This week at Macquarie Island: 30 January 2009
Greetings to all from Macquarie Island. Another great week from the Island positioned at 158 55' E, 54 30' S. Being proud Australians, Monday was a great day for being with new friends and for spending an Australia Day in a region full of great Australian history and tales. To kick the day off the traditional dip in the ocean was participated in by many.
With the west coast not applicable on the day we hit the east coast then straight up to the spa and sauna to regain some body heat. Tessa and Dean got the ball rolling with a well-organized day of Bonza Aussie Games including; Gum Boot Tossing, Sack Race, Meat Pie and Beer relay, Aussie Quiz test and a few others that made the day a fun one for the crew.
The Meat Pies for the Meat Pie and Beer relay were on show, with Rod having some production assistance by Helen and Barry, no recipe was given out but Rod confirmed there actually was meat in his pies. Pete B was in heaven trimming up numerous whole porterhouse, scotch fillet and eye fillet for the BBQ, as well as dressing for the occasion in bonds tank top and flanny shirt.
Honorary Aussies for the day, Jim from the US and Tim from Canada confessed their love for the country by downing a few pies, vegemite on toast and a few beers to wash them down. After a top day a small crowd spotted an Aurora and headed up to the Ham Shack to enjoy this spectacle.
On the wildlife front, plenty happening around the sponge. King chicks have hatched and are being spotted by eager expeditioners at the colonies at Sandy Bay, and closer to the station at Gadget Gully. Rockhopper chicks are also out and can be heard from the station on a windless day. Ham Shack, with a colony in viewing range straight below, makes a great spot to check out these crazy-haired little penguins.
Skua chicks are comparable in size to their parents and it wont be long until fledging begins around the island. Also Royal chicks are all fluffy, making lots of squeaks and over-shadowing their parents. Returning members have noted the increased numbers of penguins near the station, which is a positive.
Within the Garden Cove area, reports of a Hooker sea lion doing damage to some young ele seals filtered through to the station, confirmed with a couple of dead seals and penguins being spotted in that area, and being given away by the attending GPs and Skuas.
Sway and Jules (Sarah and Julie) arrived late October and are this season's albatross program team. These two have been doing some amazing work, returning from last season to continue monitoring. Based out of the Hurd Point Hut (lucky ladies) they are separated from station life so it's always great to see these guys when we can, and watch Jules' eyes light up when a nice big steak is on the menu. "Tinned bolognaise doesn't cut it after a couple weeks", she tells me. The slopes of Petrel Peak and surrounding areas where they are working has fallen victim to erosion from rabbits, causing the nesting birds some problems with loose vegetation, and making re-sights of previous areas tricky for Sway and Jules.
The Alby Program (as it is commonly known around station), is run by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water. The program began in 1994/95 and its full title is The Conservation and Status of Albatrosses and Giant Petrels on Macquarie Island. The 2008/09 summer is the fifteenth season of fieldwork.
Four albatross species and two species of giant-petrel breed on Macquarie Island, and all are considered threatened:
Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys)
The BBA breeding population on Macquarie Island is estimated to be only 40-45 breeding pairs. The BBAs breed on Petrel Peak, at the south-western tip of Macquarie Island. Despite their small breeding population, overall breeding success (49% in 07/08) and total chick numbers at fledging, have reflected a relatively stable trend in breeding output throughout the program. This year, 46 breeding pairs laid eggs.
Grey-headed albatross (T. chrysostoma)
GHA also breed in relatively small numbers on Petrel Peak (between 65-100 pairs). This season, 81 eggs were laid. A relatively stable trend in breeding output has been observed for GHA since 1994/95.
Light-mantled sooty albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata)
LMSA breed every two years and the annual breeding population on Macquarie Island is estimated to be between 1000-1500 pairs. Unlike the BBA and GHA, LMSA breed all along the coastal slopes of Macquarie Island, as well as at several sites along inland creek slopes. Last year, overall breeding success was the highest recorded in the program to date. This season, 362 breeding pairs are being monitored at nine sites across the island. The breeding effort of this species appears to have remained stable over the last decade.
Wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans)
WAs breed in very small numbers (approximately 10-15 breeding pairs) on Macquarie Island, primarily at the south-west corner of the island and on north-west featherbed. Last season only five eggs were laid and two hatched, representing a hatching success of 40%. This breeding effort was the lowest recorded since the inception of the current monitoring program and the lowest on Macquarie Island since 1984/85. Additionally, it was the third consecutive year of low hatching success (40%) and the fourth consecutive year of very low chick production on Macquarie Island. WAs are extremely susceptible to the impacts of the long-line fishing industry, and this is believed to be a major influencing factor in the world-wide decline of WA breeding populations.
This season has had a promising beginning with 13 nests being detected and there are currently 12 breeding pairs incubating eggs.
Northern giant-petrels (Macronectes halli)
NGPs breed around most of Macquarie Island, primarily on coastal flats. A whole-island census of breeding NGPs was conducted this season by TasPaws Rangers Ian T and Alison D. A total of 1526 breeding pairs were detected. To determine breeding success, each nest is being re-checked by Sarah and Julie in January to confirm chick status. The number of breeding NGPs on Macquarie Island has increased markedly since the last whole-island census in 2000/01 (1484 pairs). Additionally, long-term data on the breeding effort of NGPs in the north-west "Featherbed" study area reveal an underlying increasing trend for the last 14 years.
Southern giant-petrels (M. giganteus)
SGPs primarily nest in colonies around the coastal flats of Macquarie Island. Last season, approximately 2573 breeding pairs laid eggs and 1576 chicks were counted in the final census, resulting in an overall breeding success of 61%. The number of breeding pairs has remained stable over the last eleven years. Breeding success and the number of chicks at banding have been more variable over time but with no apparent increasing or decreasing trend. Data for this season are still being collected.
Friday arvo drinks were taken in the Bio Lab building, hosted by the recently-arrived Risk and Remediation team. With all kinds of lab and computer equipment in the building everyone was on their best behavior. Josie handed out a free syringe of cocktail on arrival, and there were plenty of meatballs and crumbed goodies to keep the hunger down, making the evening a big hit. Thanks to our very busy and much-appreciated "Science Nerds".
The 10-person Risk and Remediation team (known previously as IHAT) arrived on station in two waves after hitching rides on two of the several tourist vessels that arrived at Macca over the last few weeks. After unpacking cargo and having most of our station and field orientations in remarkably un-Macca-like weather, we've begun implementation of our field program which focuses on the remediation and monitoring of the areas around the Fuel Farm and Main Powerhouse which have been the location of several fuel spills over the years.
Our strategy is to reduce petroleum hydrocarbon concentrations in the soil and groundwater by optimising microbial degradation of hydrocarbons in the soil through the installation of an in-situ high-density air sparge and nutrient-addition system. Our work also includes the continuation of eco-toxicological studies and risk modelling as we develop remediation end points specific to cold climates.
Despite numerous attempts by all, but mainly ourselves, to sidetrack us from our project plan with events like
- the annual Australia Day ocean dip and vegemite eating contest
- Jim's Mexican night and
- last Friday evening's lab party (with special cocktails for all those geeky lab wannabes)
we've made good progress to date and remain on track for eight of us to depart on V5 leaving two of our members (Brett "I'm still not sick of digging holes" Q and Susan "I dug my fair share of holes last year" F) to keep the field program going over the winter.
The rest of the 2009 Risk and Remediation field team includes:
- Clare "those four male fur seals don't intimidate me" W
- Tom "chinny chin chin" M
- Sharyn "I think this beats doing my PhD" G
- Ian "aren't I supposed to be skiing in France" S
- Jim "North American sock wrestling champion" W
- Ben "how did I manage to get away with leaving my wife with the kids for 10 weeks" R
- Josie "stop pressuring me to do a PhD" van D and
- Tim "" S.
We've been mightily welcomed by all on station with tremendous support from all the tradies, so many thanks to all. Thanks also to the great support from the rest of our team in Kingston.
Cheers to all from the Macca Team.