Hidden under kelp fronds and other algae in rock pools, delicate and beautiful intertidal (high-water mark to low-water mark) marine species can be easily overlooked. Magnificent albatross, penguins and elephant seals are Macquarie Island’s more charismatic species that are usually in the limelight.
At first glance the rocky shores of Macquarie Island seem very rugged and bare but they are teeming with life. A recent visit to the west coast coincided with a rare calm day and a low tide. Strong winds and stormy seas are the norm on the west coast, so it was a good opportunity to look for creatures in the shallows.
The colourful pink and orange anemones are the easiest to spot. Pink coralline algae and sponges line many of the rock pools, along with orange tube worms. More mobile creatures include starfish, isopods and limpets, as well as large chitons that can be 10cm long.
The intertidal species are also an interesting link to Macquarie Island’s expeditioner history.
One of the first detailed studies of Macquarie Island’s intertidal species was conducted by Hope Macpherson Black and Isobel Bennett in 1959. They collected every intertidal species they could and took the samples back to the mainland for identification, such as these anemones at Museum Victora. Along with Susan Ingham and Mary Gillham they were the first female scientists to travel to Antarctica or the sub-Antarctic as part of an Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). They were trailblazers for women expeditioners at the Australian Antarctic Division. Hope passed away earlier this year.
By Andrea Turbett, Ranger In Charge 2017/18
Isobel Bennett’s book Shores of Macquarie Island, published in 1971.
Mary Gillham’s book Sub-Antarctic Sanctuary — summertime on Macquarie Island, published in 1967.