Wednesday 14 January 2015

On board Silver Discoverer in the Southern Ocean: The Miracle of Macca

Silver Discoverer at anchor off Sandy Bay. Kings in front.
Returning to the new, pest-free Macquarie Island after five years

It's a bit like preparing for a military operation as we are plucked by the beleaguered deckhands from the stern transom into the lurching Zodiac. Trussed up in numerous layers of Gortex and looking almost like space explorers, we endure the biting sea spray whipped up by 30kt gusts as we seat our clumsy bottoms around the inflatable tender.

We push off from Silver Discoverer and head to shore and are immediately hit by a brutal wave over the bow, drenching the first row of passengers. The enemy is not entrenched in bunkers on the beach awaiting our arrival, but rather blowing all around us like an angry bellows, whipping stinging spray into our faces and buffeting our Zodiac as if at the hand of a child's tantrum.
The Four Kings. 
Landing on the cobble beach at Buckles Bay is notoriously treacherous, but one of the few locations near the ANARE base where one is possible. In 1948 when the modern base was established, it was more out of respect for history than practicality. The site of Sir Douglas Mawson's original 1911 site was used and expanded rather than a more accessible one found with a safe harbour and solid foundation.

Silversea staff are waist deep in frothing surf as our Zodiac is quickly backed up against the stony shore. One by one, between sets of breakers, we are hauled out of the rubber craft and deposited on the beach with some relief but also a sense of excitement at having completed the tricky job of getting ashore.

Elephant seal serenade

Apart from meteorology, biology and the reception of up to 1000 visitors per year, the base hosts TasmanianParks and Wildlife Service staff who recently celebrated the total eradication of introduced pests from Macquarie Island. No mean feat in itself, the eight year project involved the team of 12 hunters and 11 dogs walking 92,000km in search of surviving pests after the end of the aerial baiting program in 2011.

The comical Royal Penguins
Alien species like horses, donkeys, pigs, cattle, goats, dogs and sheep were relatively easy to deal with. Cats took bit longer, with the last feline removed in 2000 after a decade-long campaign, but the rabbits, rats and mice proved the toughest task, requiring a combination of poisoning and hunting to reach total success. Even now, vermin patrols will be maintained for the time being to be absolutely certain.
Shalia had never seen penguins outside of a zoo.
After my first visit in 2010, the islands enthusiastic regeneration was evident with renewed vegetation regrowth covering the previously barren sections on hillsides and slopes. The four species of breeding penguin and albatross, as well as numerous other migratory seabirds,  can now nest unmolested on this southern paradise once brought to the brink by the careless and greedy hand of man.

No comments:

Post a Comment