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Media Release
Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell

12 October 2006

2006/07 Antarctic season studies the impacts of people and penguins

115 Antarctic expeditioners head south on the Aurora Australis today, opening the 2006-2007 Australian Government Antarctic Division (AGAD) research season.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell said that two of the significant projects to be undertaken this Antarctic summer will be a study into the remediation of contaminated sites, and technological advances for monitoring penguins and how their diet affects krill populations.

Adelie penguin monitoring to benefit from enhanced technology:

Senator Campbell said that as large consumers of krill, Adelie penguins are useful indicators of effects of changes in krill abundance brought about by harvesting.

“Sixteen years ago the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) established an international programme to monitor the impact of the krill fishery on the Southern Ocean ecosystem and assist in sustainable management.

“In 1990, Australia established an Adelie penguin monitoring programme at Bechervaise Island near Mawson station to study the effects of krill abundance on penguins and collect baseline data in the event of a krill fishery opening up in the region,” Senator Campbell said.

Recently, the Australian Government Antarctic Division (AGAD) has developed an automated camera, powered by solar panels, to monitor aspects of Adelie chick survival and breeding chronology.

AGAD ecologist Dr Matt Low who sails for Antarctica today said that during the winter months the cameras ‘sleep’ then ‘awaken’ as the summer returns to record a series of photographs throughout the breeding season.

“This year, we will install six cameras at new island sites in the Mawson region. This will give us access to information over a much broader area than if we concentrated solely on Bechervaise.

Dr Low said that the latest development will build on data collected so far in this long-running programme to give a more comprehensive picture.

“An automated recording system in place since 1991 already logs the birds automatically as they enter and leave the colony.

“Many of the birds can be individually identified by microchips implanted under the skin.

These are detected via an antenna near the colony. Two infra-red beams, which are cut sequentially by the birds as they pass by, tell us the time of passing and direction of travel.

“This information tells us about the length of time birds have been foraging at sea.

“Now, extra monitoring from the cameras will give us substantial boost towards a broader understanding of the needs of the penguins in this study,” Dr Low said.

One major aim of CCAMLR is to ensure that the human harvest of krill does not adversely affect any element of the Southern Ocean Antarctic marine ecosystem.

Human Impacts in Antarctica:

Senator Campbell said researchers would assess the effectiveness of a permeable reactive barrier installed last summer to help trap diesel spilt at Casey Station which aims to prevent further leaching into a nearby melt lake.

“We are hopeful that this type of barrier will prove an efficient way to help clean up errors of the past which occurred at most stations around the Antarctic continent and which happened before we understood the impact of these contaminants on the environment.

“Australia is the only nation doing this kind of work in Antarctica and other nations with a presence there are watching closely to measure its success with a view to potential implementation.

“The Australian Government’s Antarctic Division (AGAD) played a pivotal role in the establishment, in 1991, of the Madrid Protocol which provides protection of the Antarctic environment.”

Dr Martin Riddle, head of the AGAD’s Environmental Protection and Change programme, said that the permeable reactive barrier would be trialled over the next five to eight years for its ability to remove the fuel and slow its flow.

“The barrier was built by digging a trench (5.5m wide, 2m long and 1m deep) in the path of the polluted melt water, with wings on either side to funnel the water into the trench. The trench was then filled with metal pallets containing three different layers of permeable, reactive materials.

“The first layer contains nutrients which, when mixed with water, stimulate naturally occurring microbes that will do the hard work of digesting the diesel hydrocarbons.

“The second layer contains a reactive material that captures the hydrocarbons and holds them long enough for the microbes to break them down into harmless by-products – water and carbon dioxide. The third layer catches any excess nutrients before the filtered water passes back out into the soil,” Dr Riddle said.

“Work this season will be looking to measure how effectively the barrier is working and whether the chemical processes are happening as we expect.

“We will also be measuring fuel concentrations in some of the soil that was removed, and sorted in containers, during the installation of the barrier. This soil had nutrients added to enhance bioremediation,” Dr Riddle said.

Aurora Australia departs Hobart today at 4pm.

Media Contact:
Rob Broadfield 02 6277 7640 or 0409 493 902

NOTE to Picture Editors: High res pics of the remote cameras (in situ) for are available to be e-mailed on request from Sally Chambers at AGAD on or on 03 6232 3405

Commonwealth of Australia