Category Archives: Heard Island

What a Waste – Marine Debris to Heard Island

HI_Marine_Debris-2496I am 4,000km’s from the nearest populated land mass, below the Antarctic Convergence, and in an area where the ocean drift models suggest that marine debris will not reach. And yet I am observing more plastic bottles, timber, fishing net buoys and other containers than I would expect. And then there is the very valid question – what should I expect?

I am on Heard Island and there is clear evidence that marine debris is drifting onto the island. I walked south-west along the shoreline of South West Bay and observed all kinds of debris that has washed ashore. Along a 100m stretch of shoreline around Erratic Point I have counted –

  • 55 600mm – 1.5l plastic drink bottlesHI_Marine_Debris-2529
  • 7 cleaning product plastic bottles
  • 1 very large plastic float (1m circumference approx.)
  • 1 large marine float with antenna
  • 2 polystyrene floats
  • 1 gas cylinder
  • And an almost endless amount of machined timber that has been weathered by the sea.

Before I left for Heard Island I made contact with the Tangaroa Blue foundation, an Australian-wide not for profit dedicated to the removal and prevention of marine debris. We incorporated the collection of marine debris information into our permit application to the Australian Antarctic Division and the activity was formally included as one of the field team activities.

HI_Marine_Debris-1030789I did not expect this “simple data collection activity” to have the emotional impact on me that it had.   I was stunned by the first glimpses of the cliff lines of Laurens Peninsula as we first approached Heard Island. Day after day I had new experiences as we moved to different locations on the island.

But the most vivid picture I now have in my mind is of all the plastic drink bottles floating in the water at Erratic Point. At the time, as Fred and I wandered around the small gully at Erratic Point and counted the debris items I felt sick. It reminded me of a rubbish dump.

HI_Marine_Debris-2491It’s feels hard to explain, having returned Sydney, but I now “get” the Tangaroa Blue message. Heard Island has given me a unique view on the significance of this sentence from the Tangoroa Blue web siteif all we do is clean-up, that is all we will ever do“.

How do we clean up Heard Island – and should we need to, there’s no need for the debris to be there in the first place!

I hope the image of rubbish on the island fades and is replaced by another, maybe the Leopard Seal resting on the beach – I much prefer that one.

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A morning walk on Heard Island

My morning walk today was a chance to get out of the office (Base Camp) for both Jim and I.  I wanted to have a look at the narrow neck of the Laurens peninsula to see if it was a viable option for access for upcoming Mt Dixon climb.

Once more down the Walrus Bay coastline but this time we held tight to the bay and continued on below the cliff line of the eastern side of the bay.    There’s all sorts of wide life in this area and the terrain has to be seen to be believed.

Here’s a collection of photos from my trip out.

My Day In A Southern Paradise

Our objective today is to go as far south into the approved collection Zone B as we can.

HI DT2-2363.jpgFred and I left Base Camp at 08:15 and headed south.  We had made an agreement to leave cameras untouched until we were across ground we had previously travelled as we knew more photos stops would just slow us down.  I’d like to say we stuck to the agreement but NO.  By the middle of the Nularbor we were snapping away again.

HI_DT2-2367.jpgAt the base of Mt Andre / Nularbor a small group of King penguins approached us and commenced the usual meet and greet process that we have come to expect from them – more photos.

We continued on south and were soon at the northern end of South West Bay where we stopped to take in the view.  The bay stretched out to the south, the wind was coming in from the west, the waves were crashing in on the shore and the misty rain was creating an blurred view of the Kildakelly headlands.

HI DT2-2416.jpgA group of 8 huge male elephant seals that had hauled out onto the beach at the base of Kildakelly Head took our attention and we spent 30 minutes watching and photographing before continuing south.  We crossed a small glacial stream and noted several very small fresher water streams that just disappeared into the sand.

HI DT2-2472.jpgWe crossed the Schmidt glacier stream right on the shoreline where it spread out into many small flows and then we continued south to Erratic Point. The surf at this point was whipped by the wind and reasonably rough as it smashed onto the large rocks 10-20 metres of the beach.

We had been observing a greater volume of marine debris on the western beaches and Fred and I completed a count of bottles and other debris items on 100metres of beach at Erratic point area.  The results were enough to make me feel physically sick!

HI_DT2-2529.jpgI was surprised how badly this affected me but here we saw the impact on Heard Island from those many 1000’s of kilometres away.  The gully was awash with waste.  In a 30m stretch we counted –

  • 55 600mm – 1.5l plastic drink bottles
  • 7 cleaning product plastic bottles
  • 1 very large plastic flows (1m circumference approx.)
  • 1 large marine float with antenna
  • 2 polystyrene floats
  • 1 gas cylinder

HI_DT2-2539.jpgThe good news from this location was that we saw out one and only (to date) Macaroni penguin.  We came across this little guy as we climbed the ridge (old moraine) out of the gully.  He sat all alone on the very edge of the 5m drop down to the beach looking seaward.    It was almost as if he were asking “how did I get left behind?  Maybe he was sick and unwilling to take the plunge and go to sea?

Cresting this ridge brought even more “new” views to comprehend.  There was a Gento penguin rookery to our left (inland) approx 100m and 300m approx further south was the Vahsel glacier.

Fred headed directly down to the beach while I took a short detour to the Gento rookery.

Black and white – they were the overriding colours in this landscape.  The black of the beach sand and rock and grit of the moraine debris on the ice, the white of the glacier ice.  And amongst all this the flashes of gold of the King penguins.

HI DT2-2652.jpgWe turned inland and followed the stream back to the first of the lagoons that we had seen from the ridge.  There were King penguins here and they made great photo subjects with the glacier as a backdrop.

Further up the stream we came to the next lagoon with small icebergs floating in it – more photos!

HI_DT2-2744.jpgWe turned north here and regained the ridgeline , we were in a new world again. Lush green moss, azorella plant that flowed over rocks like a waterfall and Kerguelen Cabbage.  It was sensory overload – we had seen and experienced too much since leaving camp.

We were in an area that formed a small basin area – sheltered from the light wind and could see north to Atlas cove and the Braveheart was just visible anchored in the bay.

I convinced Fred that I had to “summit” the small rise approx 50m to the west, once another higher point was in view and off course I continued on. As well as the HUGE views north to Atlas cove I now had a view to the east, a lush green valley with several streams running down it from the Schmidt glacier and at the base of this cliff was a large penguin colony.  This was a no brainer – we had to descend and make a detour up this valley.

HI DT2-2893.jpgWe slipped out way down the northern side of our ridge, crossed a freshwater stream and made a small height gain over kilometre (approx) distance to the penguins.  This was a real penguin experience – thousands of king penguins and chicks from this years hatch with their brown down still to shed.  And the smell was overpowering.

We spent about an hour watching the penguins before setting off for Base Camp. This required us to return to the West Bay beach to pass the glacial stream, cross the Nularbor and then the final stretch into Base camp.

If you enjoyed this glimpse into Heard Island like my page as I’ve got more stories coming as my Heard Island Expedition continues.

Gavin

Heard Island Has Delivered Beyond My Expectations

HI Blog1-1502After 4 days on Heard Island I will admit that Heard Island has delivered.  From the very first views of the island as we approached on the Braveheart it was patently obvious to me that I had under estimated.

Sheer cliffs lift upward from the sea and created an impressive rock fortress to prevent entry to the island from the north east side of the Lauren peninsula.

HI Blog1-1674The waves crash onto the shoreline almost every where you searched for safe passage to the island interior.

The glaciers tumble down from the flanks of Big Ben, hard blue ice and heavily crevassed create an almost impregnable path to the summit.

All of these observations played on my mind as we anchored offshore on the first night and prepared to land the next day.  But come landing day the winds were almost gone, the sea state inside of Atlas Bay was calm the sun was shinning and we had the most awesome view of Big Ben from shore line to summit – an almost unheard of event.

Setup of our  Base Camp went without hitch, by the end of the first day the camp site was well advanced, the tents were erected, personal equipment had been landed and we were in residency.  By day 2 the radio team had completed the build of several antennas and the first transmissions logged by 9:30pm.

HI Blog1-1988And on that first day I was able to step out for an hour and introduce myself to the local wildlife, and once again I was staggered by the experience.  I only had to go to the shoreline 300 metres from our camp to make my first “contact”

The King penguins are numerous, noisy and not afraid to introduce themselves. As I approached the shoreline they sent a scout out to meet me.  I must have passed their test as others were quick to come forward and sniff the visitor, it wasn’t long before I had 10 king penguins standing within a1-2 metres of me., sniffing, honking to each other and generally just being nosey.

This wildlife experience was surpassed the next day when Fred and I completed out first field trip with a
walk around the Walrus Bay shoreline, we made our first foray onto The Nularbor and then returned to Base Camp.  A short walk but almost every step we came across something new to photograph, question and discuss.

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Masses of bones.  Scattered across the sand flats that front to the Walrus Bay shoreline. Small (birds), to large (wale we assume), the collection is staggering.

HI Blog1-2113Birds everywhere and they show no fear of us as we walk along.  Skua will fly in at speed directly toward us, or from behind us catching us totally by surprise, and then float on the winds a few metres from us they check us out.

If Fred or I came close to the shoreline they fell into line behind us otherwise they were content to watch us from a distance.

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At the southern end of Walrus bay we encountered 3 Heard Island Cormorant.  We had seen them first as they flew beside the Braveheart as we came into Atlas cove but on the beach they looked a different bird., a bright yellow  in front of each eye and blue rib of feathers running over the forehead and down the back.

And to close out my wildlife experience for the day a group of penguins swam at speed just metres from the shoreline, leaping clear of the water as they swam and then rushing out of the small surf onto the sand.  An amazing display and one I’ll remember for some time (hopefully aided by video of the event)

I’ve only been on the island 3 days and the experiences have been beyond my expectations.  I still have 2 weeks on the island and I’m already wondering what the island has in store for me as I plan tomorrows field trip south to Erratic Point.

Lasting impressions and questions – no fear shown by the wildlife

 

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!

Update from the boat

We are now 5 days out of Cape Town, we’ve been travelling on a south easterly path and have travelled 1100 km’s(check our position from the site noted in my previous post).

The enormity of the southern ocean is really making an impression on me.  When I first read the statistic that 71% of the earth surface is covered in water I was surprised at how high that level was – now I understand it!

Whichever way I look, and for as far as I can sea there is nothing but ocean swell after ocean swell and then I realise that there is water below us to a depth of 4.5km’s as well.

We are now approx. half of the way to Heard Island – the crew have estimated that we have another 6 days of travel at 10 knots before we make Heard Island!
Our daily routine is simple (and repetitive) –
7am – breakfast
midday- lunch
7pm  – dinner

and between these fixed markers your time is your own, but there’s a limited opportunity when you are on a small boat in the southern ocean.  I’ve become reasonably proficient at sudoku, caught up on sleep, and put more sleep in the sleep bank and read several novels from the library.  For me this is a huge challenge, I like to be on the move doing “things”, here there ‘s limited new “things” to do.

But I can’t complain – we have now almost completed crossing the “Roaring 40’s” and I’m reliably told by the crew that it’s been a “calm crossing “, it will be interesting to see what the “Furious Fifties” throw at us…
So for the next week on the boat it’s more of the same, although I’m expecting the conversation will turn to plans for landing on Heard Island, establishing base camp and getting the work programmes underway as we get closer to the island.