This week at the station

This week at Macquarie Island: 15 February 2013

Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project

When Pete (2012 MIPEP Team Leader) departed station a few weeks ago Stephen was appointed to the position of 2013 MIPEP Team Leader. Stephen has been working as a dog handler with the MIPEP program since April 2012 and when offered the position and the opportunity to remain on the island for an additional six months to support the new team he jumped at the chance. Stephen’s background is in conservation and his eradication experience has mostly been gained within Fiordland National Park and around Southland in New Zealand, including offshore island work on stoats, weka and possums. Steve also spent two and a half years working on Codfish and Anchor Islands as a ranger with the Kakapo recovery program.

For anyone interested in the hours hunted last month (January) – the slightly smaller team put in a massive effort with a total of 1003 hours of hunting covering 2653 kms of terrain. Well done!

Two expeditioners on a steep slope, ocean in the background. Sunny day
Anna and Steve
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Female expeditioner with her arms around a spring spaniel dog
Jaimie and Katie
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Male expeditioner and his dog photo taken from a distance, rolling hills
Steve and Katie
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Close up of female hunter smiling outdoors
(Photo: Cameron Walker)
Close up of bread scrolls, light purple icing on top
Sunday pastries at Hurd Point
(Photo: Cameron Walker)
Expeditioner hanging out the washing at one of the huts in a sunny day
Kelly putting out the washing at Brothers Point hut
(Photo: Cameron Walker)
Female expeditioner walking along a rocky beach covered in thick large kelp
Kelly on the beach
(Photo: Cameron Walker)
Female expeditioner looking at her cake, cake has a sparkler
Karen celebrating her birthday at Hurd Point hut
(Photo: Richard Dakin)

Ranger's update

With less than a month to go before resupply, the rangers and albatross staff are busy undertaking census work throughout the month of February. This week the rangers returned to twenty-five rockhopper penguin colonies around the island to count the numbers of chicks that have survived and will soon fledge breeding areas. The numbers of nesting adults in these colonies were counted in November, so this follow up count will allow breeding success to be determined.

Counting rockhopper penguins is a tricky business as they often live in remote steep rocky slopes close to the water's edge. The largest colony contained 840 breeding birds in November and all nooks and crannies in the colonies must be investigated to get an accurate count. Counting chicks is also problematic with them often hiding under boulders, cabbage and overhangs. Rangers skirt the periphery of the colonies to avoid disturbance and use a counting ‘clicker’ to determine numbers.

On initial review, the breeding success appears slightly lower than previous years. This may be explained by two large storms, an easterly in early January and a westerly in mid-January that resulted in some waves washing over the isthmus.

Close up of a rockhopper, black and white penguin with yellow long feathers coming from face
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Approx 50 Rockhoppers perched high up on rocks
Colony of Rockhoppers
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Close up of two rockhoppers, black and white penguin with long yellow feathers coming from side of face
Two cute rockhoppers
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Small fluffy dark grey and white penguin chick
Rockhopper chick
(Photo: Richard Dakin)


Remediation project

The terrestrial plant component of the remediation project is the first assessment of the impacts of soil hydrocarbons on plant species inhabiting Macquarie Island. The collection of Macquarie Island seed, whole plants and intact coastal turfs will be used in toxicity tests which will help determine environmental clean-up targets for fuels on the island.

This project will examine the response of key native plant species to fuel contaminated sites by establishing germination and growth tests for these species. Herbaceous plants and grasses inhabiting the isthmus and coastal zone slopes are being collected, including the species Poa foliosa, Colobanthus muscoides, Leptinella plumosa, Montia fontana, etc.  Some preliminary germination trials will be carried out in the laboratory on the island but most samples will be returned to Australia where an honours student from the University of Wollongong will undertake seed germination/root elongation and early seedling growth tests to assess phytotoxicities of soil hydrocarbons. This will involve the preparation of test soils by spiking at a range of fuel concentrations.

Determination of the effect of soil pollution on plant growth is a very important step in the assessment of the ability of the soil to sustain plant communities and preventing ecosystem degradation.

This week the remediation team have been out and about doing what they do best - that’s right more digging. This time the team have been out digging along the lines where the air-sparing tubing runs in the MPH south remediation zone. Josie and Charles then got to work with the drill, relocating sparges. The aim of moving the sparges is to counteract any air channels and blockages which may have occurred since their installation in the 2008/09, therefore ensuring even distribution of air through the soil. Once completed in the MPH south the team will move onto relocating sparge points in the Fuel Farm.

Vegetation monitoring for Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project

Jennie Whinam and Nick Fitzgerald arrived on Macquarie Island (finally, after a long trip on the Orion, which was diverted to rescue a solo French yachtsman) to monitor vegetation plots. They will be assessing the initial response of the vegetation to an absence of rabbits. These plots were established over 30 years ago and are located in areas where rabbits have been counted on a monthly basis over the same time period. Revisiting these plots has provided an opportunity to measure the impacts of rabbits on the vegetation over a long time period and with very different levels of rabbit activity. Now these plots will continue to be used to assess the recovery of the vegetation in the absence of rabbits, rats and mice.

Early results indicate that there are many new seedlings of palatable species, such as Pleurophyllum hookeri, Stilbocarpa polaris (Macquarie cabbage), Polystichum vestitum (shield fern) and Poa foliosa (tussock grass). There are some early indications that many of the palatable herbs, such as Cardamine, may also be increasing. It is too early to say what the vegetation on Macquarie Island will look like in 10-20 years, but it is likely to reach a different equilibrium to what was present prior to the introduction of rabbits by the sealers in the 1800s. Some of the more unpalatable species have become dominant and it is not clear as to whether these aggressive species will be outcompeted over time.

Corrine de Mestre

Azorella dieback

While the prognosis for vegetation recovery with the removal of rabbits is good news for the vegetation, there is bad news for the feldmark. There has been massive dieback of the endemic cushion plant, Azorella macquariensis, over the past five years, with estimates of 60% of the species suffering dieback. This has led to the species being listed as critically endangered under the Commonwealth's EPBC Act. The cause of the dieback is not yet known, but is likely to involve a combination of factors, including a possible pathogen and changes in rainfall patterns on the island. 

Over the next month, Jennie and Nick will be collecting samples from healthy and diseased Azorella to enable pathologists to test for a possible pathogen and to indicate whether this is a primary pathogen (i.e. causing some of the dieback) or whether it is secondary (i.e. occurring when plants are already weakened and in poor condition). Photo monitoring of sites that were established four years ago will also be undertaken to better understand the patterns and rates of dieback in this keystone species of the plateau feldmark communities.

Jennie & Nick

Female expeditioner sitting on the grass taking seeds and placing them into a small capsule
Using a pooter to suck up dry Colobanthus muscoides seeds from capsules
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Close up of a bright green hardy plant
Colobanthus muscoides seeds ripe in drying seed capsules (dense cushion plant commonly…
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Close up of seeds in a dish
Colobanthus muscoides seeds after a day of collecting
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Bright green plant, looks like moss
Several Colobanthus sp. growing together
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Plant with longer stems, mostly green but some younger stems red
Flowers of Epilobium pedunculare (small creeping herb) with red seed pods developing…
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Small, red ball of tiny skinny thorns
Acaena magellanica (buzzy) flower head after rain
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Expeditioner in science lab holding a tray seeds in a dish
Corrine setting up some germination trials
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Four expeditioners standing over a green cushion plant
Steve, Jennie, Brian and Laura inspecting one of the Azorella plants
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
Small area of approx 3 metre by 3 metre fenced off. grassy area inside the fence and outside
Vegetation plot
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
Expeditioner looking into one of the plots where its substantially thicker and taller than outside the fenced off area
Jennie excited about the recovery
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
Expeditioner looking into small fenced off area plants growing higher than outside the fenced area
Nick inspecting Macquarie cabbage, shield fern and tussock grass
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
Expeditioner looking into fenced area at growth of plants
Jennie assessing plant growth
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
Female expeditioner working outside in the open, her office being the outdoors
Lauren in her office
(Photo: lauren Wise)


Caught in the act!

Not mentioning any names but one very experienced expeditioner who has wintered nine times required some assistance while out for a Sunday drive. See if you can recognise him.

Our focus is currently on resupply. In approx three weeks the Aurora Australis will be making her way to Macquarie Island with a year’s supply of food, fuel, building materials, general station stocks and numerous teams of very excited expeditioners. One team will concentrate on supporting all refuelling and resupply activities (includes boating and helicopter operations), another large team are involved in various science projects and will be extremely busy and finally, the 2013 Macca team will swap over duties with the existing team. The 2013 expeditioners will remain on the island for 12 months. Exciting times ahead for all involved.

Tractor driving on the beach followed by a small red ute
What's so special about this photo?
(Photo: Narelle Campbell)
Small red ute following a larger tractor on the sand
Worked it out yet?
(Photo: Narelle Campbell)
Close up of small red ute being towed along the beach but can't see who is behind the wheel
Someone needed rescuing, but who?
(Photo: Narelle Campbell)
Expeditioner behind the wheel of the towed small ute hiding his face with a cloth
Good one Jim!
(Photo: Narelle Campbell)
Expeditioners playing soccer on the sand near buildings one expeditioner raising his leg too high close to another player
No rules soccer game (No expeditioners were harmed in the taking of…
(Photo: Robby van Tongeren)
Expeditioners moving fast and kicking up dust whilst playing soccer
Enthusiastic game of soccer
(Photo: Robby van Tongeren)
Expeditioners playing soccer run to the corner as they score a goal
It was in!
(Photo: Robby van Tongeren)
12 expeditioners standing next to a gate looking at the camera
Macquarie Island soccer team
(Photo: Robby van Tongeren)


All creatures, great and small

Six royal penguins following each other down a track
Royal penguins off for a swim
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Five gentoo penguins standing looking at each other in front of a large rock
(Photo: Stephen Horn)
Six brown muddy elephant seals sleeping up against a hut
Smelly, noisy elephant seals leaning against Hurd Point hut
(Photo: Cameron Walker)
Two seals on a beach rearing up at each other and hitting each other chest to chest
Playful elephant seals
(Photo: Corrine de Mestre)
Black and white small penguin with long yellow feathers coming from side of face looking at a fur seal sitting on a rock
Fur seal and a rockhopper
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Small brown bird in amongst green grass
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Penguin in mid air swimming in the ocean
A porpoising penguin
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Large brown bird standing over a small egg
Skua with a tasty egg
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Close up of face of brown grey bird looking side on
Skua chick
(Photo: Richard Dakin)
Aerial photo looking directly down onto ten seals in the middle of a mud puddle
Seals enjoying a mud bath
(Photo: Richard Dakin)


Mix of red and orange sunset colours over the ocean
Stunning sunset at Brothers Point
(Photo: Nick Fitzgerald)
View from a hill down the coastline, small flowers covering the ground on the hill
From North Head
(Photo: Karen Andrew)
Bright red orange sunset over the coast
Stunning coastal sunset
(Photo: Garry Shearsby)
Bright orange and red colours in the sky, reflection or red on lake
Sunset from the plateau
(Photo: Garry Shearsby)