A group of young Kiwis have helped make new discoveries about life in an ocean biodiversity hotspot high above New Zealand.

The Royal New Zealand Navy's HMNZS Canterbury recently returned from the remote Kermadec Islands, or Rangitahua, which lie 1000km northeast of the country and form the visible surface of a chain of volcanoes stretching from Tonga to New Zealand.

The islands are also home to an abundance of species; a marine reserve there spans 745,000ha and boasts New Zealand's only subtropical marine ecosystem.

Aboard the ship were 20 young Kiwis who joined the expedition as part of the Sir Peter Blake Trust, and worked alongside marine biologists to observe at least three species never before seen in the Kermadecs.

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Student voyager Paice Vaughan, marine botanist Wendy Nelson and Samara Nicholas of Experiencing Marine Reserves carefully examine a collection of marine algae and other organisms found off the coast of Raoul Island. Photo / NZDF
Student voyager Paice Vaughan, marine botanist Wendy Nelson and Samara Nicholas of Experiencing Marine Reserves carefully examine a collection of marine algae and other organisms found off the coast of Raoul Island. Photo / NZDF

Those included the black trevally, rainbow runner, and the sergeant major damsel fish.
From videos and photography, the expedition also confirmed the presence of silver drummer, hammerhead shark, oceanic white tip shark, flying piper, and garden eels in depths less than 20m.

These species have been observed in the Kermadecs before but this expedition provides the first photographic evidence.

"Every time we visit Rangitahua we make new discoveries and gain scientific understanding that will help us protect this valuable marine reserve," said science leader Dr Libby Liggins, a marine ecologist from Massey University.

"This visit was made particularly special because we could share these experiences with the next generation of environmental stewards."

Deploying a BRUV, or Baited Remote Underwater Video. Photo / Supplied
Deploying a BRUV, or Baited Remote Underwater Video. Photo / Supplied

Massey University researchers, Lizzy Myers, a PhD student and Emma Betty, a marine technician worked alongside Auckland Museum's Tom Trnski and young voyagers to make some of the new fish discoveries.

Underwater cameras also gathered footage of the healthy fish community around the islands, which was home to hundreds of Galapagos sharks.

"New Zealand needs young people to stand up as ocean leaders, to understand and protect our marine environments – there is still a lot to do," Sir Peter Blake Trust programme manager Jacob Anderson said.

Dr Libby Liggins, of Massey University, and Dr Tom Trnski, of Auckland Museum, observing a flying piper. Photo / Supplied
Dr Libby Liggins, of Massey University, and Dr Tom Trnski, of Auckland Museum, observing a flying piper. Photo / Supplied

"The experience gave students the chance to apply hands-on knowledge and work alongside scientists, including examining samples and learning how data is collected and put to use to create new knowledge."

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Student voyager Paice Vaughan blogged: "The more I talk with the marine science team on the expedition, the more apparent it becomes that there is still so much to learn about the surprisingly mysterious Kermadec Islands.

"Many of my questions are simply answered with, 'We actually don't know yet, but we'd love to find out.'

"It still amazes me to think that, right here, in New Zealand's backyard, in an era where we believe we know so much, there is still so much more to learn."

Environment groups want to see New Zealand make good on its promise to establish the 620,000 sq km Kermadec Rangitahua Ocean Sanctuary, which would cover an area twice the size of our land mass and 50 times the size of our largest national park.

The plans, unveiled more than two years ago, have been set back by legal challenges and disagreement between parties.

A Colmar Brunton poll last year showed that 93 per cent of New Zealanders want the sanctuary established.