Rules of Engagement – Our Permit to Land on Heard Island

The last piece of a complicated jigsaw puzzle was completed on the Thursday before we left Cape Town – the South African inspector representing the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) signed off after completing his inspection of our personal equipment that we would land on Heard Island.

Obtaining the permit is like getting the key to a new house – without it we have no right to land on the island, it is our approval to land but also to operate within the stipulated rules, outside of the Public Access Areas (3).

Over the past 2 years our Expedition leader has been in contact with AAD presenting out case, providing specifics of the amateur radio and field science programmes,  developing the required risk management plan and confirming team member training and capabilities.

Two weeks before I left Sydney a draft of the permit was received from AAD and it came with a few unexpected requirements.  With careful consideration of the impacts on our programme and a resubmission to provide new information, last minute changes were effected that were reflected in the final permit that we were granted.

Heard Island is an Australian Territory and also a word Heritage Zone.  The AAD manages the island under the obligations laid out in the 2014 Heard and McDonald Island Management Plan and when you think about the significance of these islands on a global scale you do realise the enormity of the task they are confronted with.

Essentially AAD must measure the risk of too much access and potential for destruction of the uniqueness of the island versus no access and the resultant limits on new research and knowledge that would result.
And so with a “permit in hand” we are on our way to Heard Island.  Here’s a selection of the permit requirements that AAD have included to ensure the continued protection of the island –

1. All waste (including human waste) must be either incinerated, or removed from the island on departure.
2. Packaging and wrapping materials transported onto the island must be minimised.  All packaging bands must be cut to lengths no longer than 30cm and stored for removal.  No polystyrene packaging on the island.
3. We have 3 approved areas (refer to the photos) for collecting samples during the field operations.  Equipment and clothing must be biocide washed when moving between each of the areas.
4. Field teams must be a minimum of 2 persons but no more than 6 and have capability of voice communication with the base camp or Braveheart.
5. No person may ascend above a 350 metre height ceiling, except when collecting geological samples from Mt Dixon.
6. Team members cannot re-enter the wilderness zone at Spit Bay once they have entered the Visitor Access area (to prevent the spread of Poa annua).
7. All clothing used in the Spit Bay area must be cleaned with a biocide before returning to the Island.
8. No more than 50kg of rocks, 5 litres of glacial water and 10kg of soil can be taken from the island.
9. Daily reports to AAD confirming completed and planned activities, weather conditions and welfare of team members.

And so with those (plus much more in the fine print) as our guide we are ready to land on Heard Island in 3 days time and get on with the pointy end of this expedition programme at last!

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