A subantarctic sentinel

Solving the mystery of Macquarie Island’s dieback

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  • Published 20220503
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-74-0
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IN A BACK corner of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart is an unassuming but very special teardrop-­shaped pale-­yellow building. Made of thick concrete and roughly fourteen metres long by six metres wide, it is reminiscent of a small wartime bomb shelter. Grey rocks and grasses line its base and above its double-­layer clear polycarbonate roof is a white metal frame that supports a large sunshade. Beside the glass entrance door is a sign inviting visitors to ‘come inside and step ashore on a subantarctic island’.

The subantarctic region, located a few degrees of latitude either side of the Antarctic Convergence, mightn’t have the same mythical status – the same hold on the collective human imagination – as the icy continent further south does, but it does contain numerous islands that are havens of life in the middle of the huge oceanic desert that is the Southern Ocean. The Subantarctic Plant House, as this building is known, is modelled on one of these islands: Macquarie Island, a cold, wet and windy speck of land located halfway between Tasmania and Antarctica.

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