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All hands on deck as countdown begins for Macquarie Island eradication


Walking into a very large freight shed at Macquarie Wharf and seeing the endless pallets of bagged Pestoff 20R bait, the scale of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project immediately hits home.

With only about seven weeks until the ship carrying staff, contractors, helicopters, bait and assorted supplies steams south from Hobart, the project has well and truly moved from the planning into the operational phase.

At the Macquarie Wharf shed 3, it was a case of all hands on deck, with the Hobart-based Fire Crew pressed into service for the mammoth task of moving the bags of bait into the bait pods ready for loading onto the Aurora Australis. This was the first of three shipments that will make up the total of 305 tonnes of bait required to eradicate the island’s rabbits, rats and mice.

Assistant project manager Geoff Woodhouse was on hand to brief and supervise Fire Crew members Luke Duggan, Jeremy Coles, Andrew Geard, Simon Enman and Laurence Clark. Within minutes, the team went into action with a forklift ferrying pallets of bait bags to the waiting empty plywood bait pods.

A total of 435 bait pods are being manufactured for the project by Glenorchy firm O’Brien Joinery. With smooth efficiency, the 25 kilogram bags were passed to a person standing in the centre of pod for him to place the bags around the perimeter of the container. This careful placement of the bags was aimed at minimising movement during the voyage to Macquarie and for ease of unloading on the island. The filled pods, each containing approximately 700 kilograms of bait, were then sealed and numbered ready for loading onto the Aurora in the coming weeks.

In other project news, project manager, Keith Springer reported that two field staff, Peter Kirkman and Ioani Vakaci, left for Macquarie Island on 8 March. They will construct three helipads and boundary fences for each.

In project staff news the project’s administration officer, Yeutha May, is moving to a project management role in the Hobart office in the coming weeks.

“Yeutha’s very able organising and administration skills will be sorely missed by the project team, and we wish her the best in her new position,” Keith said.

Huonville Field Centre administration officer Bradley Griggs will take over Yeutha’s position while an internal recruitment process is undertaken for the full-time contract position, which is due to finish on 3 December.

Fire Crew manager John Duggan is set to join the aerial baiting team on the island this winter following a recent expression of interest process. Keith said that John has extensive experience working with helicopters and sling loading, as well as being a builder before joining the Parks and Wildlife Service.

The door to the Macquarie Island project has not yet closed, as a register for field staff will be advertised at the end of March so that people will able to be recruited directly from the register at short notice.

A comprehensive training program for pre-departure and project-specific training is being developed and is set to commence around 26 April. It will continue until vessel departure, currently scheduled for 16 May.

Other activities under way include organising a contractor to provide dog handler training for handlers prior to departure, finalising training and certification for the dogs being provided by three dog trainers and sourcing the provision of approximately three tonnes of dog food per year for the duration of the project.

An important aspect of the project’s final preparations was a ‘readiness check’ undertaken by staff from the New Zealand Department of Conservation in February. The check is an independent assessment of the readiness of the project to proceed.

Keith said the assessment confirmed the project is on track to proceed with only a couple of recommended actions and a final ‘readiness check’ will occur in mid-April.

“While there is still much to be done and a huge effort by all will be required in a number of areas, we are confident we are on track to be ready for the ship departure in mid-May. I’d like to acknowledge the efforts the whole team has put into preparations – the team is undeniably small and that we are able to keep momentum going across a wide range of fronts is a credit to their work ethic and commitment to achieving this ambitious project,” Keith said.

More news about the Macquarie Island project can be found in the latest Macquarie Dispatch newsletter here

All hands on deck as countdown begins for Macquarie Island eradication

Fire Crew members Jeremy Coles, Andrew Geard (background), Laurence Clark and Simon Enman loading bait bags.

All hands on deck as countdown begins for Macquarie Island eradication

Laurence Clark is up to waist in bagged bait.

All hands on deck as countdown begins for Macquarie Island eradication

Trainee ranger Haley Robertson and Luke Duggan, finish off the laoding process numbering each bait pod and screwing down the lid.

All hands on deck as countdown begins for Macquarie Island eradication

Assistant project manager Geoff Woodhouse briefs the Fire Crew about safety procedures.