Macquarie Island is contained within the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area. The World Heritage Area extends 12 nautical miles from the low tide line on the island, encompassing the rocky islets and sea stacks that surround it. The island is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, listed on the Register of Critical Habitat and on the Register of the National Estate. The island is officially part of the state of Tasmania, under the local government jurisdiction of the Huon Valley Council. The Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area is managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) supports a research base on the island.
The research base is staffed year round with a Station Leader and rangers, including the Ranger in Charge, from the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. A medical officer is always present, and technical staff including electricians and plumbers are stationed on the island all year. The technical staff are essential to the running of the station, maintaining vital equipment and buildings on the island in the extreme environments of the Subantarctic.
For a very informative – and entertaining! – look at the research and activities on the island, check out ‘This Week at Macquarie Island’, a news page published by the AAD.
The rangers work continues through all seasons on the island, covering everything from equipment maintenance to penguin chick counting and marine debris surveys. The rangers observations and reports are an essential resource for understanding the ongoing processes of the islands ecosystems, and the impacts of pollution, climate change and human occupation on the island. With the information collected by the rangers covering years, not just single seasons, larger patterns and trends can be identified and understood. This can identify areas for research and actions that can be taken to improve the islands health, like the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project.
Scientists and researchers from universities, institutions and governments around the world undertake field trips to the island throughout the year, mainly in the ‘warmer’ months.
The Macquarie Island World Heritage Area Management Plan 2006 (Management Plan) makes it very clear that research on the island should always ‘reflect the conservation status of the reserve’. This means that research into the World Heritage Values of the islands’ unique geology, aesthetic values and natural beauty, and Biosphere Reserve values of its threatened species and unique ecology, qualities that have gained the island its significant protections, should be a priority.
There are other areas of research that are considered of high importance on Macquarie Island, which can only, or best be undertaken in its isolated environment.
The longest running of these research programs is focused on climate and weather monitoring and modelling. The weather station on Wireless Hill, set up initially by Mawson, provides the longest record of meteorological observations for the Southern Ocean. The climate change studies on the island record changes in the atmosphere and the impacts of changes on the terrestrial ecosystem, and the island has become a key site for polar climate research.
Other key areas of research and monitoring on the island are the impacts of commercial fisheries outside the World Heritage Area boundaries, and the impacts of alien species on the islands ecosystem.
Applications for research projects undertaken on the island are reviewed by the Macquarie Island Research Assessment Group, an expert panel appointed by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
To find out more about research programs on the island, take a look at the AAD’s website.