A few weeks ago I wrote that 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.”
The koalas of Raymond Island are one of those tourist attractions and already quite popular. With the coronavirus still raging overseas and NSW a possible no-go zone it is expected that this will be a booming tourist season from which Gippsland will benefit. The island itself is an attractive destination and is a brief (and free) ferry ride from Paynesville for pedestrians. Lucky visitors may also see other wildlife. For instance on my last visit I saw a delightful family of four tawny frogmouths.
The video footage of last summers’ bushfires highlights the vulnerability of koala populations to these climate change driven events. Unfortunately the fires are predicted to increase in both number and severity. The island has its own fire station and I assume that fire protection practices (including ecological burns?) are continuous as is the management of the koala population by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. Aside from the threat of fires the main short-term problem appears to be overpopulation and numbers are often relocated* to the mainland and elsewhere.
In the longer term the main threat to Raymond Island is rising sea levels ** and is a threat to the whole of the Gippsland Lakes. This is far into the future and the annual rises so small that, unfortunately, the problem is often discounted, or ignored. But sea levels across the globe are steadily rising and are predicted to continue so for hundreds of years. Whether it occurs in 50 or 150 years the Gippsland Lakes and Raymond Island are doomed. To a certain extent, humans can adapt to the various threats of global warming, but for our native fauna much less so.
I have two lots of relatives who will be staying at Paynesville early in the New Year. Almost certainly, along with many others, they will visit Raymond Island and see the koalas. Climate tourism of this sort will help our recovery from the pandemic and our bushfires and at the same time to promote knowledge and awareness of the effects of climate change.
*I have only seen one koala on the mainland in 50 years – a few kilometres from Monkey Creek near Bruthen
**Even the current minimum IPCC prediction of a 40cm rise for 2100 will severely erode the island – a metre or more will destroy the Gippsland Lakes system.