It has been a busy week at Macquarie Island, with work and the combined celebration of Australia and Waitangi (New Zealand) national days.

Life without rabbits

By Claudia Babirat

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been making forays into the field to monitor how the island vegetation has been faring in the absence of rabbits.

All the island is a lot lusher now that the rabbits are almost gone, but there are certain pockets that are looking better than anywhere else. Why? Because they are surrounded by a rabbit-proof fence.

The first rabbit exclosures were erected as early as the 1960s, but the more recent ones were put in around 2007/08. There are 41 of them around the island, from Handspike to Hurd Point, and wildlife rangers monitor them on an annual basis. It’s the same each year — a series of photographs are taken of each plot, both inside and outside the fenced area.

Researchers on the mainland use some of these photographs to establish rates of vegetation recovery, but the results are obvious even to a layperson: inside the plots plants are flourishing, outside they are not. A comparison of the same plot over time shows that the rate of plant recovery is equally dramatic.

Hopefully this means that, now that the rabbits’ days are hopefully numbered, the flora will come back with a vengeance. Some of the plots contain relatively rare plants, like the orchid Nematocerus dienemum and the fern Polystichum vestitum, which will hopefully act as a source of seeds for new growth outside of their rabbit-proof confines.

New arrivals

This week we have seen some new arrivals poke their heads out from the protective folds of their parents. King penguin chicks will be looked after by their parents for about 12 months, before they fledge and go to sea.

A station fire exercise

On Wednesday 25th January a fire drill and training exercise took place which involved all personnel on station on the day. The importance of such drills cannot be underestimated due to the very realistic and serious threat that a fire on station would pose.

It began late morning with the fire drill sounding and expeditioners assembling outside the fire hut for the all important muster (roll call). An indignant elephant seal, annoyed at being disturbed from his sleep in the fire hut doorway also attended the muster, intent on taking a piece out of Danny.

Following roll call it was determined that one individual was missing in action. Subsequently search teams were dispatched to conduct thorough searches of likely locations for the missing person.

The drama scaled up when it was revealed in the scenario that a fire had been detected. Fire teams sprang into action, rolling out hoses and connecting them to standpipes, awaiting the order to ‘pump full steam'.

Surprises were in store for many on the fire teams who grappled with a water supply with a heavy build-up of sand. Others did battle with water supplies which refused to turn off.

In the end, ‘missing in action’ offender Trevor was located safe and well, and Hassellborough house was saved.

In all seriousness, a number of valuable lessons were learned on the day — from the basics of everyone getting to know the location of firefighting equipment, to ironing out communication issues, as well as knowing which way the water supply is turned on versus off…

Australia-Waitangi Day

We deferred celebrating Australia day until everyone was back on station. With a large portion of our population hailing from New Zealand, we combined it with Waitangi day — the New Zealand national day that falls on February 6th.

It all started with a morning ‘coast to coast’ swim — really a dip in the ocean on each side of the isthmus, followed by a sprint to the spa, to recover. The temperature of 5°C and a wind of 75km/hr had a wind chill effect of making the water feel warmer than the air.

After a hearty hot lunch we headed out for a game of cricket, followed by the traditional Macquarie Island sport of haggis hurling (really just throwing a balloon filled with porridge, while standing on an upended drum). The local skuas found the haggis very appealing and it was a race to retrieve them before the skuas made off with them. Tim smashed the hurling record (27m) — though there was some assistance from a following wind!

Belinda prepared delicious tapas and drinks while Danny and Tony cooked up a feast for dinner — a spit-roasted pig, with salad from the hydroponics hut and Kiwi Pete P’s delicious birthday cake for dessert.

Dinner was followed by a grand party — a barn dance, with hilarious party games and line dancing. A fitting way to enjoy a day off from hard work and celebrate national days and a birthday.

Jaimie’s birthday

Jaimie, an albatross researcher, celebrated her birthday this week. Belinda created this lovely chocolate albatross for the top of her cake.