Macquarie Island is busy with hydroponics, dramatic search and rescue training and wrangling the large and in charge beachmaster elephant seals.

Station update

This week on Macquarie Island we held our first all-station tsunami emergency muster exercise. Expeditioners commenced the muster in their usual place of work, with a few volunteers positioning themselves at the far southern end of station. The objective of our drill was to practice mustering at a predetermined safe position on high ground upon sounding of the alarm. The alarm was activated at 1530 and we all moved hastily to the ‘golf tee’ on Wireless Hill. This location is about halfway up the hill to our emergency tsunami shelter, which would serve as our base of operations in the unlikely event that station infrastructure were to sustain serious damage from an earthquake or earthquake generated tsunami. Everyone made it up the hill in good time, and a little out of breath, after a brisk jog followed by a steep hill climb. After the tsunami muster, we celebrated Friday night with our usual ‘takeaway dinner’ of ‘JFC’ (Justin Fried Chicken). 

Chef Justin and Ben prepared a wonderful 18 hour steak dinner for the community on Saturday night. The preparations commenced on Friday afternoon, with Ben taking the lead in charring the outside of the steak. Friday night video clips featured a screening of Heston Blumenthal’s program on the search for the perfect steak. With the taste buds of the whole station watering, the charred steak was placed in the oven on Friday night to slowly cook for the next 18 hours. Saturday dinner of steak, confit salmon, and crisp greens from hydroponics was served to an appreciative station and enjoyed by all.

As if steak and salmon night wasn’t exciting enough, Saturday evening frivolity continued with the second 2015 Macca pub quiz. Quizmaster Justin MC’d and three teams lined up to contest the event: Team G (Lou, Jac and Lionel), team B (Nick, Dan and Rich) and team K (Duncan, Mark and Ben).

Team B prevailed, surprisingly without cheating, with an unstoppable lead from points won in the inter-round challenges. The bonus points challenges included apple bobbing (Dan was triumphant), pasta noodle threading, and hanging nails on a string (of which Lionel was undisputed champion). The overall winners were rewarded by some fine hand crafted trophies, supplied by Ben’s newly established local business ‘Golden and Sons Monocles'. A fun night was had by everyone!

The trades team broke ground on a new project this week, commencing the replacement of the aged fire hydrant main. Work is focusing on the sections of main within the station compound at the moment, due to the prevalence of wildlife frolicking about the place. Warren, our incinerator, is also on the blink again giving Nick and the team some challenges.

The elephant seal census continued again this week, with seal numbers still on the increase. Our volunteer seal counters are gaining loads of experience ahead of the all island elephant seal census on 15 October.

We invite anyone who is keen to check out our webcam and follows the turf war enacted everyday by the big beachmasters, especially over the section of isthmus between the station compound, and the communications and meteorology buildings.

Hydroponics happenings

Macquarie Island’s hydroponics is continuing to grow and evolve as the months go by. Plants from hydroponics were put to good use by Chef Justin for our midwinter dinner back in June. Rocket lettuce, which has been growing well for us this season, was featured in a number of courses for the dinner, while celery was used for the virgin Bloody Mary mocktails that were created.

Salad staples such as lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber have been in continuous supply over the past four months, allowing expeditioners to add fresh foods to their lunchtime sandwiches or for a quick snack. Other plants that have been doing well in hydroponics include silverbeet, chillies and basil.

Continuous work goes into maintaining hydroponics in the long term. Each type of plant has an optimum range of pH and nutrient levels. So plants with similar pH and nutrient needs are grown in the same tank with the ideal pH and nutrient levels set. These levels then need to be checked daily by expeditioners as they tend to drift out of their ideal ranges as the plants take up these nutrients and naturally change the acidity of the water tanks. Five tanks are currently in operation, each with own ideal pH and nutrient ranges for the plants they are supporting.

Hydroponics on our station will continue to evolve over the coming months with snow peas, dwarf beans, eggplant and sage being seeded, along with more lettuce, celery and rocket. With the anticipation of the summer crew arriving, plans are afoot to grow more lettuce, celery and rocket to meet the expected demands of the larger station.

Louise Carroll 

The last search and rescue excercise

Following on from the intro in last week’s station update, we recently held our LAST search and rescue (SAR) exercise. Now that’s not our last SAR event, it stands for locate, access, stabilise and transport (LAST) — the essential stages of an effective search and rescue response.

Our scenario began with a search of station and North Head for an expeditioner that was thought to be missing. During this time, one of the searchers on North Head ‘fell and sustained significant injuries', requiring them to be stretchered back to station. At the same time the original missing person was located elsewhere. This change in focus certainly tested the incident management and response teams, but they all adapted very well.

A fellow searcher was on scene quickly to assist in stabilising the new ‘patient', and a second wave of support swiftly had the stretcher and more first aid supplies on site. Juggling the small crew of available rescuers was a handful — we needed to plan stretcher packaging and carrying, as well as the construction of an efficient and safe rope lowering system, all while liaising with medical and operational resources back in Kingston (head office) and in the field here on Macca.

In the end, the team pulled together all the skills we have been practicing since we came together in February and executed an amazingly efficient and safe rescue of the injured person. Congratulations to everyone involved, awesome job! I’d also like to offer a particular thanks to our colleagues in Kingston who offered support and advice on how to approach certain aspects of the unfolding scenario — this really added to the reality on the day.

Rich Youd

Photo gallery: the beachmasters

The elephant seal male in all his glory.

The last word