Living on Lord Howe Island is like living inside a David Attenborough documentary
For me, living on Lord Howe Island is like living inside a David Attenborough documentary. Outside my front door is the Island rainforest – alive with the calls of rare endemic birds. A 30-minute walk through the palm forest and into the hills takes me to 200 metre high cliffs, and from there I can see many of the Island’s 14 seabird species, which breed in tens of thousands every year. The Island’s mountain summits are slightly less accessible, but where else on such a short trek, could one enter a mysterious “coal age” mist forest, clad with mosses, ferns and ancient flowering plants, most of which are totally restricted to that environment. Alternatively, if the mood takes me, I can motor out in my dinghy to the Island’s coral reef (in less than five minutes) and snorkel over a dazzling realm of colourful corals and fish, whose myriad variety stuns the senses. I feel very fortunate, and indeed deeply grateful, that I’ve had the opportunity to live on Lord Howe Island for most of the past thirty years.
My initial introduction to the Island was a posting as a Weather Observer in 1980. One of the early delights I discovered was the pleasure of documenting the environment through photography. Not only is it possible to record and catalogue individual plant, bird and marine species accurately, but the Island’s scenic beauty, constantly changing throughout the seasons, is an inexhaustible source of awe and inspiration. Fascinating ecological relationships are also revealed in the humble photograph, from the tiniest wasp that pollinates the Island’s banyan flowers, to the largest albatross species that visit the surrounding ocean every winter.
By the early 1990s I had become so absorbed in the Island’s environment that I left my secure government job and started “Lord Howe Island Nature Tours”, a small tour business offering visitors the opportunity to share in my growing knowledge and enthusiasm for Lord Howe Island.
However, I became increasingly concerned about one of the greatest threats to the Island ecosystem: the invasion of the local forests by a relatively small number of introduced plants, including cherry guava and two species of asparagus fern. I decided to see if I could establish regular “weeding tours” to the island, in which visitors would not only enjoy the usual walks and tours, but would spend some time every day on a structured weed removal program. As a consequence up to five such groups now visit Lord Howe Island annually. These groups have focused their efforts on the Island’s central landmark, “Transit Hill”, which had been one of the areas most threatened by invading weeds. As a result of the weeders (now officially constituted as “Friends of Lord Howe Island”), the Transit Hill area is well on the way to being restored to its former natural beauty without the weeds! In a small way, we have all been able to return something to the Island which has given us so much interest and enjoyment.
My recent area of conservation research has been on the impact of plastic debris in our oceans on our seabirds. Raising awareness of the issue through research, magazine articles and lectures has been a major focus for the past ten years.
In 2002 I became the part-time Curator at the Island Museum, and enjoy working on displays, delivering lectures and contributing to this cultural centre of the Island for residents and visitors. I continue to enjoy participating in scientific fieldwork at Lord Howe Island and am collaborating jointly on a number of projects as diverse as seabird ecology, rare plant surveys, snail surveys, and climate change monitoring.