Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Washed-up kayak could help in search for MH370

One of the strangest stories to hit headlines this month has just taken another twist, with odd potential links between a barnacle-encrusted kayak that washed up on Muriwai Beach and debris from missing flight MH370.

The custom-built kayak, discovered late last month by Nathan Marshall as he was running his dog along the beach, was built by Australian Stuart Cleary for a Tasman Sea expedition that was abandoned in late 2014.

Mr Cleary had a goal to become the first person to complete a 15,000km solo-kayak oceanic circumnavigation of the Tasman, but, amid rough seas 100km off the Gold Coast, had to abort the attempt and let the kayak go.

He was astounded to hear it had washed up in New Zealand 18 months later, having assumed it would have turned up on Australia's east coast.

Plane debris and kayak barnacles will be studied for drift clues. Photo / Barry Cole
Plane debris and kayak barnacles will be studied for drift clues. Photo / Barry Cole

The tale grabbed headlines around the world - and it's since emerged that scientists have also become intensely interested in the wayward vessel.

National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (Niwa) has confirmed its staff have collected barnacle samples from the kayak.

Marine resources manager Rob Christie said Niwa had been asked by an Australian client to analyse the barnacles, which would be identified by Niwa scientists and then sent for further analysis to experts at the West Australian Museum in Perth.

It's understood the Australian experts are interested in the marine growth patterns of the barnacles because of how they might compare with various barnacles found on floating debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that was located on beaches off Eastern Africa.

Finding the wreckage of the Boeing 777-200ER, which mysteriously vanished while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, has been at the centre of the largest and most expensive search effort in history.

Part of the focus of the multi-national operation has been analysis of goose barnacles on a flaperon that washed up in Reunion Island, 175km southwest of Mauritius, last July. More recently, there has been further analysis of barnacles that had colonised other debris from a Boeing 777 found on beaches in Mossel Bay, South Africa, and Rodrigues Island in Mauritius, in March.

Scientific knowledge about the barnacles' geographic distribution could potentially point to the debris drift.

- NZ Herald

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