This week at Macquarie Island: 15 January 2016

Science, social activities, recovering vegetation and so many moulting animals at Macca. The Doc is also interviewed.

Station update

As we move swiftly into the end of the second week of the new year already, we find our newly arrived summer expeditioners well settled in. Marcus has joined the albatross and giant petrel monitoring project team, and is already down in the south of the islands assisting fellow researcher Kim. Tim, our summer plumber is already well acquainted with the Gadgets Dam, and doctor Malcolm has slotted right back into Macca life (he only left in April 2015) with a daily walk up the aptly named Doctors Track. The dynamic ‘Stellaria media project’ duo of Jane and Karen have already completed field training and are based out at Bauer Bay hut this week.

The remediation team farewelled pocket rocket Helena, and have welcomed remediation scientist Jeremy. Jez is already discovering the wonders of digging test pits whilst being harassed by the locals (wildlife not expeditioners!).

The Macca crew had the pleasure of hosting Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife engineer Holley over the New Year period. Holley was undertaking structural assessments on various Tas Parks tourist infrastructure sites, and was closely acquainted with the dreaded Macca wallow whilst attempting surveying work near the old digester site! After a short eight day stay Holley headed back to Tassie, with as many photos as memories.

Unfortunately heavy rains just prior to Christmas generated some more landslides both upstream and downstream of our water supply dam at Gadgets Gully. For the second time in two months a team of expeditioners armed with shovels headed up the hill to de-silt the station water storage. A big thanks to Nick, Tim, Mark, Terry, Robbie, Mal and Jez for the shovel power!

Rob and Jac ventured out last week on a mission to install a temporary repeater for channel 21 at the Mt Jeffries site. A second task was to try and repair Channel 19 which had gone off the air at Mt Waite. After climbing Mt Waite, and Mt Jeffries (twice) in spirited Macca winds and low cloud, the pair were happy to report that Rob had repaired channel 21, with Jac cheering him on. Rob’s electronic wizardry has returned us VHF comms to the south of the island for the first time since May 2015. The repairs at Mt Waite proved to be more complex than originally expected and will be hopefully tackled in a separate trip this weekend.

On Saturday chef Jimmy, inspired by his recent guiding experience aboard tourist ship Le Soleal treated us all to some fine dining extravagance. The mess was converted into a sit down restaurant, complete with candles, and a magnificent three course meal was served up by celebrity wait staff Duncan (in full Japanese kimono), Tim, Paul and Karen.

Our station compound was invaded by sneaky and agile elephant seals over the New Year period. Some snuck through fences, a few walked through holes in said fences, but others were seen to climb atop cage pallets and belly flop over the fence. Who would have though such a seemingly immobile creature would actually climb atop a cage pallet! The charms of their burping, gurgling and general monkey-dog-children screeching noises whilst they all moult and wallow has become somewhat tiresome. In response, the great cage pallet corral of 2016 has commenced, and we are hoping that once done moulting they will all depart our yard headed for the sea, so that we can all get some sleep, and secure our station infrastructure.

Our week has ended with a subdued and reflective tone, as we pay our respects and turn our thoughts to the family, friends and colleagues of Heli Res pilot David Wood. We proudly flew the Canadian and Australian flags at half mast this week in the sparkling Macquarie Island sunshine before an honour guard of beautiful king penguins, and a rich celebration of life — our tribute to a fellow Antarctic community member who lived and worked in beautiful and remote places.

Jacque Comery

Duncan B in a kimono
Duncan B in his traditional kimono, all ready to serve up a japanese inspired entree dish
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)
The mess hall filled with tables and expeditioners sitting down to a nice dinner
Fine dining in the Macca mess
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)
Ian and Tim in the scoured out Gadgets Gully downstream of the dam
Ian and Tim in the scoured out Gadgets Gully downstream of the dam
(Photo: Jacque Comery)
Summer plumber Tim at Gadgets Dam, filled with silt from the landslide.
Summer plumber Tim at Gadgets Dam, filled with silt from the landslide
(Photo: Jacque Comery)
Jac and Rob on the Overland Track walking from Hurd Point to Station on the same day.
Jac and Rob on the Overland Track after walking from Hurd Point to station on the same day.
(Photo: Jacque Comery)
Rob working at the Mt Waite repeater station in the fog
Rob working at the Mt Waite repeater station in the fog
(Photo: Jacque Comery)
Macquarie Island flags half mast with a large amount of penguins around the base
Macquarie Island flags at half mast to honour helicopter pilot David Wood
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)

December weather summary

December proved to be a wet month for the island. The month’s total rainfall of 124.2 mm well exceeded the long-term monthly rainfall of 78.3 mm. More than half the month’s rainfall fell within 24 hours, with 46.2 mm falling on 21 December. The total number of rain days was 29, four days above the long-term average.

While plenty of rain fell over Macquarie Island during the month of December, the average hours of daily sunshine was 3.1 hours, only slightly below the long-term average of 3.5 days. This signifies that a lot of the rain fell in shorter, heavier periods rather than the usual light, constant rain we are more familiar with on the island.

Maximum and minimum temperatures were close to average for the month of December. Winds were in excess of 22 knots for 22 days of the month, more than the long-term December average of 20.5 days. There were 11 days with mist, slightly higher than the long-term average, and three days with snow (spot on the average).

The month of December has been challenging for our Bureau of Meteorology staff releasing weather balloons. The Bureau releases two balloons each day, one in the morning and the other 12 hours later. This season’s gentoo chicks have decided to crèche in front of the Bureau’s office and their balloon shed. Each time a weather balloon needs to be released, a couple of volunteers from station need to herd the penguin chicks a safe distance from the balloon sheds so they don’t become alarmed by the balloon and stampede. As of the end of December, the chicks were slowly starting to make their way to the ocean.

Blue skies with high cloud
Blue skies over Bauer Bay on December 13th
(Photo: Louise Caroll)
Gentoo penguins gathered outside a small timber building
Gentoo penguins creching outside the Bureaue of Meteorology office
(Photo: Louise Carroll)
Low cloud over the plateau looking south
Low cloud over the plateau on December 11th
(Photo: Louise Carroll)
Blue sky peeks through the clouds
Blue sky peeks through the clouds
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)

Macquarie Island invertebrate monitoring

The Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project (MIPEP) was the most ambitious island eradication program to date, ridding a remote and species-rich island of immensely damaging pest rabbits and rodents. In 2014, the eradication was declared a success. Already, expeditioners and tourists are witnessing the island’s vegetation recovery with Macquarie Island cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris) and tussock grasses (Poa foliosa and smaller Poa cookii) recolonising the slopes. However, exactly what we expect to see, or what we want to see in the ecosystem’s recovery remains largely unknown. Justine Shaw from The University of Queensland is leading a large Australian Antarctic Science project assessing post-eradication ecosystem recovery on Macquarie Island. The project is in partnership with DPIPWE and involves researchers from Monash University, the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), the University of Tasmania (UTAS), and the University of Melbourne. One element of the project is to collate historic biological data (pre eradication) of a range of taxa including macro-invertebrates and then compare it to newly acquired data, post eradication. The project will explore changes in abundance, distribution, diversity and community structure. It aims to understand ecosystem processes and recovery mechanisms. Invertebrates are thought to be a key indicator of ecosystem recovery as they were a major prey item of mice, and strongly influenced by vegetation cover. They are particularly important for soil nutrient cycling, plant pollination, a food source for kelp gulls, and play a major role in the ecosystem

This season we implemented the first stage of an island-wide macro-invertebrate monitoring program. My work involved re-establishing 10 historical invertebrate monitoring sites in the north of the island and the setting up of 10 new sites in the southern half of the island. The new sites were selected on the basis of aspect, vegetation type, altitude and what region of the island they occurred in. Five different vegetation communities were sampled — feldmark (plateau), lower coastal slopes dominated by Stilbocarpa polaris (Macquarie Island cabbage), tall grassland (tussock) dominated by Poa foliosa, short grasslands (including Deschampsia, Festuca, Agrostis, Luzula, Uncinia), and herb field dominated by Pleurophyllum hookerii. At each site, temperature was logged and five pitfalls traps installed along a trap line. These traps collect invertebrates present in the vegetation and leaf litter. Additional sampling involved sweep netting the vegetation, manual searching of litter, and a 20 minute count for otherwise potentially un-trappable invertebrates such as worms, slugs, snails and moths.

Approximately 500 samples were gathered in six weeks of sampling. To give us an understanding of how invertebrates change seasonally from summer through to autumn, willing and wonderful volunteers Jacque, Jane, Karen, Paul, Rowena, Kim and Marcus will continue pitfall trapping at eight of the 20 sites for the months of January, February and March. Temperature loggers will remain at each site to give us an annual temperature profile at each site.

On a personal level, having previously been a dog handler on the pest eradication program in its first year, I am moved by the vegetation recovery about the island four years on. When I first laid eyes on Macquarie Island in 2010, many of slopes and had been reduced to short grasslands, bare dirt and slips. Now as I walk around I finally see all that she can be and the recovery is still in its infancy! Anecdotally, expeditioners have all noted a resurgence in invertebrates, particularly spiders which helpfully festoon the cold porches and the huts and keep us company in the shower! It will be fascinating to watch the ecosystem keep evolving.

Melissa H

Expeditioner using a sweep net to collect invertebrates
Sweep netting vegetation tops on the feldmark – clearly not as productive as tussock or cabbage sweeping!
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)
Pit fall trap dug with soil corer, and temperature gauge with covering
Pit fall trap dug with soil corer, and temperature gauge with covering
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)
Litter collection equipment on Wireless Hill
Litter collection on Wireless Hill
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)
Herbfield site in Bauer Bay
Herbfield site in Bauer Bay
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)
The collector, Melissa Houghton, with fully laden pack
The collector, Melissa Houghton, with fully laden pack
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)
A long, thin moth sits on a piece of grass
Eudonia Mawsoni, the single endemic moth species for Macquarie Island.
(Photo: Melissa Houghton)

The green sponge interview series: Doc Malcolm

Name: Malcolm Vernon

Nicknames: Mal, Doc.

From: Perth W.A.

Previous seasons? 2012–2013 Davis summer and winter, 2014 Mawson summer, 2014/15 Macca summer

Job: Medical Practitioner

Hobbies: Singing and playing guitar poorly, reading, movies, arts, gym, and walking.

Tell us about the project work that you are doing on Macca this summer: (What is the project, what field activities are you up to, etc.)

The medical role here is varied and that’s what attracts me to it. Medical officers have to wear many hats. From consulting, calibration and review of equipment as varied as X-ray machines to assessing station water potability. We’re pharmacist, nurse, physiotherapist, pathologist and responsible for maintenance of the facility.

How does this season at Macca compare to your previous seasons down south?

It’s as rewarding, challenging and enjoyable as anywhere I have been.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Macca?

Always the people engagement.

If you were exiled to Bishop and Clerk Islands to the south of Macca, what four things would you take with you?

Assuming survival gear and food supplied, I would bring a Kindle, solar power source for it and my guitar and song books.

What song sums up your Macquarie Island experience so far?

Cat Stevens ‘Where will the children play?', the question how to preserve for future posterity.

Favourite element of the Macca weather?

Snow.

What actor would play you in a film version of our 68th ANARE season here at Macca?

Hugh Laurie, ‘House'.

Favourite hut or walking route?

The Overland Track to anywhere, Green Gorge — it’s usually sunny.

If you were not a Doctor what would be your dream job?

Small plant operator.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division/Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife kit?

Goggles and my ninja mask.

It is the year 2115 on Macca. What is the coolest thing we have on station and why?

The people and Robbie’s slide guitar.

Please name the royal penguin on our 68th ANARE logo.

Bert

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? A particular favourite?

Too varied to call I wouldn’t like to be stuck in one genre.

Describe your Macca experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.

Razor Back view, elephant seal, happiness, and coffee.

Settlers of Catan, or Darts?

DARTS.

Malcolm standing on the beach with east coast in background
Doc Malcolm out on his daily walk
(Photo: Malcolm Vernon)
Malcolm standing in a yellow jacket on stairs with ocean in background
Mal heading up the razorback stairs at the start of the Doctors Track walk.
(Photo: Malcolm Vernon)

Photo Gallery:Growing up fast on Macca

Moulting gentto chick outside on a dirt path
Moulting gentto chick outside the Bureau of Meteorology office
(Photo: Louise Carroll)
Hungry gentoo chick is fed by a parent, the chick dwarfs the parent in size
Hungry gentoo chick
(Photo: Malcolm Vernon)
Gentoo chick almost fully grown looks up at another gentoo penguin
Gentoo chick
(Photo: Louise Carroll)
Elephant seal moulting, a close up of the face showing clumps of short hair clinging on to the seal
Elephant seal moulting
(Photo: Louise Carroll)
King penguins moulting stand out amongst a crowd of adults on a sunny day
King penguins moulting
(Photo: Lionel Whitehorn)

The last word

It pays not to be the one downwind when moulting’s on…

Cartoon of four penguins all moulting feathers being blown all on the fifth penguin
It pays not to be the one downwind when moulting’s on…
(Photo: Nick Cartwright)