Tasmanian Times

Environment

State of Denial

As much as Tasmania’s powerful might see this island as their fiefdom existing in a world they only half believe exists out there. But there is a larger world beyond our shores and it is watching us.

Tasmania is a relatively large island. At roughly 68,000 square kilometres it is slightly smaller than Ireland, about the same size as Sri Lanka and larger than Iceland. In common with all these islands and several much larger ones like, Madagascar, New Zealand, Borneo and New Guinea, we are beginning to lose our unique biological diversity.

In this new free-trade world, it seems the concept of ‘I want it all, and I want it now’ is creating what has been called the MacDonaldisation of the world. The opportunistic invaders are going global. And it is the exponential growth in the activities of humans and the movement of tradable produce that is driving this process.

Stowaways, hangers-on and contraband

Opportunist invasive creatures ranging from disease-causing micro-organisms, like the fungus that has indiscriminately killed frogs to disease-carrying macro-organisms like rats and cats that are the messing up the ecologies of islands and even whole continents. The colonisation of all habitable parts of the globe was complete almost 100 years ago and since then humans with our entourage of domestic, companion and acclimatized animals from mother countries have spread far and wide. Today the covert invasives are still arriving as stowaways, hangers on and contraband spread by trade and people movements. Smuggling of exotic reptiles, birds, small mammals, frogs, insects and fish represent a continual threat to national barrier quarantine. Hundreds of species of marine organisms have used ballast water and ship’s hulls to move between seaports. The consequences of these accidental importations may take several years or even decades to become apparent. Our own Gustaaf Hallegraeff from the University of Tasmania was able to demonstrate that toxic marine algae were introduced into Tasmania via the bulk woodchip carriers disgorging their contaminated ballast water into coastal estuaries like Port Huon and Triabunna. The Northern Pacific Seastar and Japanese seaweed (Wakame) are but two of a host of other marine invaders come to Tasmania by this route.

When you live in a State of Denial – the frogs can go silent, the devils can disappear in a decade from a contagious cancer, the platypus can swim with deforming ulcers on their backs and legs, feral cats can roam the forests and along coastlines consuming the birds and small mammals, and introduced trout can eat native freshwater galaxids and still it’s business as usual.

Protection of local natural resources & biodiversity has been part of the political rhetoric of governments for several decades now, but the reality is we hold a losing hand. As much as Tasmania would want to showcase itself as the Natural State with a range of unique wildlife already threatened or extinct on the Australian mainland, our island quarantine and biosecurity is hardly up to the task at hand. The feral-like cats are impacting seriously on our native fauna……..and I’ll leave foxes for another day!

When you live in a State of Denial – the frogs can go silent, the devils can disappear in a decade from a contagious cancer, the platypus can swim with deforming ulcers on their backs and legs, feral cats can roam the forests and along coastlines consuming the birds and small mammals, and introduced trout can eat native freshwater galaxids and still it’s business as usual.

And the latest example…….release 10 tonnes of Atlantic Salmon into six freshwater lakes so that anglers will have a good feed of fish for Easter! Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Some might call it eco-terrorism.

And the saddest thing is we’ve only been here – doing what we’ve been doing – for just two hundred years!
Delusional

Perhaps we’ve all hoped by having some 40% of the island in some form of reserve that that should protects us from the feral perils and the MacDonaldisation of the planet. Well I know I’m not going to be liked for saying this….but it won’t! That hope is delusional.

It’s been an accepted dogma amongst well-meaning conversation movements, natural resource managers and professional ecologists that somehow the quantity & quality of untouched natural habitats preserved for posterity is the solution. By leaving areas undisturbed (whatever that now means in a human-centric world); by keeping the core wilderness areas large and the edge-effect low relative to the surface area; by managing the threatening processes on ecological communities (like fire frequency, disease, human activities, pollution, land clearing, invasive weeds & pests etc) we will protect our biodiversity for future generation of humans……….and of course for the unique plants and animals that live in these places.

Despite all the infrastructures and platitudes, Tasmania does not have a plan to monitor and evaluate trends and changes in its natural ecologies. For too long the plan has been a reactive one. Wait until an unwanted organism gets away then try and contain it or eradicate it; wait until a native plant or an animal is listed as threatened and then wait for the money to think about what to do to save it; and wait until a disease or a pest species is definitely causing the decimation of a native species and then do something about it.

Introduced, invasive species that survive in new environments do so because they are opportunists. Jared Diamond in his best-selling book, Guns, Germs & Steel – A human history for the last 13,000 years says humans are the classical opportunistic colonisers. Humans have actually hastened the entry, establishment and spread of almost all unwanted weeds, pests and diseases and we take them far and wide, even into very pristine places like Antarctica and our Tasmanian World Heritage Area.

You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone…….but perhaps that is part of being in a state of denial. Despite all the infrastructures and platitudes, Tasmania does not have a plan to monitor and evaluate trends and changes in its natural ecologies. For too long the plan has been a reactive one. Wait until an unwanted organism gets away then try and contain it or eradicate it; wait until a native plant or an animal is listed as threatened and then wait for the money to think about what to do to save it; and wait until a disease or a pest species is definitely causing the decimation of a native species and then do something about it.

Perhaps it was ever thus….perhaps I’m the one in denial and quite delusional. But the naïve optimist in me remembers the wisdom of social anthropologist, Margaret Mead. I believe she speaks to the goodness and compassion in every human being when she writes:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.

If Tasmania is a community of thoughtful committed people and if we have community leaders willing to understand the reasons for our denial, then I believe we can change our part of the world, maybe for the better.

SMH, Monday, Feb 21:
Sympathy for the devil

Earlier:
Why the devils are dying?

And, by Hag:
The Devil Disease: control-freak political management

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Barnaby Drake

    February 26, 2005 at 11:15 am

    Murder your Sister.

    Logging is about to commence at South Sisters Tier, close to the resort of St Marys.

    This is an iconic area, and much of the town is dependent on the tourist trade. 98% of all business owners in the area have signed a petition requesting that this area be saved. It is on the list of areas to be protected that is still awaiting Federal Government action. This area has also been the subject of several independent scientific surveys which recommend against logging.

    There have also been several public meetings between forestry and the inhabitants.

    Yet despite this, Forestry Tasmania has chosen to blatantly ignore everything, and is going ahead with the clear felling of this coupe and turn it into another heap of wood chips, replacing the old growth forest with yet another plantation. Work has already commenced on roading, which means that the planning stage was commenced before the outcome of the enquiry was known – or was it?

    What does one do to stop this juggernaut destroying out heritage?

    Why is it that the financial interests of one commercial company outweigh every other consideration, and the objection process is nothing more than a ludicrous farce where the outcome is so obviously predetermined. There must be some reason why Forestry Tasmania is so hell bent to support this destructive industry. But of course, despite the speculation, we will never know, as the Government has excused them from any public scrutiny or responsibility.

    How convenient for the timber industry! This allows the fat boy to gobble up our assets just as he pleases. Is the government so arrogant that it thinks the opinions of the people it is supposed to represent are as nothing compared with a bit of short term profit for their buddies?
    The people of St Marys are about to have their amenities destroyed, their incomes affected and their water supply diminished for the next 56 years. Well done Forestry!!

  2. phill Parsons

    February 24, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Perhaps something can be done, perhaps not. Diamond identifies the reasons for failure of human societies in his work Collapse. One is, whilst recognizing the ‘problem’, doing too little too late leads to a collapse as the supporting environment changes and humans cannot adjust in time.

    Plymouth Marine Laboratories are currently of the view that the oceans are acidifying as they absorb some of the carbon we are releasing through our unsustainable practices.

    Result, if the process is not ameliorated, life in the ocean becomes less and at a point collapses. One of the failures is cyclic, the phytoplankton goes and that is the end of all ocean trophs. Asssociated with that is a cesation of that mechanism sinking carbon and thus somewhat regulating temperature.

    Stand by for the change of methane from its hydrated to a gaseous form as that triggers a steep rise in temperatures. Thats when ice melt really kicks in.

    Humans were not present at the end of the Permian. We know from the fossil record that 95% of all life forms then present died out. It took 100 million years for a similar degree of complexity to reappear.

    What we don’t know is what the precursors to that collapse were, facial tumors, deaths of whole orders due to new diseases.

    Currently worldwide, the sparrow, in Europe natural and introduced in many other places, appears to be in decline.

    In Sydney flies are now on the rare to locally extinct scale.

    We see too much self interst in relation to many issues, locally forest conservation, globally carbon emission reductions.
    Unfortunately, I think that the option I outlined first will come into play. I am deeply saddened by this and wish it were otherwise.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Receive Our Weekly Tas Roundup

Copyright © Tasmanian Times. Site by Pixel Key

To Top