Boosting Gippsland’s (Climate) Tourism – Flying Foxes


There are a number of wildlife resources in East Gippsland that can be developed as tourist attractions to help our economic recovery from the bushfires (and the coronavirus) without environmental harm. This involves careful management and protection of the resource and promotion and organisation of tourist activities. Most of these activities are low cost and involve both government and private enterprise.

At the top of the list is the Grey Headed Flying Fox colony on the Mitchell River in Bairnsdale. Often despised by locals – even seen as a pest – the flying fox is a threatened and protected species. It is extremely vulnerable to heatwaves as I have often commented (see here and here) and protection of the species is vital. As temperatures climb above 42 °C the flying foxes begin to die and prolonged heatwaves decimate the colony. Each bat die-off is a clear ‘canary in the coal mine’ warning for human beings and global warming.

As a means of protection in the last heatwave the Friends of the Bairnsdale Bats group unofficially installed sprinklers along the riverside path beneath the colony. These were removed by the East Gippsland Shire (EGSC) and then put back the following day by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWYP) . Wikipedia notes “evaporative cooling is the conversion of liquid water into vapor using the thermal energy in the air, resulting in a lower air temperature” and that “flash evaporation can reduce the surrounding air temperature by as much as 20 °C in just seconds.”

It is clear that the ‘Friends’ actions were on the right track and more sophisticated, and strategically placed, sprinklers can easily be installed at low cost. This can easily offset the costs currently for cleaning up the bat carcases (and other related expenses after heatwaves) incurred by the EGSC and DELWYP

Now (Nov 20) the colony is large and the bats are in the plain trees in town and are easily accessible for observation by both road and on foot. When the colony is at its minimum it is still easily accessible on Riverine Street. Bus tours with guides expounding on the values and attributes of the flying foxes have the potential to bring tourists here year round. The buses can pick up tourists from the train (perhaps using their free travel vouchers) do the flying foxes and perhaps other Bairnsdale sites – like the cathedral and the Keeping Place museum.

Tourist promotions such as this are win/win actions for the local community at the same time the awareness of climate change and the environment expands. This action requires co-ordination and co-operation between DELWYP and the East Gippsland Shire Council. Perhaps there are also a few budding local entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of this.