Archive for April, 2014
Have you ever walked through the rainforest and discovered a large empty snail shell? Well these shells belong to Hedleyella falconeri or the Giant Panda Snail. They are not called giant panda snails becasue they are black and white, it is becasue of their enormous size, about the size of a tennis ball. We usually see them on our Night Vision Walk any time between February and June, but these damp conditions have certainly brought them out of their shells (sorry).
When people see them for the first time they simply can not believe the size. So impressive are they, people often say they are the best thing they’ve seen that night, despite also seeing pademelon, bandicoots, owls.
Hedleyella falconeri are a nocturnal land snail, in fact Australia’s biggest land snail. Which can be found in sub-tropical rainforest where it forages in the leaf litter of the forest floor. Like other snails it is more active during and after rain to prevent water loss from its soft body. This species will shelter under tree roots and logs but also within the leaf litter in forest clearing. Giant Panda Snails are hermaphroditic, meaning that individuals possess both sperm and eggs.
If you want to see these guys/girls in action, get out into the rainforest at night. But be careful, as they do react to torch light, you are best to observe them with night vision technology.
I have been conducting eco tours in the Byron Bay area for the past 7 years, during this time I’ve been collecting data on wildlife sightings. What we see does fluctuate from time to time – that’s nature. But lately I’ve notice a definite decline in numbers of specific species, namely koalas and pademelons.
I have data for the past 7 years but it doesn’t always involve the same location. So I’ve only included figures since 2010.
Koalas, we see 100% of the time at our special location.
- 2010 we saw 3.4 koalas per visit
- 2011 we saw 4.6 koalas per visit
- 2012 we saw 5.1 koalas per visit
- 2013 we saw 5.6 koalas per visit
- 2014 we saw 2.8 koalas per visit
In the past six months or so I’ve noticed a lot more koalas with the disease which could account for the 45% decline in sightings.
Red legged pademelon
- 2011 we saw them 100% of the time and we saw on average 3 pademelon per visit.
- 2012 we saw them 90% of the time and we saw on average 3.5 pademelon per visit.
- 2013 we saw them 50% of the time and we saw on average 3 pademelon per visit.
- 2014 we saw them 25% of the time and we saw on average 4 pademelon per visit. (the sample size of this one is small and may have skewed the results)
Red necked pademelon
- 2010 we saw them 74% of the time and we saw on average 2.5 pademelon per visit.
- 2011 we saw them 80% of the time and we saw on average 4.6 pademelon per visit.
- 2012 we saw them 85% of the time and we saw on average 2.9 pademelon per visit.
- 2013 we saw them 55% of the time and we saw on average 2.8 pademelon per visit.
- 2014 we saw them 0% of the time and we seen no pademelons this year.
One may say that one reason for the decline is that we are observing them, but quite frankly the areas we go aren’t isolated from people, i.e the wildlife is used to having people around and we are very careful not to disturb the wildlife. We are only a quarter of the way through 2014 so the sample size is a bit small. But if you look at the 2013 figures you will see that the pademelons were already in decline, both in frequency and average sightings per visit.
I feel the cause the of the decline is environmental.
After years of mainly seeing healthy koalas, in the past six months or so I’ve noticed an increasing amount with the disease. Friends of the Koala have been doing a great job in capturing and treating the sick ones but it has decimated the local population. There is a glimmer of hope though as on my last few visits, I’ve only seen one sick koala, so maybe we’ve turned the corner?
The pademelons are of concern. I see them in two places. I see the red-legged pademelon during the day on our Wildlife Tour and the red-necked pademelon on our Night Vision Walk . After the big storms last year I observed a dramatic decrease in the frequency of times we saw pademelons and the number we saw. We also had quite a few visits that were disturbed by other park users making excessive noise and running about. But on our last visit we saw quite a few and they had joeys, so their numbers maybe increasing again. We haven’t seen any red-necked pademelons so far on our night vision walk this year, which is of a grave concern as they used to be one of our most consistent sightings. I did notice some hunters in the area where we go to see the pademelons a few months back, which I reported to the National Parks but as they were under staffed, nothing was done.
I’ll carry on recording my data and see if things improve, I certainly hope they do. In the mean time we can all do a few things to save our wildlife: lock up your dogs at night, drive slowly especially at night, report any sick or injured wildlife and protect their habitat.
Byron Bay is a popular tourist town that attracts 1.3 million per year. Visitors seem to be attracted by the beautiful environment and laid back life style, but are all too often these very things find themselves under pressure from the shear number of visitors and the lack of understanding and respect some can show while they are here.
The impact of over a million visitors on a town of 7,000 and a shire of 29,000 is considerable, but let’s not kid ourselves Tourism contributes $509 million pa to the local economy and is by far the biggest industry. I do hear locals often refer to tourists in a derogatory way but without the money the tourists bring with them, Byron would struggle. (Fact and figures on local tourism can be found on the Research Tourism Website)
The impact of infrastructure of over a million visitors not inconsequential, which causes the resources of Byron Shire Council to be over-stretched and the locals who pay the rates feeling “ripped off’. It is unlawful for the council to charge a bed tax, and they have no real way of charging these million of so people to pay for their impact on roads, waste management, or the environment.
On top of the impact on infrastructure there is also a social impact. Visitors are attracted by the laid back life-style but often sometimes bring their anger and intolerance which can cause conflict. And quite Byron often hits the news for all the wrong reasons.
So what’s the answer to this complex set of problems? We need visitors to lessen their impact on the environment and to respect the local culture. That sounds like eco-tourism to me.
Eco-tourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)
There are a few eco-tourism operators and accommodation places in Byron but they are in the minority, which is weird as the local chamber of commerce recently ran the Byron Naturally campaign. The problem with the campaign was that very few of the businesses featured were eco-tourism businesses, they just seemed to have loads of money to jump of the nature band-wagon. Personally I didn’t have $1000’s to join the relevant organisations and pay for TVCs and print campaigns. It also costs quite a lot of money to be accredited with Eco-Tourism Australia. Some of us small operators have quality eco-tourism products but simply don’t have the bank roll to pay for all the membership, campaigns and accreditation.
As a local eco-tourism operator at Vision Walks, I take people on nature-based experiences, they learn about the natural and human history, we tell local stories, we discuss local environmental issues, we use local products and other local businesses and more importantly we discuss the social contract people who live in this area engage in. It would be great if we could offer an opportunity for visitors to give something back to the local community in terms of their time or a specific skill. This would be more than just planting a tree.
What I’d like to see happen is the building of an interpretation centre or perhaps an app, which would include, interactive environmental and cultural displays and perhaps a short film. While engaging they do a short questionnaire and it suggests an local issue they should adopt, then they are given an opportunity to address that issue or to own it. It could include: picking up 50 bits of rubbish, volunteering with a local group (dune care, land care, rainforest rescue), writing something, getting 10 friends to sign a petition, be nice to a stranger, help someone, dig a hole, fill in a hole, plant something, fix something, paint something, doing something creative… Local tourism businesses then go for an Byron Eco Accreditation (for a small cost), where by they have to prove their sustainability credentials and what they will contribute to the running of the local issues. E.g sign a petition, running volunteers etc. This way everyone is giving something back, it doesn’t cost much money but everyone is engaged.
Through my business (Vision Walks- Eco Tours) I get to connect people with nature every day. On top of that I get to live in the awesome village of Brunswick Heads in the Byron Shire. I know, I’m pretty lucky, but one underlying fact is that I’m passionate about the environment and want to give something back. So I thought I’d start this blog. It will be quite eclectic, nature-based observations in the Byron Bay area. These will include: sightings, nesting shore birds, the night sky, issues such as Coal Seam Gas, fishing in the marine park to name but a few.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Byron Bay, nature, CSG,