Macquarie Island lies in the Southern Ocean, between Antarctica and New Zealand. A speck of green in the vast, windswept sea, it is a haven for many creatures that live above and below the waves.
In One Small Island, Alison Lester and Coral Tulloch bring us the story of this remote and precious World Heritage Site. Together they explore the island’s unique geological beginnings, discovery and degradation at the hands of humans, and the battle to restore it today.
This beautifully presented book leaves us with an important question: can Macquarie Island and places like it be saved?
When I went to Antarctica as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow in 2005 we stopped at Macquarie Island on the way home, dropping off personnel and supplies and picking up returning expeditioners.
I was gobsmacked to see the state of the island. I was expecting lush megaherbs and tussocked hills but the plants had been chewed to the ground by rabbits, leaving little shelter for the nesting birds and exposing the fragile soil to erosion.
It was very sad to see such a remote and beautiful place so degraded. I started to write the story of One Small Island then, describing the island’s rise from the sea floor and how, before its discovery, it had existed for centuries in a perfect balance.
I put it aside, for a future project, until one day when I was talking to Coral and we decided to do the book together.
I first visited the island as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow, too. But my first experience at Macquarie could not have been more dissimilar to Alison’s, as it was 1999 and when I arrived, the island came out of the mist, its peaks iced by snow, its flanks a luxuriant green. When I walked the beaches, weaving between large cabbages and tussocks that hid the bulky bodies of seals, the cliffs were spotted with sea birds.
Since this time, Alison and I have re-visited the island together, and seen the recent devastation. My last time on the island was distressing. So much destruction of the vegetation had occurred in these few years. The island’s peaks showed the scars of recent landslips and its flanks were covered by receding matted dry vegetation. The steep sides of the island were moving with a sea of rabbit ears, the birds precariously trying to find a foothold.
Like anyone who had visited the island in this time, we both discussed its problems and its future. Alison wanted to tell the story of the island and she asked me to work with her to translate what we felt.
Teachers’ Notes for One Small Island are now available.