Part three of this continuing blog will focus on Zealandia & its indigenous animals. Unfortunately, we only have first-hand knowledge of what might have lived on Zealandia from the current inhabitants and fossil records of New Zealand. The rest is based on deductive logic, and some evidence from other remnants of the Gondwana super-continent.
Gondwana was home to a vast array of flora and fauna, facilitated by its mild climate and 39 million square miles of land mass. It is logical to think that the parts of the super-continent that broke away carried with them some of those species. Fossils of dinosaurs have been found in New Zealand, and even on the Chatham Islands, which are located 500 miles to the east of New Zealand’s South Island.
One intriguing aspect of what might be there is the seemingly odd relationship between New Zealand’s Kiwi bird, and its closest relative. It had been assumed that the Kiwi and the Moa, New Zealand’s large, but extinct, flightless bird, were closely related. However, recent research has shown that the Kiwi is more closely related to the Elephant Bird (the picture at the top of this blog), which stalked the forests of Madagascar until about 800 years ago. Madagascar and New Zealand were part of the far-west and far-east sides of Gondwana, respectively, before it split up.
This suggests that at least part of Zealandia has remained above water the whole time, although there is some evidence that the whole of Zealandia, possibly including New Zealand, plunged underwater around 25 million years ago. There are so many questions, many seemingly contradictory, that scientists will be working hard for decades, if not centuries. Zealandia & its indigenous animals are only a small part of the work to be done.
One of the scientists who was part of the team that revealed the eighth continent, explained that the continent was unlikely to give up all of its secrets anytime soon. He said, “It’s quite hard to make discoveries, when everything is 2kms (1.2 miles) underwater, and the layers that you need to sample are 500m (1,640ft) beneath the seabed as well. It’s really challenging to go out and explore a continent like that. It just takes a lot of time, money, effort and ships to survey a region that big”.
If nothing else, the confirmation of the world’s eighth continent surely shows that, nearly 400 years after Abel Tasman’s quest, there is still plenty to be discovered.
I will add to this blog as more information becomes available.