Australia’s Antarctic Division (AAD) has confirmed the permanent research station on Macquarie Island will close at the end of March 2017.
The division has operated a year-round research station on the sub-Antarctic island since 1948.
AAD director Nick Gales said the organisation would instead use a network of six field huts to continue conducting “high-priority research” over the summer.
He said a recent engineering review showed a very large investment was needed to upgrade the aging infrastructure to manage increased risks to occupational health and safety, environmental contamination and site exposure to ocean inundation.
“Looking at our capital investment budget, the priorities are in other stations at the moment,” he said.
“But the decision is broader than than just budgets, it really is about lightening our footprint there.”
Dr Gales said about 12 expeditioner positions on the island would be affected and those people may be able to re-deploy to other stations.
A team will be sent to Macquarie Island in November to start the decommissioning of station infrastructure.
“All essential equipment and dangerous goods including station fuel, will be removed by ship and the buildings secured and closed down,” Dr Gales said.
“Demolition and removal of buildings and remediation of the site will be completed over the next decade.
“And then in the future, we can look at models, if we need to, that go beyond the six field huts, but the model we are moving into is field-based in the summer time only.”
He said some of the long-term monitoring programs at Macquarie Island would be affected.
“Some of the weather observations conducted by the Bureau [of Meteorology], some of the other long-term monitoring projects that require people on the island year round, will be impacted.”
He said some automation may be incorporated, or only summer readings taken.
Premier finds decision ‘extremely disappointing’
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman released a statement about an hour after the announcement was made.
“Today’s announcement regarding AAD’s research program on Macquarie Island is extremely disappointing,” he said.
“We will be raising this issue directly with the Federal Government,” he said.
Macquarie Island is part of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government is responsible for monitoring and protecting the island as a wildlife reserve and World Heritage site.
In 2007, the Australian and Tasmanian governments jointly funded a $25 million project to eradicate pests from the 13,000-hectare island.
All cats, rabbits, rats and mice were removed from the island and the eradication program was declared a success in 2014.