This week at Macquarie Island: 3 March 2017
King penguin chicks are here; hydro gets Dan thinking; the tourist season ends for another year and the new boatshed has a roof!
New arrivals for the king penguins
A clear indicator that we have been here almost a full year now, the king penguins have gone full circle and a new batch of chicks has been born on the island, ready to keep the next group of expeditioners company over winter. They really are the ugly ducklings of the penguin world.
Hydro on Dan's mind
Somewhere etched within the neural pathways that make up the matter that perceives my particular existential interpretation of reality, I recall a quote whose origin I cannot recollect. It reads: ‘The green of the forest is the mind's best light’. For some strange reason it has always stuck with me. Whilst I sit within the confines of a small wooden shack affectionately known as ‘chippys church’, the quote seems to reverberate and drum within the bone structure encapsulating my mind. Much like the structure of the building as the frigid wind howls outside and its cold tendrils push and tug at it menacingly from alternating directions.
I wonder if the plants, were they sentient beings, would find it ironic that their life–givers could sit atop a hill in the dark and stare in bemusement at 1 million stars hidden between the shimmering glow of a green aurora australis and ponder what god is? But think it quite natural that we are able to recreate, mimic and sustain an entire universe within a ‘church’ for the sole purpose of growing plants that could never exist in this place on their own; as nonchalantly as we would inhale a breath of fresh air heavily laden with the salty mist of thousands of kilometres of open ocean.
Inside the wooden clad universe where the temperature hovers around a consistently balmy 22°C, the humidity sits between 50 and 60%, and the pH and nutrient levels are maintained steadily by the hand of a rostered human creationist, the simplicity of life can be observed and appreciated. A universe where its inhabitant's only intention is to pass on their inherent encoded data, so that its species can simply continue to exist. A selfless act, that provides us with an invaluable additional source of sustenance and flavour in a world where most fruit and vegetables are not fresh, but preserved for consumption.
In spite of the omnipresent sense of impending doom that constantly lingers in the warm air like the smell of a rotting sperm whale carcass, the plants with which I share the microcosm don’t seem to care that one day very soon their entire civilisation will crumble and fall. Their lives to be uprooted from the dense moist perlite they call home and all they know burnt to a charcoal crisp inside the belly of a giant fire breathing beast called ‘Warren’. Anything not devoured by ‘Warren’ will be dismantled, cleaned, and bleached, and nothing but a blank and sterile canvas will remain. The only evidence they ever existed will be a foggy memory inside someone’s head, possibly some photons of light captured and arranged in a mosaic denoted by the text .JPG or .PNG, and an excel spreadsheet documenting the spoils of their brief and doomed conquest.
I ponder as to whether this impending finite event is the point where our separate trajectories converge, like the node of two intersecting waveforms before it plummets to its inverse state? Parallel to the ebb and flow of all cycles on this island, after this point, a new predetermined beginning will slowly but surely materialise. To coincide with the arrival of this seasons ‘beach masters’, the incoming winter crew will rebuild a new universe in the shadows of unseen dead plants, and new life will be lovingly coaxed from the seeds of family members of last seasons obliterated and defunct crop.
Similarly to the realisation of an incoming tide as you observe the water rising up a stick you have wedged into the liquids formless border, it dawns on me that the probability that I will ever again be standing within the ethereal matrix of chlorophyll that permeates ‘chippys church’ is really quite low. Not a distinct impossibility I surmise, but also not something I can presently envision. This thought solemnly reminds me that just as the amount of time the plants have left slowly diminishes, so too does my own on this island.
Perhaps I’ve had too much time to think about things when attempting to articulate the suspended animation state of a plethora of plants whose life is able to span both a winter and a summer in a place they should not exist? Or perhaps our shared impending departures from this particular plane of existence on a small and remote island in the great southern ocean, is why it would seem that our time together, as well as all the other moments shared down here over the last 3.5 months with all manner of animals, plants, and inanimate objects alike, seems like something that is so innately special.
Until the next cycle… ad infinitum.
Basil 8.5 kg
Butter bean 0.5 kg
Capsicum 2.2 kg
Celery 9.7 kg
Cherry tomato 0.1 kg
Chilli 0.4 kg
Continental cucumber 68.9 kg
Curly kale 4.3 kg
Straight kale 2.9 kg
Endive 5.6 kg
Herbs 50 g
Kale 3.3 kg
Leafy greens 180 g
Lettuce 13.5 kg
Parsley 190 g
Rocket 1.8 kg
Sage 0.9 kg
Silverbeet 10.3 kg
Snow pea 2.2 kg
Tomato 19.4 kg
Another successful tourist season ends
The 2016-17 tourist cruise ship season has now concluded, with the final ship of the season – the German ‘Bremen’ – disappearing into the fog late on the 23rd of February after a successful visit. This season we had 10 ships come to the island, with nine of those ships managing at least one landing.
Tourist ship visits are a core part of Parks and Wildlife Service operations on the island over summer, with ranger staff overseeing each visit. The visits also provide an opportunity for keen expeditioners to volunteer as ‘tour guides’, with a chance to go aboard the ship to speak to new people and have some fresh fruit!
The ships range in size from 48 passenger, expedition style vessels, to a 200 passenger luxury cruise ship – complete with pool and beauty salon. The majority of ships come from New Zealand, visiting other sub–Antarctic islands along the way. A smaller number also cruise further south to Antarctica, and one came all the way from Ushuaia in Chile.
All the ships have to go through a number of strict biosecurity checks prior to coming to the island, and passengers and crew are required to thoroughly clean all their gear before and after coming ashore. Visits are normally 1-2 days in length, with passengers able to visit three sites. If conditions allow, a cruise by the largest king penguin colony on the island at Lusitania Bay may be undertaken.
The isthmus landing provides an insight into past and present life on the island, with a chance to see a working station and visit the mess. Whilst in the mess visitors can chat to expeditioners, buy a souvenir, send a postcard, and sample fresh scones by Rocket. The highlight for most though, is a visit to Sandy Bay, where tourists can get up close with the wildlife, see Macquarie Island mega herbs, and visit both royal and king penguin colonies.
For many people, travelling to a sub–Antarctic island in the middle of the Southern Ocean is a once in a lifetime experience. Occasionally though, others will be lucky enough to visit more than once and see first–hand the changes post MIPEP. This season we had a number of visitors who had been here prior to the eradication of rabbits and rodents, and they were blown away by the vegetation growth since they were last here.
Sharing this special World Heritage Area and Nature Reserve with others is an extremely rewarding part of the job for ‘us rangers’. Seeing that look on people’s faces when they first set foot on the island is priceless, and reaffirms the importance of what we do here. Thank you to all the visitors, volunteer tour guides, and station staff in general, who have helped us to have yet another successful season.
Boatshed 'topping out' celebration
Our summer trades team have been busy constructing a new, larger boatshed for the island as and when the weather permits.
Last Friday the winds held off for long enough for them to get the roof on, which called for a 'topping out' pizza party on site, of course! Great job done by all involved.
The year is coming to an end without having been able to find suitable tales to tell from the logs for every year. However the pictures are worth viewing, if only for the fashion choices, so over the next couple of weeks we'll show the ANARE group shots that haven't been featured this year: everyone gets an outing!