Macquarie After Mary

At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first British and Australian females to join a research trip in the Antarctic. The likelihood of females joining future research trips would depend on the success of these ground-breaking women. We’re retelling Mary’s tale and talking more about Macquarie Island where this was all to take place…

In 1971, the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service came into being and, as a result of this, Macquarie Island became designated a conservation area.

In 1972, the island’s designation was upgraded to State Reserve under the Tasmanian “National Parks and Wildlife Act” of 1970 and, in 1978, it became the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve.

Want to see what Macquarie looks like right now? Check out the Macquarie Island Station webcam!

From 1997 until its withdrawal in 2011, Macquarie island held status as a “biosphere reserve” under the “Man and the Biosphere Programme”.

Macquarie Island was granted World Heritage status in 1998.

One of the largest earthquakes ever recorded (measuring 8.1 on the Richter Scale)  hit Macquarie on 23 December 2004. Despite the magnitude of this quake (which “rocked the island to its roots”), it caused very little damage. This “event” took place exactly forty-five years to the day after Mary Gillham first set foot on the island. (So no direct link to her then. Or was there?)

Check out an interactive timeline of Macquarie’s history

From the very start of man’s arrival on Macquarie, rats and mice inadvertently brought by their ships prospered and multiplied due to the lack of predators. As a consequence,  cats were introduced in an attempt to prevent those rodents from eating the humans’ food stores.

c1870, both rabbits and wekas were brought to the island by sealers who intended that the creatures would breed and thus provide them with a ready supply of fresh meat. And breed they did. In fact, one might say, they bred like rabbits doing so with such success that, by the time a century had passed, in 1970 there were estimated to be more than 130 000 of them on the island!


Feral cats introduced to the island had a such a devastating effect on Macquarie’s population of seabirds with that they made an estimated 60 000 kills per annum!

Between 1985 and mid 2000, therefore, a programme was undertaken in an effort to save the seabirds from their feline predators and this was ultimately successful with the last of approximately 2 500 of them being culled by June of the programme’s fifteen year span. Consequently, the seabird population soared (pun intended) but widespread environmental damage still continued to be caused by wekas, mice, rats and rabbits.


As might be expected, with the culling of the cats, rabbit numbers multiplied rapidly but were reduced to c10 000 when myxomatosis was introduced in the early 1980s though, by 2006, the population had again grown to more than 100 000 with their nibbling of the grass layer leading to soild erosion and cliff collapses that destroy seabird nests as they did did in September 2006 when a large landslip at Luisitania Bay also destroyed a significant part of the breeding ground of an important penguin breeding colony.

On 4 June 2007, the Australian federal government announced that it and the Tasmanian state government were to jointly fund the eradication of rodent and weka pests on Macquarie. This project, estimated to cost $A24 000 000, was to be based on initially mass baiting the island with this to be followed by the use of dog for hunting remaining pests.


Despite a temporary suspension of the programme due to the unexpectedly high levels of bird deaths due to the baiting being carried out, it was reported in February 2012 that wekas had been and that rabbits, rats and mice had almost been erradicated from the island. The measures continued and, by July 2013, it was reported that no further rabbit signs had been found.

On 8 April 2014, Macquarie Island was declared officially to be “pest-free” this coming after some seven years of concerted conservation efforts with its achievement making it the largest successful island pest-eradication programme ever attempted anywhere in the world.

The Australian Antarctic Territory postage stamp issue shown here was released to recognise the work of dogs in the eradication of the animal “pest” problem on Macquarie Island.

In September of this year (2016) the Australian Antarctic Division confirmed it was to close its Macquarie research station in 2017 but the Australian government  responded swiftly to this (and to widespread protest from the Australian people) by announcing that it would make available funding that would enable the upgrading of existing infrastructure and allow the continuation of operations on the island.

Macquarie Island isthmus after a snowfall. By Hullwarren – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Read on tomorrow!

Reference material and further reading:

Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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