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Whakaari/White Island alert level dropped to 1 for first time since deadly eruption

The alert level for Whakaari/White Island has been dropped to its lowest level for the first time since the volcano erupted in December, killing 21 people.

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Today marked the first time the volcano’s alert level has been reduced to 1 since its deadly eruption in December. Source: 1 NEWS

It's been a little over six months since that fatal day and the bodies of two victims, Whakatāne guide Hayden Marshall-Inman and Australian tourist Winona Langford, have never been recovered.

Immediately after the eruption, which took place at alert level 2, the alert was raised to level 3.

It was lowered back to 2 several weeks later, where it's remained since.

Today, GNS Science confirmed the alert level has been dropped to level 1 again.

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On December 9, 2019, 21 people died when the volcano erupted. Source: Breakfast

"Observations and monitoring data over the last few months indicate that Whakaari/White Island has been progressing on a gradual trend back to lower levels of unrest that are typical of the long-term behaviour of this volcano," it said in a statement today.

"The decision to lower the volcanic alert level to level 1 is not as a result of recent changes in a single data set. 

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"Instead, it is based on the GNS Science volcano monitoring team’s collective interpretation of all the monitoring data and of their trend over the past few months."

It doesn't mean another eruption isn't possible, GNS Science warns.

"The volcanic alert level reflects the current level of volcanic unrest or activity and is not a forecast of future activity.

"Also, the volcanic alert level does not indicate the level of risk, it communicates that the volcano is no longer exhibiting moderate-heightened signs of unrest."

Volcanic alert level 1 means minor unrest, with steam discharge, volcanic gas, earthquakes, landslides and hydrothermal activity all possible.

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An eruption can still occur with "little or no warning" at this level, GNS Science says.

Despite the change in the alert level, the island is still off limits to the public, Bay of Plenty Emergency Management says.

As it's privately owned, people need specific authorisation to go to the island or it counts as trespassing.

"Any landing by unauthorised persons will be unlawful and will be subject to police intervention," said Whakaari/White Island recovery project manager Craig Morris.

GNS Science says no one has been back on the island since the last attempt to recover the remaining bodies.