What are “national parks”? And why do we have them? The Australian Government website offers the following comments to those questions….. National Parks are usually large areas of land that are protected because they have unspoilt landscapes and a diverse number of native plants and animals. This means that commercial activities such as farming are prohibited and human activity is strictly monitored.
Like zoos, national parks have several purposes. The foremost of these is to protect native flora and fauna. But national parks are also there so Australians and foreign visitors can enjoy and learn about our unique environment, heritage and culture.
Approximately 95.0% of Queensland is available for development for any number of options such as urban settlements, farming lands, mining and other resource developments, forestry, or tourism facilities. The remaining 5.0 % of Queensland is currently protected as National Parks (4.0%), or as Aboriginal Lands (0.8%) or as special protected areas (0.2%). This amount of land set aside for protection in Queensland is compared with what is set aside in other jurisdictions as shown below in Table 1.
The lands protected in Queensland are set aside in 590 tenured protected areas and until recently were maintained by some 750 QPWS Rangers across 6 QPWS Regions. Recent changes in staffing have reduced the number of rangers and regions and the current figures are not known at this point. Many of these protected areas are quite small and it is debateable whether some are of sufficient size to sustainably support healthy and representative ecosystems. The former Queensland Government proposed to address this issue (and other issues) by expanding the National Park systems to around 7.5% of Queensland. This would have been achieved by such means as expanding some of these smaller areas by merging them with adjacent state-owned lands; by joining some of these existing non-contiguous national park areas with wildlife corridors; converting current state-owned lands into national parks; and by purchase of key lands. For comparison, National Parks Association of Queensland recommends that 15% should be set aside as national parks or similarly protected areas.
Those expansion plans have been shelved by the current government and it is now moving to dispose of some of the lands that were previously proposed to be set aside. Click here for a recent announcement to allow logging in some of these areas. In addition to those changes, the current government has proposed to alter the Nature Conservation Act and allow “ecotourism” into the current national park areas. Just what is meant by “ecotourism” has yet to be defined but in other jurisdictions this has included trail-biking, mountain-biking, 4WD access, horse-riding, private for-profit chalets, and recreational shooting. Such proposals have been floated in Australia in the past. When it was floated in Victoria, some 81% of respondents to the Age said “No” to resorts in National Parks and 83% of respondents to the Herald Sun said National Parks should be off limits for commercial development.
Here in Queensland the Health and Community Services Committee that is reviewing the proposal to change the Nature Conservation Act has heard from a wide range of individuals and groups. Approximately 85% of those submissions have opposed opening of national parks to wider commercial tourism activities but despite this overwhelming opposition, the Committee has recommended changes as requested by the tourism industry. It is difficult for many to understand this recommendation. In his submission to the Committee, the Director of the International Centre for Ecotourism, Professor Ralf Buckley of Griffiths University, comments that many of these proposed ecotourism activities and accommodation options are already available outside existing parks. So why is there a need to set them up inside parks? There is no need, he says. In another submission, eco-tourism business operator Dr Alia Keto, comments that National Parks exist primarily to protect nature, not to entertain tourists. Changing the laws is just pandering to private interests. The role of a parliamentary committee, she said to the Committee, is to protect public interests, not private interests. Changing the laws will sow the seeds of unsustainability, she added.
So why has the Committee recommended these changes to the Nature Conservation Act? MBI can find no compelling reason that has been put forward to justify this action. The tourism industry, in general, is struggling due in a large part to the high Australian dollar. Australia is one of the most expensive tourist destinations in the world. So why create more destinations when the existing ones are struggling? Will opening National Parks to more tourism expand the industry? Or is this just a land-grab by the tourist industry interests? And who will maintain these parks that are opened to more commercial interests? The staffing at QPWS, and the oversight it can provide, has just been reduced so they cannot take on extra duties. Queensland has two World Heritage parks in Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef. According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund, both are in danger of losing their World Heritage designation due to inappropriate management by the State Government which is responsible for their care. If World Heritage sites cannot be appropriately maintained, how can the lesser parks in the National Park system be maintained, some observers ask?
And what does this mean for Bribie Island? Will additional ecotourism options be permitted? One of the “ecotourism” options currently allowed is the 4WD access to the beach area. Rangers estimate that on busy days as many as 1000 vehicles use the beach. While most of these drivers might be careful and law abiding, there are many that are not. Click here for an article describing the antics of some. This illegal activity is causing irreparable damage to the beach area as shown below. Clearly, this form of ecotourism is not sustainable. Another existing “ecotourism” option is camping at various designated sites on Bribie. But more and more illegal camping is occurring outside the designated areas as shown in the photos below. It is thought that the recent major fires on Bribie were the result of this sort of illegal camping. How will such illegal camping be controlled in the future to protect Bribie from more devastating fires?
To clarify what might happen on Bribie, MBI asks the questions below of the Member for Pumicestone, Ms Lisa France:
1) What does the Queensland Government mean by “ecotourism”
2) What “ecotourism” activities are proposed for Bribie
3) Will any efforts be taken to curb the illegal “ecotourist” activities currently occurring on Bribie before there is any expansion of allowed activities?
Clearly some discussion on any potential new options for Bribie is required. Currently, there has been none. As a way of promoting some discussion, MBI publishes a research paper that discusses the effect of 4WD access in sensitive coastal areas Australia. Many of these areas are extremely fragile and are subject to many of the same threats as we see on Bribie. Only some of the introductory sections are published here, but for those wishing to review the full paper there is a link provided. The paper shows that 4WD access has led to serious downgrading of the coastal environments that were studied, and that 4WD access should be restricted. Is that going to happen on Bribie? Or is the current unrestricted access going to be expanded?
MBI welcomes feedback on its articles and readers can respond through this page. This is an area that is primarily a State Government responsibility and readers may wish to make their views known to the State Government through:
OFF-ROAD VEHICLES ON BEACHES – THE IMPACTS, IMPLICATIONS AND OPTIONS FOR COASTAL MANAGERS IN AUSTRALIA
Sargent, S. (Ed) 2012, with contributions from Allan, R., Bilham, K., Clarke, B., Faulkner, A., Flaherty, T., Gleave, D., Lansdown, D., McCuaig, A., Payne, M., Prior, S., Taylor, C. and Woehler, E.J.
During Coast to Coast 2010, an informal group was formed to network approaches to look into the wider issue of off-road vehicles (ORV) on coastal habitats. Following the conference, the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board’s Coast, Estuary and Marine Advisory Committee endorsed support for a workshop or forum to address collaborative national approaches to coastal vehicle management issues with the aim to allow discussion and networking to progress a coordinated national approach to the issue.
This discussion paper and the workshop to be held at Coast to Coast 2012 – Living on the Edge have been generously supported by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board.
The impacts of ORVs on beaches comprising both rocky and sandy foreshores, adjacent tidal wetlands and inter-tidal areas (including seagrass beds) have been documented internationally for a number of decades.
Different types of vehicle use in coastal areas are likely to have different impacts on individual coastal habitats. For example, the impacts from slow speed access along the foreshore for fishing purposes will differ from vehicles travelling at high speeds higher on the beach or in dune areas. Differences in impacts will also vary according to the weight of the vehicle, power, potential range and noise generated by the ORV, and from the time of operation (particularly in relation to the tide). In addition, the characteristics of an individual coastal environment will determine its capacity to withstand the impacts of vehicles. It is noted that all ORV’s will have some impact.
While the ORV-based recreation and tourism industry can provide substantial economic benefits to regional communities, it must be recognised there are associated environmental and social impacts that need to be managed. Without management, ORV usage will continue to disperse into local bushland areas causing significant long-term damage to the environment and the diversion of conservation resources into rehabilitation work.
The WA State Trail Bike Strategy, Back on Track, (2008) has recognised the need to transition from unplanned, unmanaged and unsustainable ORV use to planned, managed and sustainable use.
As well as environmental impacts, inappropriate or incompatible ORV use can cause conflict between users. These conflicts may have a negative impact on business opportunities. There are additional social considerations requiring attention. With increasing levels of usage, enforcement costs will be a growing burden on land managers. The issues of insurance, liability and risk management must be addressed, without risk management, preventable injuries and deaths will continue to occur. Insurance claims and litigation directed towards land managers may be expected to increase, and could have a flow-on effect to the community through the passing on of higher insurance premiums.
Whilst this discussion paper will not provide a review of all impacts of off-road vehicles on the coast from across the globe, it will attempt to provide a sufficient evidence base to initiate discussion on this significant management and conservation issue and provide some options for addressing these issues in our coastal areas around Australia. Australian examples have been used wherever possible.
What is an off-road vehicle?
Typically, ORVs include four-wheel drives (4WD) that are also usable on normal roads (Road Registered Vehicle or RRV), quad and trail bikes – although in some areas, they may also include specialised “all-terrain vehicles” (ATV) that have three, four or even six wheels, hovercraft and other amphibious watercraft. For the purposes of this discussion paper we will be primarily focusing on four-wheel drives (4WD), quad and trail bikes.
What constitutes a beach?
The Australian coastline stretches over a distance of more than 36,000 kilometers. Australia defines itself as a beach culture with 85% of Australians now living within 50km of the coast.
Australia boasts an array of coastal landforms including beaches, dunes, rocky shores, coastal wetlands and saltmarshes all of which have been included for the purposes of this discussion paper.
Beaches and dunes are complex physical and ecological systems. The morphodynamics of beach and dune systems share common underlying principles based on the combination of factors such as sediment type, wave climate, local weather patterns, vegetation types and density of cover. Each beach and dune system is unique because of the local combinations of these factors. Hesp (2001 & 2002) provides detailed explanations of the dynamics, geomorphology and evolution of incipient foredunes, established foredunes, and blowouts. His international review emphasises the influence of vegetation cover on dune morphology and growth rates and stability.
A saltmarsh is a community of plants and animals that grow along the upper-intertidal zone (above the mean spring-tide height) of coastal waterways. Saltmarshes are habitats for communities of salt- tolerant vegetation (including: grasses, herbs, reeds, sedges and shrubs), a wide range of invertebrates, and low-tide and high-tide visitors such as fish and water birds.
Why are off-road vehicles a problem for our beaches?
Summary of impacts
There are many ways that off-road vehicles impact on Australian beaches and dunes and adjacent coastal wetlands. These comprise:
1. Direct impacts on flora through loss of vegetation cover and subsequent erosion. This also ?includes direct impacts on saltmarsh – wheel ruts from ORVs persist for many years, even after ?vehicles have been excluded (DECC, 2008).
2. Direct impacts on fauna such as migratory and resident shorebirds and nesting marine turtles listed through the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 – impacts include disturbances (causing birds to leave nests, eggs and chicks or feeding and roosting areas), collisions, nest destruction and the crushing of chicks and hatchlings.
3. Direct impacts on benthic micro- and meiofauna through compaction of sand reducing habitat potential and reducing the numbers if invertebrates available for feeding and leading to changes in community composition and structure.
4. Direct social impacts on beach users, especially where some activities are not compatible with others. For example ORVs driving through areas where families (especially with young children) are sunbathing, swimming and playing; dunes where rehabilitation work in being undertaken; or where commercial ORV activities affect the aesthetics or private enjoyment of a remote beach.
5. Direct impacts on cultural heritage sites including aboriginal shell middens along our foreshores, tidal wetlands and intertidal areas.
6. Indirect impacts to coastal communities through erosion and decreased resilience to the future and ongoing impacts of sea level rise, storm surges and extreme events (cyclones etc.).
7. Indirect impacts on native flora and fauna through the introduction of weeds and pests competing for habitat and/or out-competing native species. Of particular concern are the implications of vehicle hygiene and the transmission of diseases such as Phytophthora.
For those wishing to view the complete article, click here