Birdlife Tasmania has described the decision to close Macquarie Island’s research station as a “slap in the face” to Australian science.
The group is one of a number to voice their concerns over the Australian Antarctic Division shutting its research station in March, in favour of summer research from field huts.
Dr Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania said reducing occupancy to summer months was a bad idea.
“We have several populations of birds that breed on the island during the winter months,” he said.
“We’ve got vegetation studies that are working year round, there are other studies that are looking at things such as marine debris accumulation on the beaches, and there are fur seals on the island during the winter months as well.
“To pretend that there’s no need for research or no opportunities for research during the winter months is a very, very wrong way to portray the research opportunities on the island.”
Dr Woehler said the closure was “one more slap in the face to Australian science”.
“We can’t go backwards in time to plug the gap and you can’t assume that the data from another island or another species is behaving exactly the same as Macquarie Island,” he said.
“It sends a very clear message to the international community that Australia doesn’t put much value on long-term data sets and also that it doesn’t put much value on the management of a sub-Antarctic world heritage area.”
Less resources to support research
Macquarie University researcher Grant Hose has been involved in a project on Macquarie Island around the clean up and remediation of fuel spills.
He said the station’s closure would mean less resources to support researchers.
“It’s a bit like a spoiled kid having his favourite toy taken away, because you are so well supported,” he said.
“I think as a scientist you sort of take for granted that we get to go back to these places and expect this kind of support.”
Associate Professor Hose said the change to field hut-based research may deter some scientists from undertaking projects.
“It’s a different psyche, a different type of researcher that might thrive in that environment,” he said.
Tasmanian Polar Network monitoring impact
The new chair of the Tasmanian Polar Network said it would be monitoring the impacts the station’s closure would have on its members.
The network represents groups and organisations with interests in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
Karen Rees has taken over from John Brennan, who stepped down as chair after seven years.
Ms Rees said the network would be working to make sure Tasmania is known internationally as the premier gateway to Antarctica.
“It’s disappointing to see this kind of contraction in the Antarctic effort, especially as many in the field have long-standing connections to Macquarie Island.”
“The Antarctic Division has assured our membership at our meeting yesterday that the science programs will actually continue fully, and they will take a different format, so the full impact and outcome is yet to be seen.
“I certainly feel that our members were reassured, and it did leave the impression that science will not take a huge impact from this decision.”
Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg has defended the division’s decision to close the research station.