Honorary Doctorate recognises naturalist’s efforts to restore last paradise of Lord Howe Island

Published 25 June 2021
Man holding a camera squatting down in a rainforest Ian Hutton doing research at Mt Glover on Lord Howe Island (credit Ian Hutton).

A young university graduate’s chance posting to Lord Howe Island has taken Ian Hutton OAM on a lifetime’s wondrous ecological adventure that Southern Cross University is set to recognise with an Honorary Doctorate.

Mr Hutton will be conferred the award of Honorary Doctor in Natural and Physical Sciences during graduation ceremonies at the Coffs Harbour campus on Saturday June 26.

Mr Hutton moved to Lord Howe Island from Sydney in 1980 as a Bureau of Meteorology weather observer for a two-year posting – but never left.

“Living on Lord Howe Island is like living inside a David Attenborough documentary,” Mr Hutton said of the World Heritage Listed location about 700 km northeast of Sydney.

“Back in 1980, having just finished a biology degree at Macquarie Uni I was enthralled by the Island. I was able explore all of the diverse habitats working as a weather observer and started studying the marine life, plants and birds. To share the amazing things I observed I began holding regular slide lectures at the Island museum, and then taking tourists on guided seashore and rainforest walks.”

A man holding a shearwater bird with moutains and ocean in the background

Ian Hutton holding a shearwater with Lord Howe Island's spectacular moutains in the background (credit Ian Hutton).

He has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Island’s natural history during four decades of recording observations and taking photographs. He is now curator of the Lord Howe Island Museum.

“As I acquired that knowledge, visiting scientists from Australia and around the world who had come to the Island for various projects, whether its plants or birds, marine life, they collaborated with me because of that local knowledge. I’ve collaborated on about 50 scientific projects that have been published in scientific journals.”

Mr Hutton has also led important conservation efforts on Lord Howe Island, including weed and rodent eradication.

The on-the-ground success of his popular Weed Eco Tours were recognised in 2006 with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to conservation and tourism on Lord Howe Island.

“I got involved in conservation in the early 90s with engaging tourists to help with the weed problem on the Island. Weeds had invaded some of the native forest and there were very few resources on the Island to deal with it,” he said.

The next pest in his sights were rats.

“Rats arrived on the Island in 1918 and they devastated the wildlife, caused the extinction of five land birds, two plants, quite a number of large beetles and land snails.”

Inspired by New Zealand’s rodent eradication program, he encouraged NZ specialists to do a feasibility study for Lord Howe Island.

“Over 15 years of lobbying by myself, and many on the island, eventually a Rodent Eradication Plan was developed to remove the rats from LHI. That program took place in 2019; it took one whole year to carry out with help from international experts from all over the world.

“We had the best expertise to do this project. It has been very successful. The rebounding wildlife – birds, insects and a lot of plants – has been phenomenal in the 18 months since the rats were removed.”

Two men standing on a mountain top with ocean in the background

Ian Hutton on Razorback at Lord Howe Island with his son Matt (credit Ian Hutton).

Mr Hutton also has a long connection with Southern Cross University. He has supported multiple University projects at Lord Howe Island, including the book ‘A field guide to the marine life of Lord Howe Island’ by Ian Hutton and Professor Peter Harrison; the annual Sea Slug Census (held on Lord Howe Island since 2018); Marine Debris surveys; and helping students conduct their research.

He is overwhelmed at being recognised with an Honorary Doctorate from Southern Cross University.

“It’s a great honour,” Mr Hutton said.

“I do have a basic degree in biology and out on LHI there are many different fields I could have studied through a formal PhD program. I was just interested in so many things: the birds, the plants, climate change, marine life. I just felt if I focussed on one thing I would have missed out on a lot of other things. I didn’t pursue that formal PhD and through the time I spent on the island, sharing knowledge with others, I’ve been able to contribute there.”

Mr Hutton will also have the honour of delivering the Occasional Address to the graduates on Saturday.

“I’d like to share my experience of an unconventional career path,” he said.

“How you can set out on one path and it becomes something else. I’d like to inspire the graduates to follow their passion and do something they’re interested in. That will get them to a happy point with their career.”

Media contact: Sharlene King, media officer at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or scumedia@scu.edu.au