Pirates, plants and precipitation. There is lots from Macca this week, including the usual array of fantastic photos. Bonus sneak peek at the future of alarm clocks.

This week on station

This week on Macca started off as a quieter week with our expeditioners out on field familiarisation trips and TASPAWS ranger Andrea in the field undertaking bird surveys. For the first time our on-station population was reduced to just eight.

Earlier in the week we tested our various emergency alarms for the first time. In addition to the fire alarms, we tested the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) alarm systems as well. A part of BOM’s job involves releasing weather balloons filled with hydrogen. As hydrogen is a highly volatile gas, expeditioners require immediate notification of any leakage in the system. The hydrogen alarms were activated so that all expeditioners could become familiar with this warning.

On Thursday field familiarisation party number two left station bound for Bauer Bay hut in testing conditions. Justin prepared a delicious Mexican feast to round out our week on Friday. Dan, rocking the slushy radio, took charge of the entertainment broadcasting pan flutes over the airwaves for over three hours. Those on station are of the understanding that the field party now at Brothers Point hut thoroughly enjoyed listening in.

With all back on station for the weekend, rumours started to circulate of an imminent (pirate) mutiny. Plans were under way to stage a belated pirate party for our plumber Ben, who celebrated his birthday during the busy resupply. Pirate costumes complete with eye patches, and brightly feathered parrots were assembled then stowed away. The evening kicked off under the guise of a welcome to station shindig. Duncan assisted with a diversion sending Ben on a wild goose chase around station, whilst we rapidly converted the mess into a pirate lair, and donned our costumes. Ben returned some 15 minutes later to be greeted with a spectacular cake complete with a jet ski riding penguin and a huge chorus of AARRGGHHHHH!

Jacque Comery, Station Leader 

Food for thought

Have you ever wondered how we get fresh salad veggies down here in the subantarctic?  By putting our green thumbs to work, the Macca hydro team is getting set to produce a bumper crop of fresh salad greens to complement our chef Justin’s tasty cuisine.

So far our crop consists of lettuce, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, basil and kale, with a touch of chilli to spice things up. Louise kick started the seedling production, planting individual seeds into their rock-wool homes. Several weeks on, they have now been transplanted into their permanent beds in the hydroponic system. The cucumbers are powering ahead as our stand out performers.

A team of hydro-helpers including Anna, Justin, Duncan and Jacque, are being trained up by Louise to assist in the day to day tasks required to maintain the system. Daily checks involve maintaining the nutrient and pH levels in the water, and checking water levels and temperature. As the plants begin to flower, the hydro team will be taking out their paint brushes to replicate the role normally provided by bees in cross pollinating the flowering plants.

A unique aspect of maintaining a hydroponic system on Macquarie Island is the bio-security considerations that we work with to ensure that introduced species do not escape into the environment. Conversely, the procedures also protect our crops from any endemic Macquarie Island pests making a meal of our precious harvest.

We are hoping for a bumping harvest in time to accompany our upcoming midwinter feast.

Louise and Jacque

Fog, featherbed and the furious fifties

Late last week our lucky group of Macca winterers including Marion, Rich, power-ranger Anna and Louise, headed out on a field famil starting on the Island Lake track destined for the Bauer Bay hut. After the plateau walk in foggy Macca conditions the views unfolded, treating everyone to their first off-station view of the wild west coast. After a recce of the hut facilities, a delicious meal of gnocchi and chocolate pudding was enjoyed by all.

We set off the next morning after devouring some home baked bread, along the Aurora Cave track into ‘The Labyrinth', a magical Hobbit world of enchanting mosses, featherbeds, rock formations and caves. We incorporated a navigation exercise, going off track using GPS and compasses to make our way to the challenging Flat Creek jump-up and across the boggy (crevasse-laden) fields to the overland track. The weather conditions for our second day were much improved and allowed for excellent visibility south along the plateau and along the coast on the descent to the Brother’s Point hut. Rich made a fantastic curry that we enjoyed in the ‘smartie’ — the field hut is shaped like the popular Australian chocolate lollies — listening to the sounds of the many elephant seals on the beach out front and the slushy (Mexican night) station tunes on the radio.

Day three weather was challenging with persistent rain and wind necessitating a change of plans to avoid the high tides and slippery impassable coastal rocks. A highlight of the trip came next with a king penguin encounter at Sandy Bay. After sitting quietly at a distance and watching them for a while, a curious penguin led a group over to us to investigate. They stood eye to eye with us for quite some time as we checked each other out. The colours of their feathers, and their trusting nature were a privilege to observe up so close. We reluctantly withdrew from our new friends and started the long climb up the Sandy Bay Track ridge. We were in for another Macca experience on the plateau, with ‘Furious Fifties’ winds living up to their name! We adopted a crablike walk, as if we were vertically skydiving, at one stage needing to link arms to stop from flying away!

After a hard slog for a couple of hours we were overjoyed to again view the station from the top of Doctors track. Home again after a challenging and exhilarating few days away!

Marion and Louise 

A whale, intriguing ocean junk and a mysterious door

A third group of Macca expeditioners (Duncan, Justin, Ben and Andrea) enjoyed a fun and informative three day field familiarisation trip this week. As well as refreshing field skills and gaining an understanding of the environment in which we are working and travelling, the group had a great time photographing tiny fungi, collecting junk from the ocean, pondering a mysterious door and whale spotting.

One of the first rewarding experiences of the trip was the Bauer Bay marine debris survey. Expeditioners can volunteer to assist the rangers who do the survey each month. It involves walking along the beach in parallel lines to collect any artificial items. A good haul was collected by the dedicated participants, including the usual plastic fragments, bottles, green branch lines from longline fishing and polystyrene. Most noteworthy was a plastic six-pack yoke which is considered to be a particularly dangerous form of litter for marine wildlife.

During a well-considered diversion later that day, a large buoy was retrieved from Cormorant Point. The buoy had been seen from helicopters during resupply and is now the start of a new cache of west coast marine debris which will be retrieved by a helicopter during the next resupply (probably in April 2016).

On our way from the west coast towards the plateau, we spotted a large wooden object in an empty royal penguin colony. All the penguins have left the colony and gone to sea for the winter months. To everyone’s surprise it was a large door covered in penguin grime, with what appeared to be an old fashioned latch and hinges. Much speculation about the origin of the door followed.

On the last day of the trip it was exciting to see a whale about 50 metres offshore at The Nuggets on the east coast. The identification of the species of whale is the subject of ongoing consideration.

Andrea Turbett

Photo gallery

A gallery of photos from out and about on our field trips this week.

The last word…