HEARD ISLAND EXPEDITION 2003-04
Icy secrets probed from land and sea
By HELEN COOK | The penguins, albatrosses and
fur seals of Heard Island live at one of the world's
remotest addresses. They do not expect guests.
During the summer of 2003-4, however, they lived
side-by-side with two groups of scientists when
a unique joint land and sea-based Australian Antarctic
expedition devoted 12 weeks to the study of this
Described as 'a living laboratory',
the 65,000 square kilometre Heard Island and Macdonald
Island Marine Reserve is situated in the southern
Indian Ocean approximately 4500km south-west of
Western Australia and about 1000km north of Antarctica.
The landscape is one of glaciers and volcanoes,
moulded by the harshest of climates.
This innovative project examined the interactions
between key predators on Heard Island, their prey,
the ocean environment and commercial fisheries,
plus biological responses to climate change.
Aerial photographs of Heard Island show that
in the past 50 years there has been dramatic shrinkage
of the Brown Glacier to an area less than half
its size in 1950
On land, meanwhile, glaciologists worked on measuring
the retreat of Brown Glacier, an indicator of
the impact of global warming. Aerial photographs
of Heard Island show that in the past 50 years
there has been dramatic shrinkage of the Brown
Glacier to an area less than half its size in
1950. Smaller glaciers are also being studied.
While the shrinkage of the Heard Island glaciers
will contribute only minimally to rising sea levels,
this data provides a warning of changes that can
be expected in Antarctica.
While the land-based scientists tagged penguins,
albatross and seals on the island, another team
on board the Australian Antarctic Division's
icebreaker, Aurora Australis visited the feeding
sites of these same seals and penguins, measuring
the characteristics of these productive areas.
The information will be used to develop sustainable
fishing limits for fisheries of toothfish and icefish
within the reserve.
the highlight was a photograph triggered when
an inquisitive squid attacked the mechanism and
capturned itself for posterity
State-of-the-art data collecting equipment included
a specially-designed deepsea underwater camera.
The penguins being studied feed at depths of
up to 200m. For the first time, these foraging
areas could be photographed and studied with minimal
disturbance to the ecosystem. Perhaps the highlight
was a photograph triggered when an inquisitive
squid attacked the mechanism and capturned itself
for posterity [below].
Satellite tracking devices also told astonishing
stories. For example, the light-mantled sooty
albatross spends a week travelling the round trip
of 4000km to rich Antarctic feeding waters and
back. However, on arrival back home to feed its
chicks on Heard Island, it does not rest for long.
The chicks take only about 10 minutes to feed.
The parent then takes off again, for another long
flight to the faraway food store.
The success of this ambitious expedition is not
only in the data collected but also in the superb
images taken by the scientists, and shared in
the accompanying portfolios.
These magnificent photographs bring a tantalising
glimpse of something that is increasingly rare
in our world — a wild, pristine place where
nature plays out its drama to the full. ¶