Fraser Island Visitor Statistics

A Five Year “Progress” Chart

Permit Type 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95 1995-96 1996-97
Permits People Permits People Permits People Permits People Permits People
(1 month) permits 30,588 111,199 33,202 120,323 33,713 122,797 35,061 128,434 36,476 130,163
(12 month) permits 403 N/A 403 N/A 370 N/A 353 N/A 267 N/A
Permits to camp 20,093 81,849 20,087 82,765 20,054 84,031 21,286 91,357 23,231 93,615
Exemption labels 469 N/A 469 N/A 527 N/A 513 N/A 612 N/A
Commercial Tours 127,775 136,860 141,434 138,299 143,459
Total Visitor Numbers 239,974 257,184 264,231 266,733 273,622

Source: Department of Environment Annual Reports

This is not a complete picture of total visitor numbers. The figures are not collected for the visitor numbers travelling in exempt vehicles or vehicles on a 12 month permit. Exemptions include property owners and their guests, residents and their immediate families, people working on Fraser Island. It does not record the number of visits made by each permit holder. This would substantially increase visitor numbers. It is conservatively estimated that these visits would add at least another 50,000 visitors annually to the data recorded above.

Earlier Data: To extend this understanding it should be noted that in 1991, 238,840 were recorded. (Tour operators carried 128,840 and 110,000 travelled on one month permits.) In 1990 the number of visitors to Fraser Island was 225,000.

What is being done to manage the growth?


Incremental Growth: In the five year period between 1992-93 and 96-97 aggregate visitor numbers increased from 239,974 to 273,622 — an increase of 14.1%. The trend has been consistent throughout the last decade. It is inexorable unless urgent management decisions are taken to curtail numbers in view of recent studies have established that Fraser Island is being used unsustainably. Most of that increase was in the private visitor category which jumped from 111,199 to 130,163. This represents an increase of 17%.

Commercial Tour and Independent Visitors: Last Year 143,459 travelled on commercial tours. Of these 90% would have been on one day visits and the average stay of the other 10% would have been 2 days (almost all accommodated in resorts). This would have contributed 160, 000 visitor days. However the 130,163 independent visitors would have stayed an average of three days contributing about 400,000 visitors days. Together this means that on average 1563 visitors are moving around Fraser Island each day — and much higher at peak times.

Camping & Accommodated: The five year increase in camper nights was 14% but during this period there was also a significant increase in people using accommodation with the rapid expansion of the Orchid Beach village. Assuming that all the 130,163 independent visitors stayed at least one night, and only 93,615 permits to camp were issued , about 36,500 would have been accommodated. This level of accommodation seems to have been fairly consistent for the past five years.

The EDAW Study

The consultants engaged by the Department of Environment to assess tourism impacts on Fraser Island concluded:  Approximately half of the major sites and routes in the Region have been assessed as showing evidence of physical impacts beyond acceptable limits. At many of these sites and routes, visitor use is above a sustainable level.

Of 26 routes assessed 11 are being used above capacity. The Lake Boomanjin scenic route and Cornwalls Road from Kingfisher Resort to Ocean Beach are more than 50% over capacity. Of the 13 lake sites assessed 10 are being used over capacity. Lakes McKenzie, Birrabeen and Boomanjin are being used more than 50% over capacity. Of 16 formal and informal camping areas assessed, 3 are being overused and another 5 are being used more than 50% over capacity. All 8 of the over-used camping areas are beach camping areas which do not have facilities.

It is clear that Fraser Island is suffering from an unsustainable volume of visitors while the current management policies and technology are applied. The degradation will continue as long as tourism remains unsustainable or unsustainably managed.

The Options: Fraser Island World Heritage values will be preserved only if:

(a) a ceiling is placed on the total numbers of visitors to the island or a ceiling is applied at peak times; or(b) management methods are changed to reduce the environmental impacts of visitors. 

The Light Rail Option

FIDO is fighting obstinate opposition and official deafness to install a light rail.  It is clear from all available evidence that if people and vehicles are lifted above direct contact with the substrate, then their impact on the ground surface is negligible.  Boardwalks at Wanggoolba and Eli Creeks adequately demonstrate that for pedestrian traffic. We are confident that a light rail would do the same for wheels.

Opposition: Although it is almost a quarter of a century since FIDO first advanced this option, and although its benefits become more obvious annually, it has been shunned or shelved for many reasons. Initially it was because of political hostility. The Bjelke-Petersen Government hated FIDO for stopping sandmining and refused to entertain any suggestions we advanced.

Then it was money or lack of it to build and operate it. When FIDO commissioned a feasibility study to establish that it would be a viable proposition it became the turn of vested interests (tour operators and some landholders) to oppose it. They prevented our suggestion being advanced for Heritage Trust funding of a more detailed environmental and economic evaluation as a basis for governments making a decision to call for expressions of interest to build it. The inertia and opposition continue.