Strict Nature Reserve

Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve (and UNESCO World Heritage Site).  Image credit: Oliver Lejade (CC-BY-SA).
Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve (and UNESCO World Heritage Site), featuring awesome karst geology as well as lemurs. Image credit: Oliver Lejade (CC-BY-SA).

A recent email from the Australian Antarctic Division about the Heard Island Expedition permit application and plans reminded me that I haven’t spent much time discussing the protections in place for the island. As you might expect for an IUCN class 1a strict nature reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are protections, and they are detailed.

The goal of IUCN strict nature reserves is to preserve a natural landscape or ecosystem which would “be degraded or destroyed when subjected to all but very light human impact,” and secondarily, “to preserve ecosystems, species and geodiversity features in a state as undisturbed by recent human activity as possible.” Heard Island definitely fits this category, because apart from whaling and sealing in the late 1800s, there has been very little human activity there. It is home to the Heard Island cormorant, and provides breeding habitat for millions of birds and many marine mammals. Unlike the other sub-antarctic islands, Heard Island has no known introduced species.

In order to protect Heard Island, and as is required by various classifications (IUCN trict nature reserve, UNESCO World Heritage Site) and laws, there is a comprehensive management plan which lays out policies, procedures, and best practices for preserving the integrity of the site.

Here are some illustrative excerpts which demonstrate that a trip to Heard Island is not undertaken lightly.

5.3.8: Visitors to the Reserve must minimise their use of packaging and wrapping material.

5.3.9: Only detergents which are fully biodegradable and low in phosphates may be used in the Reserve.

5.3.10: Polystyrene beads and similar particulate material must not be taken into the Reserve.

5.3.16: Washing water may be disposed of below the high water mark provided reasonable efforts have been made to remove food matter prior to disposal. Such food matter must be handled in accordance with prescriptions 5.3.13 or 5.3.17.

5.4.7b: Prior to departure for the Reserve, all items travelling in the vessel’s cargo spaces or on deck (such as equipment, stores, field accommodation, vehicles, personal gear shipped as cargo) to be taken ashore in the Territory must be hot-washed, disinfected, fumigated, or otherwise treated, and inspected for contaminants which if found must be removed and destroyed.

5.4.10: All outer clothing to be taken ashore in the Territory must be new or thoroughly cleaned and appropriately treated to kill all organisms (including reproductive material) (e.g. with a biocide or similar).

5.4.29b: Footwear to be taken or worn ashore must be thoroughly scrubbed to remove all organisms, soil, and other contaminants (which if found must be removed and destroyed) and must be treated with a biocide [e.g. bleach].

7.1.9: Intending visitors will be provided information that explains the Reserve’s values, the difficulties and dangers of visitation to the Reserve, and the need to apply for permits.

There is a whole lot more there, and it’s interesting to me at least to see what is prescribed to what level of detail. Maintaining a rodent-free ship is HUGE:

5.4.9: The Director [of the Reserve] must be promptly informed of the detection of any rodent on a vessel that is underway to the Territory. The Director will prohibit the entry of that vessel into the Territory unless the Director can be satisfied that the vessel’s entry into the Territory will not result in the escape of rodents into the Territory.

Reading through documents like this, although a little dry at times, helps set a tone for the expedition, reinforces the primary mission of the reserve: conservation. Not every strict nature reserve has such stringent requirements for entry. There’s a strict nature reserve in Madison, WI, (University of Wisconsin–Madison Lakeshore Nature Preserve) which is open to the public without any permitting process, and without thorough cleaning/disinfecting/bleaching being required of any items and clothing being taken into the park.

I’m continuing to get excited about the opportunity to visit Heard Island, which brings me to chapter 7.4 of the management plan:

Our Aims:

  • The enhancement of public awareness and appreciation of the Reserve’s values.
  • The effective use of off-site measures to present the Reserve to national and international audiences

7.4.1d-7.4.1e: A reserve website will be maintained to provide information about the Reserve. It will include maps of the Reserve [d, and e, ] images of the Reserve.

7.4.2: Where practicable, opportunities will be taken to present the Reserve in appropriate public forums.

I hope I’m already doing well on the aims and on 7.4.2, and you can bet that a lot of photography (and some mapping) on the island will be published with Creative Commons licensing.