Modern Australian

Enjoy them while you can? The ecotourism challenge facing Australia's favourite islands

  • Written by Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

I fell for Kangaroo Island from my first visit. I recall standing on a headland on the island’s southern coast, near Remarkable Rocks (a popular tourist site), and being awestruck by the Southern Ocean.

The island (Australia’s third-largest after Tasmania and Melville Island) is one of 16 designated National Landscapes and arguably South Australia’s greatest tourism treasure. Its protected areas (notably Flinders Chase National Park) are home to rare and endangered marsupials and birds.

A year ago, in Australia’s “Black Summer”, bushfires ravaged more than half the island (about 211,000 hectares). Those fires underscored the threat to this and other iconic island destinations.

Both directly and indirectly, humans are endangering these fragile ecosystems through unsustainable development and human-caused climate change.

Kangaroos in burnt bushland on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Kangaroos in burnt bushland on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. RSPCA SA/AAP

The most ironic threat is from unsustainable tourism. These islands attract millions of visitors a year keen to experience their natural wonders. Yet often this very “ecotourism” is contributing to their degradation.

How to do better?

Last October I took part in a workshop at which Kangaroo Island’s tourism operators discussed how to do so. 2020 was a difficult year for them, first with the fires, then with the COVID-19 pandemic. But in that adversity they also saw the opportunity to reset “business as usual” and come back better, creating an industry not harming its core asset.

Read more: The end of global travel as we know it: an opportunity for sustainable tourism

A range of ideas came out of our talks applicable to all our island destinations. But there was one key point. Ecotourism should be more than fleeting feel-good experiences. It should not be a “value extraction” but a “values education”, inspiring visitors to go home and live more eco-consciously.

Macquarie island

The paradox of ecotourism is perhaps best exemplified by Australia’s least visited island destination – Macquarie Island, about 1,500 km south-east of Hobart, halfway between New Zealand and the Antarctica.

Just 1,500 tourists a year, rather than hundreds of thousands, are permitted by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service to visit. The island has no hotels, restaurants or souvenir shops. The only buildings are those of the Macquarie Island Station research base and a few isolated field huts for scientists.

The Macquarie Island Research Base. The Macquarie Island Research Base. Dale Lorna Jacobsen/Shutterstock

Tourists must be content with coming ashore for the day from the 18 small cruise ships that ply these waters in summer. The only hospitality is the traditional station offering of tea and scones.

But what tourists do get is a unique experience. Macquarie is World Heritage listed as the only island made entirely from the earth’s mantle. It also teems with wildlife – multiple species of penguins and seals in their tens of thousands, and birds in their millions.

Royal Penguins and Southern Elephant Seals at Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island. Royal Penguins and Southern Elephant Seals at Sandy Bay, Macquarie Island. Janelle Lugge/Shutterstock

It’s about as pure an ecotourism experience you can have (if you can afford it). Even so, it still takes resources to get there, including the burning of fossil fuels, contributing to the global warming that is the greatest threat to the environmental integrity of Macquarie Island (and other island ecosystems).

However, the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service does at least expect cruise ship operators to “demonstrate their capacity to deliver desirable outcomes” on criteria including minimisation of environmental impacts and communicating to tourists “messages about the natural and cultural values of the island”, including the role they play in its preservation.

Read more: This could be the end of the line for cruise ships

K'gari (Fraser island)

Communicating such messages is something that certainly needs improvement on another World Heritage listed island – K'gari (commonly known as Fraser island), the world’s largest sand island.

About 250 km north of Brisbane, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, the island draws many hundreds of thousands of visitors a year to its beaches, woodlands and rainforests. (There are no recent public statistics on island visitor numbers but in 2017-18 the Fraser Coast region attracted 1,515,000 visitors.)

Rainforest on K'gari. Rainforest on K'gari. Marco Saracco/Shutterstock

Once the island’s resources were mined and logged. Tourism was meant to be much less exploitative. But a range of organisations including the International Union for Conservation of Nature have highlighted the pressure tourist numbers (along with their vehicles and infrastructure) are placing on K'gari’s landscapes and wildlife.

Communicating to all those visitors the role they play in the island’s preservation appears to be failing. The bushfires that burnt half the island (about 165,500 hectares) over nine weeks between October and December last year allegedly resulted from an illegal camp fire.

K'gari (Fraser Island) bush fires near the Cathedrals camping ground, November 2020. K'gari (Fraser Island) bush fires near the Cathedrals camping ground, November 2020. QLD Ambulance Service/AAP

Headline-grabbing attacks by the island’s residents dingos – such as in April 2019 when a toddler was dragged from a campervan – have also been credited to rampant irresponsible tourist behaviour (feeding dingoes to get better photos, for example).

Indigenous elders, conservationists and scientists have all pointed to the problem of a mass-tourism model that doesn’t put enough emphasis on educating visitors about the environment and their responsibilities.

Read more: The K'gari-Fraser Island bushfire is causing catastrophic damage. What can we expect when it's all over?

Rottnest Island

One of our proposals for Kangaroo Island is to reduce the impact of motor vehicles through encouraging more extended walking and cycling experiences.

The value of sustainable transport as the foundation for ecotourism is demonstrated by Rottnest Island, 20 km off the coast of Perth.

The entire island is managed as an A-Class Nature Reserve. Apart from service vehicles and shuttle buses, it is car-free. You can hire a bike or bring your own to get around the island (11 km long and 4.5 km wide). Or simply walk.

The absence of traffic makes a Rottnest holiday a distinctly more relaxed experience. It’s a fair example of slow tourism; and, of course, it is also good for the island’s world famous quokkas, which co-exist with close to 800,000 visitors a year.

Enjoy them while you can? The ecotourism challenge facing Australia's favourite islands Rottnest island has the world’s only sizeable population of quokkas. There are 10,000 to 12,000 quokkas on the island. Grakhantsev Nikolai/Shutterstock

Read more: Before and after: 4 new graphics show the recovery from last summer's bushfire devastation

Before they are gone

Given a little space, nature is resilient.

After Kangaroo Island’s bushfires a year ago, for example, it was feared a number of endangered species had finally been driven to extinction.

But in two of 2020’s few good news stories, scientists found critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnarts and little pygmy possums – the world’s smallest marsupial – had survived.

Kangaroo Island pygmy possum. Kangaroo Island pygmy possum. Ashlee Benc/Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife, CC BY

But we can’t take that resilience for granted if we keep putting pressure on these fragile ecosystems. We need a better approach to ensure ecotourism isn’t about enjoying these natural wonders before they are gone.

Authors: Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

Read more https://theconversation.com/enjoy-them-while-you-can-the-ecotourism-challenge-facing-australias-favourite-islands-152679

NEWS

Engineers have built machines to scrub CO₂ from the air. But will it halt climate change?

ClimeworksOn Wednesday this week, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was measured at at 415 parts per million (ppm). The level is the highest in human history, and...

To publish or not to publish? The media's free-speech dilemmas in a world of division, violence and extremism

AAP/AP/ John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPxTerrorism, political extremism, Donald Trump, social media and the phenomenon of “cancel culture” are confronting journalists with a range of agonising free-speech dilemmas to which there are...

I've heard COVID is leading to medicine shortages. What can I do if my medicine is out of stock?

from www.shutterstock.comYou’ve just come from your monthly GP appointment with a new script for your ongoing medical condition. But your local pharmacy is out of stock of your usual medicine...

not everyone can access these spaces equally

Silas Baisch/UnsplashLast week, the McIver’s Ladies Baths in Sydney came under fire for their (since removed) policy stating “only transgender women who’ve undergone a gender reassignment surgery are allowed entry”...

Young Australians remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy

Despite many young Australians having a deep interest in political issues, most teenagers have a limited understanding about their nation’s democratic system. Results from the 2019 National Assessment Program –...

Expect the new normal for NZ's temperature to get warmer

Flickr/Stephen Murphy, CC BY-NC-NDIt might be summer in New Zealand but we’re in for some wild weather this week with forecasts of heavy wind and rain, and a plunge in...

Everything You Need to Know about 5G Technology

Smartphone users today want faster data speeds, accompanied by more accessible services. 5G, the Next Generation of wireless networks claims to extend the same and much more. 5G allows users...

Curious Kids: how do scabs form?

ShutterstockHow do scabs form? — Talila, aged 8Great question, Talila! Our skin has many different jobs. One is to act as a barrier, protecting us from harmful things in the...

Men and women kill their children in roughly equal numbers, and we need to understand why

On average, one child is killed by a parent almost every fortnight in Australia.Last week, three children — Claire, 7, Anna, 5, and Matthew, 3 — were included in this...

patent rights, national self-interest and the wealth gap

www.shutterstock.comWe will not be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us until the world’s population is mostly immune through vaccination or previous exposure to the disease. A truly global...

After riots, Donald Trump leaves office with under 40% approval

AAP/EPA/ Yuri Gripas /poolAt 4am Thursday AEDT, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be inaugurated as president and vice president of the United States, replacing Donald Trump and Mike Pence...

when we frame illegal fishers as human and drug smugglers, everyone loses

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing costs economies up to US$50 billion globally each year, and makes up to one-fifth of the global catch. It’s a huge problem not only for...



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion













Popular articles from Modern Australian

Estate Planning for Blended Families: 6 Tips on Getting It RightImportance of Texture and Layering in Interior Design3 Ways Your Drains Become Blocked 5 Reasons for No Power at HomeHow Is Tequila Made?Why You Should Enlist The Services Of A Property StylistTop Luxury Resorts For A Restorative Staycation In AustraliaUnderstanding Employee Car Allowance Rates in Australia7 Bucket-List Worthy Experiences in DubaiThe Effects of Pollen Throughout the Year What Qualifications Are Required to Work as a Chef in Australia?How You Can Create A Café With A Shipping ContainerA Few Great Uses For Laundry DetergentHow To Make Living With Housemates SimplerGreat Tips For Buying Flowers For Valentine’s Day