Monday, 3 August 2009

1400 kms and Unwanted Flora and Fauna

Australia Map Exmouth
If there is one lesson the world should have learnt from Australia (apart from the fact that they do not like loosing at Cricket), it is that bringing in (deliberately or accidently) animals and plants not native to a country is a bad idea. Officially there are 56 introduced invasive animal species which the Australians now regret introducing or allowing to get into the country. Amongst the list of immigrants to Australia since it was “discovered” by Europeans are:

Rabbits introduced in 1788 for food and hunting and now 200 million plus are wreaking havoc
Camels introduced in 1849 to carry loads across the desserts and when no longer needed, simply let go. 1.1 million feral camels are now a major nuisance
The infamous Cane Toad were introduced in 1935 to eliminate insects which were devastating the sugar cane harvest. They were too fat to jump high enough to catch the insects so set about eating whatever was around. Now 200 million of this poisonous toad are spreading across Australia and killing many animals in their path
The Red Fox introduced in 1871 for recreational hunting plus feral cats, horses (aka Brumby), donkeys, African wild asses, pigs, water buffalos, geckos and more

The list of birds includes the Mynah (introduced to control locusts but now spreading diseases, mites and eating native bird eggs); the Rock Pigeon whose faeces damage historic buildings; Starlings and Sparrows etc

The list of Freshwater Fish includes Trout, Perch, Loach and Carp which now dominate their rivers to the exclusion of native fish.

The list of insects include Honey Bees (deliberately introduced and now taking over habitats of native insects) and accidental introductions including Fire Ants (poisonous sting); Yellow Ants; and the Elm Leaf Beetle which destroys Historic Elms (which were themselves introduced)

There is a long list of weeds including Border grass which was introduced as a fast growing grass for cattle to eat. The problem is that Australian cattle do not like it and when burnt, it does so at a high temperature which destroys native grass seeds leaving its seeds to spread easier.

Blackberries were introduced for food but now are wild and fast growing in many areas, again destroying the habitat of native species.
and so the list goes on.

At your port of entry into the country, you are sprayed with insecticide and have to declare all vegetables, meats etc and at some state borders, you are stopped and searched. Perhaps these efforts will stop future uninvited incursions but one also worries about the good ideas that scientists still get about introducing new cures for recently introduced illnesses.

Exmouth – nearly as far west as Australia goes

Western Australia comprises 33% of the land mass of Australia but only 7% (1.9 million) of the people. To use the word “large” to describe this State is to choose too small a word as the map below shows.
WA size comparison
The approximate distance between Broome (where we were last Thursday) and Exmouth (where we are now) is 1400 kms (roughly the distance between Lands End and John O’Groats). Generally speaking, much of the countryside between these two points is less than interesting being made up of endless scrub and brush with the very occasional town which in this area of the world is usually devoted to minerals of one sort or another.
Never-the-less, the size of Australia still produces abnormally large attractions such as 80 Mile Beach (guess why it has that name) where we stayed for a few nights on the way to Exmouth. This place is approximately 250km north of Port Hedland and 365 km south of Broome, there are roadhouses a few kms away from the turn-off to the beach (from both directions) where you can refuel - some fuel is available on the beach but it is very expensive. The beach is a favourite spot with shore fishermen and we asked one what they were fishing for and were told “Red Fin” and “Blue Nosed something or other, it does not matter as long as we can eat it”, the problem was that the fish were not biting whilst we were there.

The beach is rarely crowded
80 Mile Beach North
80 mile beach in one direction
80 Mile Beach South
80 mile beach in the other direction
and there are usually more birds than people
Birds on 80 Mile Beach
The beach is covered with shells. Not pearl shells but every other sort
Shells on 80 mile beach
imaginable and apparently the shell density gets even greater further west.
Sam – below is a picture of some of the shells that Nana Pat collected to bring home to York.

Shells Nana Pat Collected
Like its near neighbour Broome, it also has wonderful sunsets with the sky changing colour, not only as the sun goes down but also from all
Sunset on 80 Mile Beach
along the horizon. As usual, a group of people gather on the beach and watch in silent awe as nature goes to sleep.

We stayed at two places on our trek west. 460 kms (or two CDs of David Copperfield) west, one gets to Karratha which is a typical mining town in the middle of nowhere. It was built to house mine workers and  the guide book sums up its interest to tourists by saying “there is little to detain the traveller………”.

272 kms further on (one CD of David Copperfield) is the Nanutarra Roadhouse. Again there is little to detain the traveller but we are forced to stay here because Exmouth was full and our accommodation is booked for the following day. However, the Ashburton river adjacent to the camp site provided a nice picture at sunset
Sunset on the River at Nanutarra
and we had some interesting conversations about Australia, Aboriginal issues, Europe etc with fellow campers.

It was then 274 kms more to Exmouth where we arrived in time to book some diving before checking in to a rather nice hotel for three nights. All of the campsites at Exmouth are full but we had booked a hotel in order to provide a more comfortable base whilst I dive and Pat goes on a Whale Watching Cruise.

PS: 80 Mile Beach is actually 212 km long (132 miles) but they thought it was only 80 miles long when it was discovered.

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