If you are like me, you've never heard of these islands, but I (along with three of my colleagues) joined an expedition to go there.
When offered places on a research expedition, I called up Google Maps to find out where the Austral and Gambier Island groups are located. Try it yourself - there's an ocean-load of blue around these tiny islands in far southern French Polynesia. They are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean halfway between Australia and South America.
The Southern French Polynesia expedition ran from mid-September to mid-October 2014. During this time animal and plant specimens from shallow waters (diving depths) were collected around many of the islands and submerged reefs in the region.
Sally Reader (fishes), Mandy Reid (molluscs), Stephen Keable (marine invertebrates) and myself joined forces with scientists from New Zealand on this month-long expedition. A big thank you to trip organiser extraordinaire, Dr Tom Trnski from the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
One of the goals of the project was to fill gaps in our knowledge of the biodiversity of the region and to determine connections to marine populations in the adjacent western Pacific Ocean and indeed further afield into the northern hemisphere.
This project followed on from the very successful 2011 Kermadec Islands Expedition, utilizing the same ship and collaborating with many of the same personnel. The specimens are yet to be examined back at the museum. We expect to make some remarkable discoveries as a result of the expedition such as documenting undescribed and endemic species as well as new distribution records for the region. We collected many tissue samples for potential genetic analysis. These will be used to shed light on population relationships throughout the Indo-Pacific region.
This expedition was supported through an Australian Museum Foundation grant funded by a bequest from Patricia M Porritt.
The official expedition website was hosted by the Pew Charitable Trusts.