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Opinion

Kangaroo Island: recovering, not ravaged

Opinion

Resilient nature is already bouncing back from recent bushfires, and tourists should ignore damaging “fire-ravaged Kangaroo Island” branding to come, see and celebrate it, argues Nick Hannaford.

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“The fascinating and dynamic ‘process’ of nature’s recovery has great tourism value in its own right. If we allow the recovery process to be perceived as an end ‘goal’, we give no reason for tourists to visit us right now.”

‘Only 6 weeks after the fire front passed we have just returned from more days on the fire grounds where we find plant and animal successions are well advanced. Lots of new regrowth on charred and standing timber. Fire dependent fungi are prospering in the ash beds. There are lots of tracks and signs of small vertebrates such as lizards, marsupials, and birds on the ground. Many are taking up new shelters in fallen timber and fire hollowed logs, we can detect at least four different types of birdsong on the air. Recent rains have created ephemeral pools and running creeks where frogs and toadlets are calling. The calm evenings are punctuated by the calls of thick knee curlews, boobooks and masked plover’. (Excerpt from field report Kangaroo Island 3/2/2020 – Dr Peggy Rismiller OAM, Mike McKelvey OAM, PLWRC)

As the owner and operator of LifeTime Private Retreats on Kangaroo Island, and over twenty-five years in tourism, I am frustrated and perplexed by the hype and social media messaging which declares Kangaroo Island desolate, destroyed and may take years to recover from the fires.

This is not what is happening on the ground.

I understand that it’s in our nature to assume certain outcomes from what we hear or see.

However, if our local communities, businesses and tourism bodies don’t make a concerted effort to change these negative perceptions by giving real examples of nature’s magical recovery process, our regional tourism recovery will take a longer time to recover.

The fact is that the fascinating and dynamic ‘process’ of nature’s recovery has great tourism value and longevity in its own right.

If we allow the recovery process to be perceived as an end ‘goal’ (that we aspire to get to sometime in the future), we give no reason for tourists to visit us right now.

As humans, there is no doubt the effects of fire can be described as devastating or catastrophic to our business, properties or lives.

In the bush the effects of fire are quite different – it has the ability to be regenerative, it can create homes for animals and provide abundant new food sources.

For this reason, our industry must differentiate between the two contrasting effects and use the appropriate terminology when communicating the effects of fire to the world.

Peggy and Mike give a fantastic example of nature’s regenerative resilience with just a few images they took from the field only 35 days after the 2020 fire.

One is a small mud patch less than half a square meter in size, that records the footprints of no less than four different species of critters who have scurried over the tiny space.

Photo: Mike McKelvey, Pelican Lagoon Wildlife and Research Centre

In addition, they documented stunning bright fluorescent fungus providing an exciting new food source for native animals.

Photo: Mike McKelvey, Pelican Lagoon Wildlife and Research Centre

In the smallest of detail, tiny insect eggs glow like pearls set in deep-red gemstones of Eucalyptus resin.

Photo: Mike McKelvey, Pelican Lagoon Wildlife and Research Centre

I listen to the news and our island is still introduced by its new brand name ‘Fire-ravaged Kangaroo Island’, a term that seems to roll off the tongue with no effort, even though the fire is well out and I look over the vibrant green of resprouting hills from our Sky House Retreat as the kangaroos graze nearby.

Our retreats are situated in the recent fire ground. This land is dynamic.

In the past, two of our five retreats were damaged by fire but we fought back, embracing the recovery process. We provided seeded mud balls for guests to spread across the land as they walked through the ever-changing landscape.

We commissioned art sculptures to be placed around the retreats and amongst the trees, subtly inviting our guests to see the burnt trees as majestic and intertwining art forms, not destruction.

Right now it is a dynamic time and an opportunity for humans to reconnect with the essence of nature and regeneration on Kangaroo Island.

The harsh blackness has already been softened by the winds, rain and the new sign of growth and life. The wildlife is venturing back into the recovery grounds looking for the new food sources and homes.

Photo: Mike McKelvey, Pelican Lagoon Wildlife and Research Centre

Like never before, visitors to the island over the coming weeks and months will be treated to the unique opportunity of seeing our wildlife unhidden by the bush that was once an obstacle that they could hide behind.

If you are still thinking that half of Kangaroo Island was burnt so there must not be much left to see, let’s put it in perspective.

Over 2000 square kilometres of Kangaroo Island was untouched by the fires, this area is seven times larger than the 74 islands that make up the Whitsundays, or twice the size of Tahiti for our international guests.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Don’t visit kangaroo Island out of sympathy, come because you will have an opportunity to experience the change and see the wonders of nature like never before.

Nick Hannaford is a Kangaroo Island tourism operator.

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