Miller Sharpshooters

Tripods on the green sponge!

View the video from Wade and Fred direct from Macquarie Island

Macquarie Island Nature Reserve is one of the most valuable reserves in Australia and the world. A World Heritage Area, it is also listed as an International Biosphere Reserve.

This tiny island located 700 miles south of Tasmania in the furious fifties gets its name due to the lush vegetation, which grows in constant rain, wind and the less than 5 sunny days per year that the climate has to offer! But the green sponge has turned yellow, not due to the lack rain, but under the pressure of the invasive growth of rabbit and rat populations on the island.
Rabbit numbers have increased dramatically since 2001 and unprecedented levels of grazing damage are now occurring around the island. Probable causes? A reduction of predation after the cat eradication was completed in 2000 combined with a warmer and drier conditions more favorable to rabbit reproduction. Rabbits are also thought to have developed a resistance to the myxoma virus.  
Rabbits eat and damage leaves but they also destroy flowers and root systems, kill plant seedlings. With the lack of holding vegetation, the steep peat-covered slopes of the island suffer from intense erosion, which leads to land slips. Grazing impacts have affected many of the seabirds nesting on Macquarie Island. Burrow-nesting seabirds need tussock grass cover to shelter their chicks and provide protection against native. Severe rabbit grazing over the last few years has left many breeding sites unusable. By removing vegetation, rabbits impact on some of the 350 invertebrate species (insects and worms) that live in the soils and on the plants…
It took three days to cross a ferocious Southern Ocean and reach Macquarie Island aboard Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis. We accompanied the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service investigation team to record accurate images of the damage caused to vegetation by rabbits and rats. During a very short week there, we collected as much footage and photographs of the unique plants and animals communities that live on the island along with images illustrating the harsh environment and isolation, which will make the management of an eradication program an unprecedented and costly challenge.
Macquarie Island is a hell for camera gear. The black volcanic sand  (commonly called grit!) penetrates every interstice and stays there because it’s wet and sticky! No exception was made for the Arrow 40 which we carried everywhere by foot. Walking is the only means of transport on Macquarie Island, and it is rugged! Between steep grassy hills or windy rocky shores covered in slippery kelp, a lightweight tripod was the best to help us cover some ground safely! And it’s fast deployment helped catch the light between the many rain showers.

To cut a long story short, the material reached the media after our return and was used in a way that likely contributed to encourage the Tasmanian State Government to support and finance the eradication program, which is now going ahead. It apparently is the largest feral pest eradication program attempted in the world to date. We hope it will succeed and protect the unique World Heritage values of the island.

Fred Olivier
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