The Ball’s Pyramid, the tallest volcanic stack in the world, is a jagged cliff rising to a height of about 3,600 feet in the Pacific Ocean, 20 kilometers southeast of the Lord Howe Island. The Ball’s Pyramid is famous for hosting the rarest insect in the world, the Lord Howe Island stick insect which is endemic to the Lord Howe Island Group. The Pyramid is 3,600 feet in length and 980 feet in breadth. The Ball’s Pyramid has a width of 980 feet and extends below the surface of the water to a depth of about 160 feet. The cliff rests on a submarine shelf that is 20 kilometers in length and 10 kilometers in width, and is separated from the Lord Howe Island shelf by a 1,600-feet deep submarine canyon.
The Ball’s Pyramid was discovered in 1788 by Henry Lidgbird Ball, a Royal Navy officer after whom the landform was named. 1789 accounts of Admiral Arthur Phillip, another Royal Navy officer, describes the structure as a dangerous rock mass. In 1882, the geologist from the New South Wales Department of Mines, became the first person to land on the cliff. Several attempts were made since then to climb the peak of the Ball’s Pyramid and the first successful one was made on February 14th, 1965, by a climbing team from the Sydney Rock Climbing Club. In 1979, a flag of New South Wales was hoisted at the summit of the cliff, thus formally declaring it as part of an Australian territory. In 1990, climbing was completely banned and presently, only those with special permissions from the state ministry are allowed to climb the Ball’s Pyramid.
The Ball’s Pyramid is one of the top tourist attractions in the area around the Lord Howe Island. A number of tour operators organize cruises and boat rides from the Lord Howe Island to the Ball’s Pyramid. However, landing on the pyramid is dangerous and only by permission. The sea around the landform thrives in marine life and swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and bird and dolphin watching are some of the popular tourist activities to be enjoyed there.
Habitat and Rare Biodiversity
Initially, it was believed that the Ball’s Pyramid is completely devoid of life but further inspection of its rugged facade revealed this to be quite untrue. A lone Melaleuca howeana, also known as the tea tree, a plant endemic to the Lord Howe Island, was found growing in a crevice on the Ball’s Pyramid where water was seeping in through cracks in the rocks below. Another surprising discovery was made by the scientists when, the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) (pictured above), a species believed to have gone extinct in the 1920s, was discovered alive in the volcanic stack. The species was endemic to the Lord Howe Island but was eaten away by the black rats introduced to the island by ships. How this flightless insect reached the Ball’s Pyramid across the sea is still a mystery. However, about 24 individuals of this species were found to populate a single Melaleuca howeana plant 330 feet above sea level. Entomologists and conservationists studying this species carried two pairs of the insects back to Australia to breed them in captivity and possibly re-introduce them to the Lord Howe Island.
Environmental Threats and Conservation
Since the Ball’s Pyramid is the last wild refuge of the critically endangered Lord Howe Island stick insect, it is important to ensure the survival of this species on the island. Thus, the Ball’s Pyramid has been incorporated as part of the Lord Howe Permanent Park Preserve and access to the landform is strictly controlled to check the introduction of any form of pollutants or invasive species that will threaten the survival of these insects. The Morning Glory vine growing as an invasive species on the Ball’s Pyramid was recently discovered and successfully removed from the location where the insects thrived. However, the vine was not removed completely from steeper outcrops on the cliff where its roots helped stabilize the soil that was needed to support plant life.