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"I’m always thinking our wandering albatross should be New Zealand’s polar bear," says Kath Walker.

"We’re seeing trouble, and they’re beautiful and interesting enough that we should focus on them as a canary in a goldmine." Walker and Elliott, who both work for the Department of Conservation (DOC) but study the albatrosses on their own time, have spent more days on Antipodes than anyone else.

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It's for that reason the islands were deemed internationally significant and given World Heritage status, which they share with the pyramids and the Great Barrier Reef.

The most remote of the five island groups is the Antipodes Island group, comprising six small islands and the largest, Antipodes, in the centre. It is ringed by severe basalt cliffs, punctured with caves hollowed out by the sea, and much of its surface comprises a thick, green plateau that rises to a volcanic peak.

Everything that made it to Antipodes Island, which is a relatively small 2000ha, got there accidentally.

In geological terms, the island is brand new, volcanically formed on the edge of the Bounty Plateau, the huge underwater mass south of New Zealand that forms part of Zealandia, the ancient continent.

Antipodes Island is one of the only places in the world with endemic species of both parakeets and penguins, which happily co-exist with elephant seals, snipes, giant petrels, and albatrosses.

Because there are no trees, the parakeets - of which there are two species on Antipodes, both likely related the mainland's Kākāriki - burrow in the ground. That two distinct types of parakeet, typically a tropical species, are endemic to one small sub-Antarctic island is unusual in itself; even stranger is that in their 30,000 years on the island, there has been no evidence of inter-breeding.

It was warm and sunny, like a mirage in the bleak Southern Ocean. As its name suggests, virtually the entire species breeds on Antipodes Island, where the birds carefully build their nests in the open tussocks high above the sea, on the volcanic slopes rising to the cratered peak.

Across the island, males wait in the tall grass for passing females to stop by so they can perform their elaborate mating rituals, composed of squawks, roars, and beak clapping.

The reasons for the declines are different for each animal, but in most cases, the causes can be traced back to the ultimate alien invader: Us.

When Kath Walker and Graeme Elliott first arrived on Antipodes Island in 1995, they thought it was paradise. Even though we’ve been all these other times since, that first time…" The scientists have been to the island every year since then, spending much of each summer observing an interesting and under-observed bird species, the Antipodean wandering albatross, one of the world's largest flying birds.

Similarly, its Māori name, Moutere Mahue, roughly means the forgotten islands.

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