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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Wall of the Dead: Conservation Volunteer Drowns in New Zealand

Posted by Richard Conniff on January 7, 2012

I am very sorry to start the New Year with an early addition to the Wall of the Dead:  A Memorial to Fallen Naturalists:

Swept away by rogue wave? Muncus-Nagy

A Romanian conservationist who is believed to have drowned off Raoul Island was fulfilling a life dream to come to New Zealand.

The search for Mihai Muncus-Nagy was called off last night after sea and air searches had failed to find the 33-year-old, who went missing on Monday from Fishing Rock while carrying out routine monitoring on the island in the remote Kermadec group.

The Romanian was in New Zealand for six months, and was one of four volunteers helping three Department of Conservation staff monitor seismic and volcanic activity and conduct conservation work to protect the more than 100 plants native to the Kermadecs.

Department of Conservation chief executive Al Morrison told Radio New Zealand said Mr Muncus-Nagy applied online to volunteer in New Zealand and “ticked all the boxes”.

“I understand it was his life dream even as a boy to come and work in New Zealand.

“I can tell you he was an extremely experienced conservation worker and he had a lot of skill. He led teams in Romania into quite rugged areas to do conservation work. He had a Masters degree, I understand he was a botanist.”

Mr Morrison said the department had been in contact with the Romanian embassy in Australia and with Mr Muncus-Nagy’s wife.

“Obviously she is incredibly distraught and coming to terms with the fact she is unlikely to see her husband again, or even recover her body. It is a terrible tragedy for her being so far away.”

The department had offered to bring his wife over to New Zealand and take her to Raoul Island, he said.

Mr Morrison said counselling would be offered to Mr Muncus-Nagy’s “tight-knit” colleagues on Raoul Island.

“They’re obviously very upset. They’re exhausted, they’ve had a real emotional rollercoaster. They’ve been searching for him and coming to terms with the fact that they are probably never going to find his body.”

Mr Morrison said there would be a Department of Labour investigation into the accident but believed DOC follows best practice regarding volunteers working in remote areas like Raoul Island.

It is believed Mr Muncus-Nagy may be have been washed off the rock by a wave.

“It does look like this was a freak accident,” Mr Morrison said.

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