Carla Meurk's blog

Interview anyone? Seeking research participants

Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition

Now that the team are back on the mainland it is time to consolidate our island research into publications. With respect to two of my projects data collection from Campbell constitutes one component of a wider research agenda requiring further empirical research. The first of these two projects focuses on the history and anthropology of scientific endeavour on Campbell and the influence of changing bureaucracies of science funding and management; the second will utilise a network analysis approach to understand the impacts that environments have on individuals and how these impacts influence changing societal perspectives on the environment.

With respect to the second project—the impacts that environments have on people—I would like to interview readers of any or all of the CIBE blogs and/or newsletters. I am interested in hearing from ALL subscribers in New Zealand and abroad. This includes (but is not limited to) friends, family, sponsors, tourist visitors to Campbell this summer and colleagues of expeditioners – so don’t think your views are unimportant.

If you are interested in participating in this research please send an email to providing your name and country of residence and I will be in touch shortly with further details. Within the next 2 months I will send a brief questionnaire—this will take 1-2 minutes to fill out tops—and follow this up with a semi-structured interview that, depending on your views, is likely to take between 30 minutes and 1 hour of your time.

I look forward to hearing from you all!

[Carla Meurk]

[photos by Shelley McMurtrie]

Back to Normal

Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition
Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition

In the final days of the CIBE I was kept busy engaging with the tourists aboard the Spirit of Enderby, other CIBE team members tidied up fieldwork and Steve C. boarded up the windows of the Met Service building, our home for the past 9 weeks, to protect the glass panes from storm damage as the Island will be uninhabited by people until next summer. Having loved my time on Campbell I was not looking forward to ‘normal’ life; I contemplated with dread having to check my email and in particular having to face the (not so) small matter of my unfinished PhD. I was therefore sad when the Navy arrived a day early to pick us up.

During our final hours the last of the shutters were fitted, plunging our (former) home into darkness. As I cleared the last of my bags in the eerie pitch black I wondered if I would have the opportunity to visit Campbell again. Would these buildings be reinvigorated for future endeavours or would the close of the CIBE mark the end of an era of large scale, multidisciplinary scientific research expeditions in this region?

My last memories of Campbell are of Giant Petrels running on water making a soft slapping sound as they tookoff, a Pipit having a bath in a creek and seeing the beautiful Moubray Castle and Mount Honey in the evening sun as we sailed out of Perseverance Harbour. Shortly after boarding HMNZSWellington we were treated to a sumptuous feast: meat, fresh veg and Hokey Pokey icecream!!! This luxury was accompanied by an unwanted assault on my senses in the form of the BBC World News broadcasting images from Cairo. As soon as we obtained mobile phone coverage many Navy personnel made their way out on deck with their cellphones to call friends and loved ones and one of the first things I did on the mainland was procure a phone so I would be contactable in New Zealand. Shortly after my arrival back in Christchurch I checked my email and then facebook too. It was such a nice surprise seeing emails from my friends (they hadn’t forgotten about me!) who were checking to see if I was back.

My transition to urban life has been seamless; I am currently engaged in convincing my mother to treat me to a day spa (I have dry skin and gross hands and feet to attend to), contemplating a wardrobe crisis due to a 10 degree rise in average temperature and organising my social calendar. Such reengagement with the ‘real’ world however doesn’t detract from the substantial impact of the island time has and will have on my life. For one thing, I have decided that my next stop (with Alex F) will be Stewart Island where we will continue blogging as we analyse and publish the results arising from the expedition. Stay tuned ...

[Carla Meurk]

Missing Data?

Missing data

Unfortunately, in spite of our best efforts, we will leave the island without complete datasets ...

[Carla Meurk]

Campbell: Highlights and Lowlights

View from Mt Honey
View from Mt Paris
Southern tip of NZ
Megaherb fields
View from Mt Paris

In this, my last blog from Campbell, I thought I’d compile a list of highlights and lowlights experienced on the Campbell Island Bicentennial Expedition 2010/2011:

5: Sinking knee deep in peat and being unable to pull my leg out without lying down in the mud and spreading myself out as much as I could in order to free myself and thinking ‘this must be how the Moa felt’.
4: Crawling on my hands and knees through the scratchy Draco more times than I care to count.
3: Watching the decay of my tramping pack and clothing.
2: Putting on wet, mud caked boots first thing in the morning – I will NEVER get used to this!
1: Being so seasick I couldn’t photograph my trip around the southern tip of Campbell.

5: Holding an Albatross.
4: Experiencing the full force of Campbell’s wind.
3: Meeting and spending time with the diverse individuals who have come to experience the island this summer and ‘seeing’ the island from the many perspectives of these scientists, tradespeople and tourists.
2: Coming with my father to a place I’ve heard about since I was a toddler.

... and, the number 1 highlight of the trip:

Slogging up Mounts Paris and Honey on glorious days, and sitting on their tops experiencing magnificent island views, the expansive megaherb fields on their slopes and seeing hundreds of Albatross gamming, wheeling around the sky and swooshing just overhead for no apparent reason and thinking how great it is to be alive.

[Carla Meurk]

The changing colours of Campbell

Christmas colours

When we arrived I commented that I was experiencing an unusual spring; we arrived to blooming Bulbinella, vomiting Giant Petrel chicks and I spent time in an Albatross colony full of babies. (NB: For those interested, Orange 83 continues to do well).

The GP chicks are losing their down and starting to flex their wings, they will fledge soon, and the Bulbinella started to die back as the violet Pleurophyllum came out. Now that the Pleurophyllum is dying the final flowering is left to the island’s tiny delights: orchids and the delicate Gentian. The fruiting Bulbinella has turned a deep red and, in conjunction with the ground dwelling Crassula, belatedly clothes parts of the island in Christmas colours.

This succession of flowering and rearing has all taken place within the short space of 7 weeks and the grand finale, the hatching of the first Royal Albatross chicks, is due to begin in the first week February. I am crossing my fingers that Campbell will provide me this final experience of life on the island before the Navy comes to transport us back to the mainland on the 9th.

Seven weeks of step ups—required as I’ve negotiated the island’s vegetation and uneven terrain—has improved my balance; I have decided that porridge, with brown sugar and peanut butter, hot or cold, for breakfast or lunch, is my favourite food; and, oddly, the only item I wish I’d brought is a dictionary.

I look forward to reconnecting with my networks of friends, family and things, nevertheless it has been nice to disconnect from the wider world for a while and to rediscover that as long as you treat your material items and fellow humans with some care and respect you don’t need many of either to be content.

[Carla Meurk]

So you want to do fieldwork? Part 2

Skill 6

My previous list neglected one important fieldwork capability. In the interests of completeness I thought I’d add fieldwork skill number 6: Learn to be comfortable toileting anywhere, and in any weather.

[Carla Meurk]

Campbell’s Wicked Wild Weather

Col-Lyall Saddle
Lyall Ridge
The Clag
Drying laundry
A shorts and t-shirt day?

Walking through a sea lion colony yesterday, Campbell’s wind thwarted my planned blogging activities. As I simultaneously counted live and dead sea lion pups, kept an eye on the Bulls (‘beach masters’) and minded my step on an exposed rocky outcrop in screaming wind, I was unable to add a fifth task of photography. Sadly, therefore, this experience of life (and death) in the subantarctic went un-pictured. I would love to have captured the cute yet devilish image of baby pups attempting a menacing roar in miniature. These wind related disappointments aside I wouldn’t wish for too many more still or clear (aka ‘fine’) days.

Wind, clag, sleet, wind, I love Campbell’s weather. The strongest gust I’ve recorded to date measured 52.2 knots—any stronger and I can’t hold my footing in order to obtain a measurement. It’s quite exhilarating to walk in wind that pushes you over if you hold a foot in the air too long between steps. Capturing the experience visually is difficult especially on the sunny days. Rather than depicting the freezing conditions, when I review photographs that have me rugged up I always think shorts and t-shirt would appear far more suitable. The wind does expose some vanity on my part. In these drying conditions, I am particularly thankful for the miracle of moisturiser.

[Carla Meurk]

So you want to do fieldwork?

Waist belt

Many ecologists (and anthropologists for that matter) describe how the love of fieldwork was an important motivator in their choice of degree and career path. For those wishing to proceed along the research trajectory nowadays a PhD is a necessary prerequisite. However, there are many fieldwork skills that your university education will not teach you. To assist the budding fieldworker, I have compiled a handy list of skills required in the field:

1.    Learn to sew, patch and otherwise mend your clothing and gear: After 6.5 weeks, and countless adventures through the Dracophyllum on hands and knees, my waterproof pants finally got their first tears. In the interests of water resistance (and modesty) the patching has begun – three holes mended requiring two patches so far.

2.    Learn your knots: With the boats that come in from time to time as well as the need to build structures that can withstand strong winds and careless sea lions, a rudimentary knowledge of knots hasn’t gone amiss.

3.    Figure out the way to keep and maintain dry gear as best you can (while generally dealing with the fact you may feel permanently damp): We are lucky to have an oversupply of Silica gel. That stuff you get in sachets to keep clothes and food dry—botanists use it to dry plant specimens. We have redeployed the Silica to assist us dry our boots and electronics.

4.    Ensure you don’t become too dependent on your iPod.

5.    Learn to cook gourmet meals with unusual substitutions based on the strange ingredients available to you: cream cheese icing using cheese sauce (so that we can use up the carrots that are going off) and pavlova with reduced cream instead of cream are highlights so far. Incorporating our surplus of pickled onions and gherkins into all meals is this week’s culinary challenge.

[Carla Meurk]

Trials and tribulations on Campbell

Coring a lake

Now, I don’t like to complain ... but this past week has been more difficult than most. My energy has waned, my knees are achy and it’s been quite quite cold. My pack’s waist belt snapped and a top strap has gone as well. The deterioration of my gear, fatigue and an insatiable appetite is helping me adjust to the prospect of returning home in just over 2 weeks.

Still, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to assist Paleolimnologist Dr Krystyna Saunders sample and core some of the island’s tarns as she seeks to analyse layers of lake sediment to reconstruct historic changes in subantarctic weather. Krystyna has instilled in me a new appreciation for the island’s topography and geology and the stories diatoms (algae) can tell about changes in climate; she has also introduced me to the wonders of Porridge with Tahini. Excited to assist coring a tarn, this trip presented some unexpected challenges:

Day 1: We left on high tide making the walk difficult as we tried to avoid wet boots at this early stage. We were held up by a bull Sea Lion on a narrow track and I was accosted by another while attempting to pee. Then it started to hail. Arriving at NW Bay hut we lightened our load that included a boat and 20 kilograms of coring gear and spent the afternoon sampling some nearby tarns.

Day 2: We revisited the Mt Paris/Yvon saddle, my favourite place on the island. The climb was harder this time and more hail didn’t help. Still, we were rewarded for our effort at the top where we spent a few hours taking in the beautiful vistas as we worked.

Day 3: Coring day. It was fun to be in the boat but it rained and without wind our wet weather gear eventually transitioned to function as a wet suit. After coring we headed back to base. With sodden boots we gave up trying to avoid puddles and streams opting to take the most direct routes through water. We arrived back at base soaking wet.

I always like trips like this, I think hardship is good for wellbeing. Such hardships remind me of my limitations and restore an appreciation for the simple pleasures of hot showers and warm meals. This time though it has taken a few days at base to recuperate. After this short rest, and another tourist ship visit, I am now preparing for my next field trip as we tie up the odds and ends of fieldwork.

[Carla Meurk]

Fun in Freshwater

Boat route
Six Foot Lake islet
Snack break
Six Foot Lake
Campbell Island Teal

With midterm resupply we’ve had the Maia at our disposal, transportation we utilised to access Six Foot Lake. Campbell’s tea-coloured lake is located on the south side of the island where it accentuates a landscape of flaxen tones; scattered animal bones, scavenging Skuas and Giant Petrels cloak the lakeshore.

I don’t usually get seasick—unlike many team members and some Navy crew, I was not sick on the rough two day voyage here—but on this hour long trip I lost my breakfast and slip sliding around the deck in the icy cold wind, it was all I could do to keep my vomit safely inside its sick bag. I was in no position to enjoy (or photograph) the wind and sea swept cliffs that line the island’s southeast coast nor Jacquemart Island, New Zealand’s southern most landmass. Seasickness is the worst kind of sickness and in my misery I regretted having ever arrived on Campbell Island, let alone volunteered to be a field assistant on this day. As I climbed into a Dinghy in Monument Harbour I dreaded the prospect of the day awaiting me.

Five minutes in the Dinghy later, halfway to shore, my seasickness vanished and with it my existential crisis. Clarity restored, I looked forward to a day assisting Alex James sample one of the streams in this area. During the day I sat on the bank diligently recording measurements and collecting many bottles of water, mud and slime, all subject to different kinds of filtration and preservation for analysis back on the mainland. When he wasn’t calling out measurements from the stream, Alex kicked, scooped, scrubbed and collected the stream’s plant and animal material into sample containers getting visibly excited every time he noticed an isopod in his net.

Enabled by waders, experiencing the island with freshwater ecologists provides a distinct perspective. In waders it becomes much easier to move around the island through the relatively flat streams rather than via the uneven banks, and we chose to walk through, rather than around, the swampy periphery of Six Foot Lake. The delicate flightless Teal, nearly exterminated by rats, are a common sight in these areas.

Sampling the many variables that constitute a stream system is a lengthy process and we were the last team to finish for the day. We missed the boat ride home and made the 2 hour trip over the Honey-Filhol Saddle back to base in waders, lumbering in at around 7.30pm to conclude our 12 hour day. Trying at times, the day was made worthwhile by the wildlife and memory, if not the photographs, of the unique vistas of the southern tip of New Zealand.

[Carla Meurk]

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