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Meet the ranger counting penguin chicks in the wild, freezing weather on Macquarie Island

Anna Mather, August 6, 2019 7:00PM Mercury

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Ranger Andrea Turbett on Macquarie Island. Picture: Jason Edwards media_cameraRanger Andrea Turbett on Macquarie Island. Picture: Jason Edwards


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The wind is ferocious* and the temperature hovers close to zero, but Andrea Turbett has only warm words to describe her job as Australia’s southernmost ranger.

Her posting on Macquarie Island can be dangerous because of the wind gusts, but she goes in the direction it blows her and soaks in the scenery.

“It’s spectacular here,” she said.

The 34-year-old said the extreme weather made it dramatic, as did the sub-Antarctic island’s extreme location.

“Part of the charm of Macquarie Island is the remoteness. Because of where it is in the Southern Ocean, it’s very rugged and has special wildlife like giant petrels, albatross and elephant seals.”

Macquarie Island dreaming

This week the ranger will undertake* one of the highlights of the job: counting the king penguin chicks.

If the weather allows, the annual chick count will see Ms Turbett make her way around the island to photograph the many colonies*. The chicks will then be counted from the photographs with the help of a computer counting tool.

“We are hoping there will be around 70,000 chicks across the island, but the numbers fluctuate* every year,” Ms Turbett said.

media_cameraWhen the weather allows, Andrea Turbett is visiting the king penguin colonies on the island to count chicks. Picture: Peter Layt

She said the mist and snow would pose the biggest challenge for the count.

“The biggest challenge for that job is lining up a good weather window, it is problematic* at this time of year in the sub-Antarctic.”

The ranger role is one of the most remote in Australia, and Ms Turbett was among the many rangers recognised last week for World Ranger Day.

The day recognises the sometimes dangerous work undertaken by rangers in their effort to protect the world’s natural and cultural assets.

Macquarie Island Resupply media_cameraMacquarie Island is home to four species of penguins: king, rockhoppers, gentoos and royals. These are royal penguins at a colony at Sandy Bay on the island. Macquarie Island is home to the entire royal penguin population during nesting season. Picture: Ryan Osland

Macquarie Island Nature Reserve and World Heritage Area presents both spectacular scenery and weather for the island’s team of 14 expeditioners.

Ms Turbett said they learned to live with the wind, and let it be their guide.

“We get buffeted* by the wind as we walk along, and we can be blown off our feet by the strongest winds,” she said.

TWAM 27 APRIL 2019 media_cameraThe rangers learn to live with the wind and plan their journeys so they can be blown along by it. Picture: Ryan Osland

If the gusts are too dangerous they don’t venture* out, but other times they plan fieldwork so their course is in the same direction as the wind.

Ms Turbett is usually based in the planning section of Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service, but she never refuses an opportunity to get to Macquarie Island.

This is her third winter as the Ranger in Charge on the island, and before that she visited the island in 2010 while working on the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication* Project, which targeted rabbits, rats and mice.

Since the island was declared pest free in April 2014, Ms Turbett has discovered huge changes.

“The vegetation* is flourishing* all over the island, and the wildlife is recovering really well,” she said.

Macquarie Island is a paradise reclaimed


Macquarie Island is about halfway between Australia and Antarctica.

In good weather it takes about three days by boat to reach the island from Hobart, Tasmania.

It is 34km long and 5km wide.

Scientists and rangers who work on the island often call it by its nickname, “Macca”.

It is a nature reserve and part of Tasmania. It has had World Heritage listing since 1997.

There are large numbers of seals, penguins, and many species of sea bird. It is common for seals and penguins to rest in the shelter of the buildings around the ranger station.

The island’s plants and wildlife make it a wonderful place for scientific research.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division

media_cameraRangers and scientists on Macquarie Island in winter can be lucky enough to see the southern lights, Aurora Australis. This was taken on May 11, 2019. Picture: Kate Kloza/Australian Antarctic Division


  • ferocious: fierce
  • undertake: agree to do; begin
  • colonies: groups of animals living together
  • fluctuate: changeable, up and down, big to small, bad to good
  • problematic: something that is a problem
  • buffeted: pushed around, blown about
  • venture: travel, particularly to somewhere dangerous or a long way away
  • eradication: get rid of completely
  • vegetation: plants
  • flourishing: is very healthy


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  1. How many king penguin chicks do they hope to find this year?
  2. Has Andrea Turbett ever been there before?
  3. Are there rabbits on Macquarie Island?
  4. Describe where Macquarie Island is.
  5. How big is Macquarie Island?


1. Macquarie Island mind map
Create a mind map to represent all the information presented in the article. A mind map is a diagram used to visually organise information. Write the title ‘Macquarie Island’ in the centre of the page and you could have one section coming off the title on the weather, one on the wildlife, one on the pest eradication program and so forth. Make your mind map informative, colourful and detailed, but organised so it can be easily read.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Visual Arts

2. Extension
Work with a partner and make a list of advantages and disadvantages of Andrea Turbett’s job as ranger in charge of Macquarie Island.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social, Critical and Creative Thinking

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many connectives as you can find in pink. Discuss if these are being used as conjunctions, or to join ideas and create flow.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What would you like and not like about being a Macquarie Island ranger? Where would your dream ranger job be? Why?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in geography