currency and beer brand labels.

About 65 million years ago, marine volcanism began the formation of the group. Over the millenia erosion and sea level changes have produced a varied landscape of volcanic outcrops, sand dunes, lagoons and peat bogs, each with its own set of natural environments.

Like the famed Galapagos Islands many of the original species which arrived here evolved in isolation to adapt to a particular environment.

By the time Moriori settlement of the Chathams began, between 800 and 1000 years ago, there were at least 50 species of land birds, nine species of freshwater fish, at least 16 species of flying oceanic birds and penguins coming ashore to breed or moult, and 17 species of marine mammal living in the local waters and feeding on rich concentrations of fish, shellfish and the renowned Chatham Islands crayfish.

Today some of those species have gone. But others survive, with the Chatham Islanders acutely aware - and protective - of their land's status as a treasure trove of unique species.

Indeed, no part of the New Zealand mainland has so many plant species endemic to an area of less than 100,000 hectares.




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