The scientific community is urging the federal government to bring Macquarie Island’s rundown base up to modern standards now it is set to remain open.
But after widespread criticism, Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg intervened on Friday and said he wanted to maintain a year-round presence on the sub-Antarctic island.
Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown claimed on Twitter the turnaround was a win and cancelled a protest meeting scheduled for Wednesday.
Scientists who frequent the island, such as Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania, expressed relief.
“Any review of a bad decision is always welcome and the decision to close Macquarie Island was a bad decision,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg will now seek advice from his department on ways to maintain a permanent presence at the base.
He has confirmed to the ABC that scientists who use the island will be part of that discussion.
Dr Woehler said researchers had felt left out of the decision-making process.
“Clearly there has to be a voice by the scientists in the review process so that the scientific objectives and the programs that are carried out on Macquarie Island can continue,” he said.
‘Golden opportunity’ for innovative upgrade
Mary-Anne Lea has spent decades on sub-Antarctic bases studying marine predators.
The deputy head of the Ecology and Biodiversity Centre at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies said it was a golden opportunity to bring Macquarie Island’s infrastructure up to scratch.
“There’s much innovation in this area, many different countries have many different styles of bases,” she said.
Many of the buildings at Macquarie Island are run down, and over the decades the base’s soil has become contaminated.
The AAD said last week it was fast becoming an unsuitable place for scientists to live.
But researchers have warned the minister not to cut corners when upgrading the base, saying it would risk compromising their work.
“It’s impossible to really do things on the cheap in the Antarctic or the sub Antarctic,” Dr Woehler said.
Tasmania may kick in funding
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has not ruled out contributing funds to improve infrastructure on the island.
“There’s been no call from the federal government to us at this point in time to provide a financial contribution,” he said.
“Any call that may or may not be made into the future we’ll consider.”
International scientific authorities will keep a close eye on decisions guiding Macquarie Island’s future as a scientific hub.
NASA scientists use data collected from the remote station to study the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.
The station’s role in the research of marine life is also globally recognised.
“Many of the scientists would like to know if the continuity of those programs will be preserved.”
Scientist Mary-Anne Lea
Scientists are still reeling from job losses at the CSIRO, particularly in the climate science division.
Important work in that field is carried out on Macquarie Island.
Elwick MLC Josh Willie said climate science must continue.
“They [scientists] are also worried about the future,” Mr Willie said.
“They want the island to be upgraded and they want to get on with the good job that they’re doing down there,” he said.
The Minister has answered critics with a pledge to continue climate science and Antarctic research on the island.