It has become traditional for The Royal Society of Tasmania to host a Winter Lecture Series for the public. By courtesy of the University of Tasmania these have been held at the Sir Stanley Burbury Theatre in the University Centre. The series usually consists of a series of presentations over three months, on the third Tuesday of June, July and August.
This year The Royal Society of Tasmania focussed its Winter Lecture Series on the topic of Macquarie Island because it is 200 years since the island was ‘discovered’ on 11 July 1810. This series focuses on the many fascinating elements of this small island rich in history, heritage and ecology.
The series took the form of three sessions, with each session chaired by an eminent person with some association with the Island. Professor Patrick Quilty President of The Royal Society of Tasmania, of the School of Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania was overall co-ordinator.
The second session was held on 20 July and was chaired by David O’Byrne MP, the minister in the Tasmanian Government responsible for Macquarie Island. Again, there were three speakers:
Hindell asked a series of questions and tried to answer them. What was the former state of the Island? If we don’t know that (and we don’t) it is very difficult to know how remediation efforts are being effective. What was the fur seal that was exploited to extinction, at least local? We don’t know but the information from their interval ashore, quality of fur suggests the sub-Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella) or a distinct species. How many were taken? The Macquarie Island contribution may have been approximately 200 000 of a total of about 800 000. New Zealand fur seal populations on the island are growing at present since the first record of one in 1946 and regular breeding since 1985 with a growth rate of 6% per year. What is the ‘normal’ population of Elephant Seals and what are populations doing at present? It is possible that the growth rate overshot its background level by 1950 and the current decline since is simply a case of returning to ‘normal’. King penguin population growth rate on the Isthmus is 66% per year after earlier extinction from the site.
Beech is Project Officer for the Pest Eradication Project and had been on the Island a few weeks before the lecture. The aim of the project is to eradicate rabbits, rats and mice from Macquarie Island. Up to 24 bird species are expected to benefit from the project. He illustrated his talk with video clippings of specialists on the Island showing the damage done to the Island by rabbits, especially since cats were eliminated, the damage that mice do to albatross chicks (footage from South Georgia), rats taking baits, and interviews with various people involved in the program on the Island. He showed the techniques of loading baits and their dispersal by helicopter. A map of the Island showed the high density, precision helicopter paths needed and partly carried out. Unfortunately, weather has not been kind in the limited time available for the baiting program, and the day after his talk, the program for the year had to be cancelled. Plans are to resurrect it next year.
Selkirk reviewed the evolution of Macquarie Island as and area deserving of conservation and protection, including a series of declarations as conservation area (1971), a wildlife reserve (1972), a Biosphere Reserve (1977), listing on the register of the National Estate (1977), declaration as a World Heritage Area (1997), and on the register of critical habitat for grey-headed and wandering albatrosses (2002). Recently, the Australian Government funded an Ecological Character Description of Macquarie Island as a wetland site. Consideration is being given to nominating it to the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the 1971 Ramsar. Issues currently being addressed include questions of how the biota arrived, dieback on Azorella macquariensis, the impact of climate change, especially on precipitation and changes in wind patterns, and the value of the Island as a monitoring site. The other aspect is the future of the Island and what will happen to the biota.
The general feeling was that it was an excellent night of highly relevant topics, well presented. The theme of wildlife dominated through the original status, current status and remediation, to the future.
The lectures will be made available, in part at least on the University of Tasmania website, at the Antarctic Division, for Macquarie Island, and through The Royal Society of Tasmania. A two-page summary of each of the talks will be bound together and made available at minimal cost.
Patrick G. Quilty AM
President, The Royal Society of Tasmania
Authorised by the Director of Marketing
19 May, 2011