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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Island fires devastate wildlife habitat

Chad Beranek wants better education and a greater police presence on Kooragang Island after a deliberately-lit fire tore through more than 100 hectares and destroyed wildlife.

The University of Newcastle student has been investigating habitat restoration for a threatened species – the Green and Golden Bell Frog – on the island as part of his PhD for the past three years.

He says there’s been a significant increase in fires, particularly car burnings, during that time.

“In my first season, I probably only saw one or two burnt out cars but, just in the last few months, since August, I’ve recorded eight,” he tells Newcastle Weekly.
“Where the [latest] fire occurred, it swept through a whole bunch of habitats, which are used as a corridor for the endangered Green and Golden Bell Frog.
“That is particularly worrying because fragments of the population on the island and the population [in general] are at a high risk of extinction.”

Mr Beranek says firefighters worked quickly to extinguish the blaze, only for it to reignite in hot conditions and spread to areas inhabited by snakes, lizards, eastern long-necked turtles, she-oak skinks, and birds.

He believes hundreds of animals may have died in the fire.

“We’ve so far found one bell frog, which has died due to the fire, and it’s probably likely that there’s a lot more,” he says.
“We found the bell frog under a tyre that was in quite deep, burnt-out vegetation, so there is no easy way you can survey all of this charcoal for frogs.
“I’d say the mortality from this fire is much higher than that and it’ll probably put a large dent in the population.”

Mr Beranek hopes there will be greater awareness on the devastating impact that a minority has caused to a susceptible ecosystem.

He wants to see the persistent perpetrators caught and a serious investigation underway to prevent him from wandering wastelands

“looking for corpses of the animals I love and have studied days ago while they were alive”.
“The real victims here are the animals, which get destroyed and also lose their homes,” he says.
“There could perhaps be more of a police presence on the island and maybe gating off certain areas where there’s more activity would be an option, but obviously there are other stakeholders involved that might not like the idea.”

Visit gumnutnaturalist.com for more environmental news around the Hunter Region.

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