Landslips and Hut Repairs

In January 2014, Albatross researchers Graeme Elliott and Kath Walker stepped off the yacht Tiama and onto the island to conduct summer monitoring of the endemic Antipodes Wandering Albatross (Diomedea antipodensis antipodensis). They found the hut that was to be their home for the next 5 – 6 weeks at the toe of a landslip. It had been pushed off its piles and was plunged down at one corner into a peat bog, bashed in at one end.

Instead of returning to the mainland the scientists set about salvaging the hut, in between changing data loggers on birds and mapping the breeding success of the albatross. They toiled to clean up the broken and damaged building inside and trenching away debris that reached the roof level in the weeks they were there. Their temporary refuge was the island’s historic Castaway depot, established for the salvation of shipwrecked seaman in the 1886.

The scientists mapped the extent of the slip event over the island during their stay and found it covered approximately 15% of the total island area. The weather buoy, formerly situated behind the hut and maintained on the island by the MetService stopped transmitting on the 6th of January and is thought to have been lost in the debris.

With the assistance of the HMNZS Wellington, a small team of staff from the Department of Conservation and a long time contributor to DOC infrastructure works in remote places, John Henderson, landed on the island to begin repair work on the hut. Stage one involved getting the hut jacked up out of the mud, rested on blocks, levelled and tied down. All in the single day the team had available during the short voyage to retrieve the scientists before the weather turned.

It is presumed that the slips were caused by a significant rain event.  However, a recent paper in the journal Geomorphology identified that burrowing by house mice (Mus musculus) on the Subantarctic Marion Island possibly caused surface destabilisation.

Phase two of the hut salvage starts next Wednesday, when a volunteer build team again led by John, heads to the Antipodes to begin re-piling and reparation so that we have a base for the eradication. A small science team is also accompanying to continue trials work and assessment of the non-target species risks for the birds of the island.

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