No, Jeremy - it's not about "liking the
island better". My article raised a number of political, scientific and
philosophical issues, none of which you address. Instead, you yourself resort
to sentiment and half-baked science to justify this massive environmental
blunder. Indeed, despite the evidence, you seem barely able to admit that there
even was a blunder. Like others before you, you continue to muddle the
environmental effects of the 19th century sealing activity with the
rabbit-explosion which resulted from the do-gooder "scientific" intervention of
the last couple of decades. You do not seem to appreciate that there is a huge
difference between conservation, the preservation of remnant wilderness,
and restoration, the ideologically-driven futile attempt to restore degraded
wilderness to its original state. Evidently the latter is okay if we do it on
islands. You fail to mention the other great advantage of such island projects,
the absence of public scrutiny.
Your entire argument seems to be based on a starry-eyed, feel-good description
of how various life forms appear to be rapidly returning to the island. If this
is happening as rapidly as you suggest, then surely this indicates that these life forms are well
established close by and were never "threatened" in the first place.
Terms like "deserve to be there" and "better gone" are not exactly scientific
The response of the vegetation has been "amazing". There was nothing wrong with
the vegetation when I was there. It is nice to know that at least some of the damage caused by
these high-minded efforts has proved reversible. It has all been an
"extraordinary success". According to whom? The same people and organisations
who created the problem in the first place. "Rats and rabbits ... are almost
certainly extinct". Isn't it a little early to make such a statement? If even a
single rabbit pair has survived in an inaccessible cliff-face or gully (and there
are plenty) it will be some years before they breed up sufficiently to be
noticeable once again.
However my strongest objection to your response are the deliberate distortions
of fact that it contains. The most egregious is your statement about the cause
of Azorella dieback: "Almost certainly (as shown by on-going
physiological investigations as well as meteorological data) it is due to
I know nothing about the physiological investigations (a reference
would be handy if one exists) but the statement about drought is demonstrably
I downloaded monthly averaged daily maximum temperature and
monthly rainfall data gathered by the Met Bureau station at Buckles Bay,
Macquarie Island for the period 1948 to 2012. I then averaged these data with a
3 month running mean so that the graphs appear less noisy but would still show
drought and heatwaves had any occurred. The results are shown at the top of the
page. It can be seen from these graphs that no unusual temperature or rainfall
events occurred in the last ten years which is when the Azorella dieback first appeared.
Temperatures were higher in the 1980s and it was much drier in the 1960s than it
is now. If drought were the cause of Azorella dieback it should have
appeared in the 1960s and not in recent years as reported by Aleks Terauds in
the ABC program.
Other glibly quoted "facts" concerns the rabbit plague itself: The rabbits
reached plague numbers in the 90's for a combination of reasons. They had
previously been at similar numbers in the '60s but were knocked down by
myxomatosis. The myxomatosis virus ceased to be available (nobody was
manufacturing it) in the late 90s, so that control was lifted. There were also a
few unusually mild, dry winters in the noughties which permitted better breeding
and survival by rabbits during the harshest season (more of that below). And the
third reason of course, the one John latches on to, is the removal of cats.
What nonsense - if the rabbits had been at similar numbers in the 1960's
then similar effects on vegetation would have been apparent back then. None were
observed. Because I was there at the time I happen to know that all attempts to
control rabbit numbers by means of myxomatosis failed. This was because
Macquarie is too cold for the usual myxomatosis vector, a mosquito, to
breed. Instead a flea was tried but it didn't work. The usual appeal to climate
variation is also wrong for the reasons given for Azorella dieback above;
there has been nothing unusual about the climate in recent years. If I "latched-on" to the removal of cats,
that is because it is the only reasonable explanation for the
rabbit plague and a rather obvious one at that.
Where do you biologists obtain the climate data which allows you to make these
ridiculous assertions? Does it come from some politically correct computer model
somewhere? If so I strongly suggest you abandon this methodology and start using
the actual measurements like real scientists do.
As it stands your argument is little more than an expression of Deep Green
sentimentality padded out with bad science. It is an excellent example of how
science is corrupted by militant environmentalism. This has implications far
beyond the rainy, windswept moorlands of Macquarie Island.