The Path Less Travelled: Life for those who work on Macquarie Island

(Image: Zoos Victoria)

This week we put the spotlight on a member who’s on her first posting to the remote and wonderful Macquarie Island, which is currently home to 16 workers from a range of services. Shelley talks about what it’s like to work in such a unique part of the world. 

What does your job involve? Management of Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area. The reserve is 87,500 Hectares in size, it is a Sub-Antarctic island and is situated 1500km SE of Tasmania. In some ways the role is similar to management of any reserve in Tasmania involving management of tracks, flora and fauna, historic heritage, tourism, collection of marine debris. However, on Macquarie Island we have a large focus on long term wildlife monitoring to establish population status and trends, and we work closely with the Australian Antarctic Division who have a research station on the island.  

I arrived on Macquarie Island at the start of March this year. We travelled down on the French vessel the L’Astrolabe after spending two weeks in hotel isolation in Hobart as a COVID precaution. I’m posted here until November 2021.

There are just two PWS staff currently on Macquarie Island- myself as Ranger In Charge and a Wildlife Ranger. However, there are 16 people total on the island, the others are two staff from the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Antarctic Division.  

The most memorable experience so far: the Royal penguin is endemic to Macquarie Island and there are approximately 850,000 breeding pairs here. They have just left the island for the winter, but prior to that they were in massive colonies while going through their moult. The sheer size of the colonies is incredible! There are around 500,000 King penguins on the island, the colouring of the Kings feathers is strikingly beautiful, and they are so inquisitive they approach to check you out as soon as they see you. Spending time in the remote south west of the island monitoring the breeding Wandering albatross is also an amazing experience that I will never forget.  

It’s an incredible experience to be able to work and live on a sub-Antarctic island, and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be here.  The island is exceptionally beautiful, and the sheer amount of wildlife present is mind blowing. There are constantly Southern elephant seals playing on the beaches, seabirds flying overhead and penguins busily going about their day all round us.  

Previously I was based on King Island in the Bass Strait – In some ways it is similar, just a little more extreme! Both islands are remote, very wet and windy with an abundance of wildlife and a small community. The beauty of Macquarie Island is that it is an essentially undisturbed location, we don’t have the human impacts that we see on King which is very developed outside of reserved land.  

I am isolated from my family which is the most difficult part, but most times it’s difficult to find solitude when you are living communally with 16 others unless I am out in the field.  

Work involves a lot of hiking around the island, so during my time off I take the opportunity to relax. We have a lot of activities we can do around station such as darts, a pool table, and opportunity for lots of crafty type activities. I draw at lot and if I find the time, I would like to start painting.  

How cold are we talking? The temperatures aren’t too bad, we had 6 days of snow last month, but the temperature is rarely falling below zero at the moment. The wind blows a pretty consistent 60km/hr and we had gusts of 140km/hr a couple of days ago. Sunshine is fleeting at the moment and the days re getting much shorter with the sun setting at 3.50pm. 

Shelley King

Ranger in Charge, Macquarie Island

Proud Community & Public Sector Union Member

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