We meet Macca’s Antarctic terns, check in the progress of hydro and how vegies used to be grown, and admire the completed Green Store makeover.

Antarctic terns

Antarctic terns are all year round residents on Macquarie Island coastlines. The Antarctic tern found here on Macquarie Island is Sterna vittata bethunei, a subspecies of Antarctic tern found on the New Zealand subantarctic islands. Antarctic terns are listed as ‘endangered’ due to low population numbers and the historical threat of predation by introduced cats and rats.

Terns breed in summer on the rock stacks and beaches, laying one to two well-camouflaged eggs in a ‘scrape’ or small nest bowl above the high-tide mark. They will actively alert anyone near their egg by calling and swooping around the unwanted intruder.

Lately we have been observing the terns around station, feeding behind the surf zones, hovering above the water and darting down to catch small fish and crustaceans. At the moment the terns are in their non-breeding plumage — incomplete ‘helmet’ and a black beak. As we move into their spring/summer breeding season we expect to see the terns change into their beautiful breeding plumage — black ‘helmet’ that extends from the bill to the back of the head and a bright red beak. It has been exciting to see a few juvenile terns about station — distinguished by their mottled wings. Obviously some adults got a thing or two right during the last summer breeding season.

Last summer it was estimated that there was around 28 pairs breeding on Macquarie Island, hopefully the numbers continue to grow now that cats and rats have been eradicated.

Kimberley Kliska and Marcus Salton

The bounty of hydro

In the wilds of the southern ocean
Beset by howling ocean squalls
Rugged and enduring
A place of feast or famine
An enclave of the riotous and untameable
Creeping encroaching grasping
Only the bravest survive…

Macca’s old Chippy’s Church, mild and unassuming on the outside, shelters an untrammelled wilderness. The daily hydroponics checks are a job for only the bravest and most foolhardy souls. If you enter there is no guarantee you will make it out in one piece.

The towering eggplant gatekeeper watches your every move from the moment you enter. Wafting perfumes of sage and basil lure you deeper. Tomato branches clutch at your clothing. Cucumber tendrils wait to ensnare the unwary traveller. Snow peas whisper from on high, “eat me if you dare”. The bounty hidden within is the stuff of legend.

Alison Skinn (SAR chief for Hydro)

Macca makeovers — Green Store part two

For the first time since anyone can remember, we have a professional stores person on the island over winter, who has been given the mammoth task of organising the Green Store and completing an inventory. Actually, Dom is here summer–winter–summer so doing a longer stint than most of us.

Following on from Icy News, May 20, Dom has continued his hard work and now has both levels of the Green Store so organised, we keep getting confused and thinking we’ve stumbled through a wormhole to Bunnings.


Before hydroponic techniques were introduced on Macquarie, there were many attempts at gardening on the island in order to have a regular supply of fresh vegetables.

Station Log — 13/10/1953

Constructed HOT HOUSE for seedlings at rear of Mess building & small frame structure with glazed roof.

Station Log — 21/10/1953

Jack Field and Self found some suitable soil in vicinity of Garden Cove and filled the seedling boxes and planted seeds of cabbage, spinach, swede, parsnips, rhubarb, kohlrabi, carrots, beet, lettuce, turnip, daisy, pansy, viola. All have been placed in the Glass House.

Station Log — 06/11/1953

First seeds sprouting in the Hot House found to be turnips plants 16 days ago.

Station Log — 06/01/1956

Have completed the largest proportion of the preparation of the garden plot. The old engine room which has been used as a shed for the cow was cleaned of several inches of straw and manure and this was buried in trenches under about 6” of soil to supply both heat from below during further decomposition and also plant food.

Station Log –20/01/1956

Started planting seedlings in garden. Made trench 4 inches deep, put in mixture of lime and blood & bone manure and then a thin layer of earth and the seeds using the ‘cloches’ above all and hoping for good results. Seeds in glass box showing up very well but not satisfied with soil mixture used.

Station Log– 24/03/1956

Planted out some cabbages from seed boxes and also went over the rest of the garden weeding and thinning out. Plants are growing very slowly but are healthy. Good root and leaf growth. Appears that use of cloches going to be successful although up to 6 months will be required for maturity.

Station log — Second part of May, 1956

…Temperatures of ground in garden have been hovering around 40F for a considerable time. Some obtaining leaf growth but root growth has ceased altogether. The effect of the glass is counteracted by the seepage of water through the soil.

Station log — 06/07/1957

Vegetable garden provided more produce for the table today, namely lettuce, radishes, mustard cress and white turnips. The turnips grew to a height of 27”leaves and the largest bulb measured 3 ¼” x 4 ½”, weighing 11 oz, far better than I had expected to see down here.

Station Log — 06/01/1960

Jim McQueen is self–appointed gardener & has begun sowing seeds in the greenhouse. Lettuce sown by the 1959 party are now maturing and have solid hearts. Some plants received a setback when scorched by the heat of the sun! Temp in the glasshouse reach 100F in the past week!

Some years were more successful than others and all were subject to the vagaries of the weather.

I haven’t yet been able to find out exactly when hydroponics began here but its controlled methods mean we are now outside of the influence of the weather. Growing lights replicate the sun and heating maintains the space at 25°C. We supply constant water and food, and hey presto! Food.

As the island has existing vegetation (as compared to Antarctica), hydroponics comes with particularly stringent rules and regulations here to prevent the introduction of alien species to the island, something that wasn’t considered an issue back in the ‘50’s.

Only vegetables and herbs may be grown and then only subject to their being an ‘approved’ species.

Brassicas including broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are banned, as are mushrooms, chives, cress, dill, lemon grass, all mints, oregano and parsley, just to name a few. The brassicas is a big one as there are is a native cabbage species here and therefore a bigger risk of cross-pollination.

Station Log — 15/01/2004

The Macca (inter-station hydroponics competition) tomato entry was submitted weighing in at 436gms, it’s a ripper that will be hard to beat.

Station Log — 09/10/2004

A bit of an incident in hydro when we discovered watercress, a prohibited plant, has been growing. Noel and Beechy disposed of the offending material and any seeds that were not on the ‘allowed’ list.

Might need to bring the inter-station hydro competition back as that 768g cucumber would surely be a winner…