There are many impacts that can degrade Fraser Island and result in a loss of its natural integrity. Some of these are immediately obvious and dramatic such as sandmining. Others are more subtle and are not immediately obvious such as logging where the impacts occur over a long time but are cumulative.
Even the impact of a single cause such as fire can vary from extreme to very subtle. For example, the impact of a severe wildfire in hot dry conditions is readily obvious and the impact is severe long-lasting. However well managed planned burns under the right conditions are beneficial and help the ecology. On the other hand the impact of no burns over a long period can be very negative and many ecologists are critical of the fire regime practiced on Fraser Island over the last half century.
Rankings in Severity
FIDO ranks environmental impacts in order of magnitude based on the long-term effects and the anticipated recovery period. They are ranked in a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 having the greatest and most severe long-term impact and the length of the recovery period from the time of impact. The impacts also are rated on the percentage of the area of Fraser Island that may be involved. For example, fire is unlikely to ravage the whole of Fraser Island, whereas climate change affects not only every living thing on Fraser Island but also is likely to affect other impacts such as frequency of wildfire and the extent of coastal erosion and submersion.
Here are some examples:
Sandmining — 10
Scientists say that it will take several hundred years, if ever, to recover from the impact of sandmining. The topography was irreversibly changed by the mining process. Also before the former forests become re-established, there needs first to be a long process of soil formation. Between 1970 and 1977 about 500 hectares of Fraser Island were mined.
Logging — 9
This form of industrialization has changed the ecology of the forests. It will take centuries before the forests recover from the removal of so many trees of favoured species only. The structure and composition of the forest was changed. Many trees were hundreds of years old when sent off to the sawmills or left to rot on the ground. Logging ceased in 1991.
Climate Change — 9
The impact of climate change is not as immediate as sandmining or even logging but as the impacts become better recognized and more apparent the environmental impact of climate change has risen significantly on the scale of severity. It may yet outrank sandmining in impact ranking.
Fire — 8
Fire has long been a part of Fraser Island (K’Gari)’s ecology and the environment has adapted to it. However, the changes to the fire regime as a result of anthropogenic interference combined with the impact of climate change increases the potential impact of a poor fire regime.
Introduction of Alien Species Weeds and Pests — 8
Invasive weeds have the potential to out-compete native species and in the process take over and change the ecology. This is why such a massive volunteer effort is being made to confine weeds already introduced, eliminate them entirely if possible and prevent any more weed introductions. The greatest threats are from weeds capable of surviving and spreading in the natural bush
Alien fauna from brumbies to cats and pigs have had a devastating effect on Fraser Island wildlife. Cane-toads particularly are decimating the reptile populations. They have been already responsible for the extirpation of some mammals including quolls. All aliens if they become established have significant impacts.
Other pests that might be introduced include Phytophthora a root rot fungus and other pathogens. While it may be possible over time to eliminate some weeds and pest fauna the task of eliminating pathogens such as root rot is infinitely more difficult.
Tourism — 7
The impact of 4WDs and roads is inseparable from tourism. The impact of tourism is currently very high because for every single person visit to Fraser Island an average of about one tonne of sand is churned up and when there is heavy rain this loosened sand mobilizes and washes down the slopes and in some places into the lakes. While this is currently severe it can be avoided if new management techniques are introduced to lessen the impact. For example, if tourist vehicle wheels ran on rails instead of on the sand tracks there would be no stirring up of sand at all just the same as when visitors use boardwalks instead of using sandtracks.
Another impact of tourism is the amount of litter and waste management problems created and the fact that tourism are also responsible for introducing many injurious agencies that add to their physical impact on the sand.
Reducing the Impacts
FIDO’s strategy to reduce the impacts was spelt out in a Management Strategy that FIDO developed in 1992 to coincide with Fraser Island becoming a World Heritage site. This is the proposal of the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation. It is not the policy of the Queensland Government that has yet to establish a statutory Management Plan for Fraser Island more than two decades after World Heritage listing.
Fraser Island Defenders Organisation’s
GREAT SANDY REGION
Chenoweth & Associates Pty Ltd
FIDO has followed this Strategy as a basis of its advocacy for the better management of Fraser Island since it submitted the fuller version of this Strategy which has been edited and reviewed by an independent environmental consultant. This is the condensed version of FIDO’s Management Strategy.