September 29, 2015

School Holidays on Fraser Island with Ranger Ann

The school holidays are in full swing and we’ve had a great time this week teaching the kids all about our beautiful environment and introducing them to some of the critters that live here on Fraser Island. 

Our Junior Eco Rangers have been competing in Beach Olympics, going on Treasure Hunts and Scavenger Challenges and wetting a line in our Fishing Frenzy. The adventure doesn’t stop after dark either- our Junior Eco Rangers have had a great time taking Night Walks, roasting marshmallows on a campfire and learning about marine life by night. 

Big kids and teens on the island haven’t missed out on all the fun with our canoe trips, stand up paddle boards and Segway beach tours proving very popular. If you’re heading to Fraser this week make sure you get in early and book your activities with our reception team as these babies are going fast! 

Last but not least some of the biggest kids of all- our baby Humpback whales- and their mums and dads have been enjoying themselves just off the coast of Fraser this week too. Our Whale Watching Tours have been a favourite with our guests again this year and the whales didn’t disappoint. They will start to head south again in a few weeks’ time so if you haven’t been out to see them before, get in quick! 

July 28, 2015

Dingoes Under The Spotlight, Toad Busters, And Mother Nature At Her Finest

Winter is in full fling in Australia, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. On Fraser Island we’ve been enjoying balmy weather during the day and some crisp, starry nights.  The fruit of the Midjim Berries (Austromyrtus dulcis) have disappeared, but Wide Bay Boronias (Boronia Rivularis) are in bloom and Hervey Bay’s holidaying humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) are breaching off the east and west coasts of Fraser. We’ve even seen them off the end of Kingfisher Bay Resort’s jetty.

The uber-talented Sean Scott captured this stunning image in the skies above Lake McKenzie.
Winter is also a time that dingoes (Canis Lupis Dingo) give birth and protect their young and their territory. We’ll have to wait for September and the start of spring to see pups leaving their den and starting to explore their World Heritage-listed backyard… and although the pups are adorable, please remember to be Dingo Safe on island.

Dingo and son at Fraser Island's Eli Creek.
This month, our island team has welcomed the news that University of Sunshine Coast academics have won two grants to research dingoes and dingo behaviour on island. The University is also involved in a third grant project with the folks at the University of Queensland.

What does this mean?  The more we understand about these animals, the better we can manage them.  One team lead by USC’s Dr Clare Archer-Lean will evaluate the interaction between people and dingoes on the world’s largest sand island with a view to improving current safety messages for visitors.

USC’s Ecological Genetic and Modelling Expert, Dr Gabriel Conroy, will run a pilot project to estimate the number of dingoes on Fraser and monitor population trends.  Rounding out the three, Associate Professor, Jennifer Carter, will collaborate on a University of Queensland research project specifically looking at non-invasive ways of monitoring dingo diet and health.

Look, but don't touch. Pic Air Fraser Is.
DID YOU KNOW that Fraser Island’s dingoes appear lean because they are very active? These crazy critters can travel up to 40km each day on island.  The good news is that Fraser Island’s dingo population is healthy and studies have shown that adult dingoes on island have a higher-than-average body weight that their pure counterparts on mainland Australia.

In our commitment to bring you Fraser Island ‘warts and all’… we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that last month marked 80 years since Entomologist Reginald Mungomery unwittingly unleashed one the of the greatest environmental disasters on Australia.  Back in 1935, Mungomery introduced Cane Toads (Rhinella marina) to control Cane Beetles (Dermolepida albohirtum) and other grubs that were damaging cane crops.

RANGER FACT!  Since the thirties, the toad population in Australia has exploded in leaps and bounds – if you’ll pardon the pun – with an average clutch containing more than 30,000 eggs.

According to the folks at the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation, Cane Toads arrived on Fraser Island on flood debris washed down the Mary River several decades ago. Their appearance coincided with a dramatic reduction in snake numbers, particularly Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus).

Check out how toad-busting scientists are waging the war on these villainous pests.

Cane Toads can snatch small vertebrates. Photo: NT News
Four Fast Facts 
(Plus 76 more if you follow this link...)

Prior to 1935, Australia was devoid of toads. Mungomery sourced 102 cane toads – an equal split of males and females - from Hawaii.  It took one week for the toads to start laying eggs, and another three days for the eggs to start hatching. Within weeks they had thousands.

The toads were initially released throughout Tourism North Queensland and it took just 10 years for them to reach Brisbane. The sad fact of the matter is that nobody realised that cane toads couldn't jump very high and couldn't reach the beetles they was supposed to eat - so the invasion has been for nothing.

Toads compete with native species for sheltering sites and food resources, and while feed primarily off insects, will also snatch small vertebrates.   Female cane toads grow to about 12cm in length, with males smaller in size. However, they are among the biggest frog species in the world.

Toad toxin contains both adrenaline and cardotoxic steroids, which means it gets your heart racing in order to deliver its poison shock faster. Key takeaway message - don't lick a cane toad.
(Source: 27/06/15).

Spotted and shared by @noelr70 on Instagram
And in closing, regular Jetty Hut visitors witnessed the cycle of nature in full swing as a young Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) unwittingly took its life into its own paws when it went for a stroll on Sunset Beach.

It seems the unsuspecting Echidna – whose only natural predators on Fraser are Goannas, Snakes and Dingoes – may have skirted too close to a large Python in its winter curl in the sun.  Whilst onlookers were rooting for the Echidna, who seemed to escape unscathed at the time, neither animal has been seen since.

That’s nature folks.  On Fraser Island, we’re looking forward to sunny September and all the wonderful wildlife that spring brings. This is Ranger J signing off for the last time as I hand the reins over to Ranger Annie.

July 1, 2015

Fraser's All Finned And Feathered

Whale Watching off Fraser Island has just entered its 29th season in our region and, at this time of year, visitors are in the box seat to see one of the largest animals embarking on one of the longest migrations.

Hervey Bay Humpbacks indulge in a little people watching and put on quite a show while they do it. Pic Richard Campion
Sixty Minutes’ Charles Wooley once described the rise of Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) population numbers as one of Mother Nature’s greatest comebacks.  Here is an animal that was hunted to the brink of extinction for products such as whale oil, bones and blubber.  This year, those in the know report that more than 20,000 are expected to make the annual migration along the east coast of Australia with around 8,000 of those taking time out of their migration schedule to socialise and wallow in the calm waters on the lee side of Fraser.

RANGER FACT In the late 18th century, whale bones were popular in whips, umbrellas and corsets, whilst blubber was melted down and used in candles and as a base for perfumes and soaps.

Whales were hunted to the brink of extinction.  Photo courtesy of:
According to NSW Wildlife Officer, Geoff Ross - in his recent interview with ABC – better conservation practices have helped Humpback numbers bounce back from overharvesting.  However, with the increase in numbers comes an increased risk of potential boat strikes, strandings and net entanglements.

Here in Hervey Bay, boat skippers are obliged by law not to approach within 100m of the Humpbacks (or 300m if there are three or more vessels present). They also can’t approach a whale head on nor can they herd or chase them or separate mothers and calves.  For those visiting region, they can

Now that's a bit cheeky. Pic: Cody Doucette, Matador Network
It’s not just all about the whales though as Fraser Island is the Tailor (Pomatomus Saltatrix) capital of Australia.  These feisty sport fish are already beginning to school up in the deeper water of the Great Sandy Strait with 45cm fish sighted by locals recently.

You can catch Tailor all year round on Fraser but August is prime time – as that’s when mature fish school near the food supplies to spawn - but there is always plenty of action right up until October.  The Ranger team always encourage our visiting fisher folk to take what they need and then catch and release what they don’t – this helps maintain marine park resources.

DID YOU KNOW that Tailor can grow up to 10kg, but are usually between 1 and 2kg? They’re easily identified by their elongated bodies – the lower half is silver and the top is dark green.

Last month, we spoke at some length about Migratory Bird Day and the importance of Fraser Island as a key wetland of international importance for migrating birds.  It was with some interest that we read an article in The Courier Mail recently that pointed out several species that have yet to make their migration to Siberia for the annual breeding season – including terns (Sterna hirundo) and godwits (Limosa).

Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) on 75-Mile Beach
Scientists have yet to decipher how birds navigate, so the current theories for this lack of movement suggest the birds haven’t been able to fatten up enough (possibly because of low pilchard numbers) or that they’ve been disturbed by vehicles.

Both Federal and State environment ministers have yet to respond or commit to a proposal to close 18km of the island’s ocean beach at the southern tip for migrating shorebirds. WATCH THIS SPACE, we’ll keep you updated.

And, until next time, stay warm tree huggers… and if it’s not warm where you live, well, we’re still swimming on Fraser Island so come and visit us.  Cheers, Ranger J.

June 9, 2015

Winter In Our Wild Fraser Island Paradise

The first day of winter officially kicked in on 1 June with Tasmanian’s scraping the ice from their windscreens, Victorians rugging up and Humpbacks (Megatera novaengliae) cavorting off the east coast (and in the Great Sandy Strait as of June 9).

Closer to Kingfisher Bay Resort, Fraser Islanders are experiencing El Nińio-like conditions - for the first month of winter, the Fraser Coast is expecting mild weather with a maximum average temperature of 24 degrees - and spent the change of season swimming in the warm waters of our perched dune lakes.

As you can see below, we absolutely love winter in our sub-tropical paradise!
Here's how we're wintering at gorgeous Lake Birrabeen - part of the island's Southern Lakes Circuit.  
The resort's Ranger team also love answering your questions about the island’s ecology and history as well as its flora and fauna. I wanted to share a question asked recently by one of our visiting media and some interesting observations from ‘people in the know’.

What are the biggest threats to Fraser Island and its fragile eco systems? We have to say that climate change is the biggest long-term threat. According to Fraser Island Defenders Association project officer, John Sinclair, Fraser Island is as far north as species such as blackbutt and scribbly gums grow. Mr Sinclair says if the climate gets hotter, you can expect them to move south and the great forests to eventually disappear from the island.

Fraser Island's glorious eastern coastline.
Not surprisingly, the world’s biggest sand island is shaped by strong onshore winds, weather and ocean currents which sweep sand north from the continental shelf in NSW – by its very nature, is in a constant start of change.  It is a no-brainer then that future rises in sea levels will have a significant impact on our easily erodible shoreline.

DID YOU KNOW that Fraser Island is currently expanding?  Incredibly, locals on the island’s eastern beach have recently reported, that over the past 50 years, the island has actually increased outwards by up to 50 metres in some places like around Eurong, where our sister resort is located.  

University of Queensland Professor, James Shulmeister, is leading a team of researchers to find out exactly how much the island has grown over the past 50 years or so.  Professor Shulmeister told the local Fraser Coast Chronicle newspaper that it was reasonable to expect some growth during El Nińio events, as the cooler ocean temperatures keep tropical storms at bay and allow for sand deposits to grow in the short term.

Professor Shulmeister agrees that the bigger climate change picture will see the island becoming leaner.  His research team is currently studying the dunes at Rainbow Beach (off the southern end of Fraser) and will work their way over to Fraser Island in the next few months where they’ll be studying the still-visible traces of old beaches (showing 125,000 year-old high sea levels).  WATCH THIS SPACE!

Whilst we’ve been chatting about bigger picture impacts, the question remains, what can we do in the short term?   As one of the major tourism operators on island, we believe that in the short term human impact needs to be suitably managed – not just visitor numbers, but by behaviours.  It seems common sense, but these are our top THREE worst visitor behaviours in the national park…

Volunteers during the annual island clean up
1. Dumping rubbish: Flotsam and jetsam washing ashore are inevitable on any coastline, but it is the non-perishable rubbish that campers and visitors careless throw into our World Heritage-listed bushland that is most heartbreaking.  A big thumbs up to the Four Wheel Drive Queensland club members who recently conducted a grand-scale clean up – an annual event - to cart away the rubbish that accumulates on island.  Over three days, the group collected plastic, netting, bottles and beer cans, and incredibly, thousands of toothbrushes discarded by careless campers.

Please don't feed Fraser's wild animals

2. Interacting with and feeding wildlife:
  Don't do it. It really doesn’t get any simpler than that!  According to Queensland Parks and Wildlife "the good natural food that dingoes find on Fraser Island and the energy they use to patrol their territories, hunt, mate and generally live from day to day, means they are naturally lean.  They tell all visitors not to be tricked into feeding a dingo because you think it looks hungry. Some leaner dingoes may be juveniles just starting out on their own or, if older, may be subordinate animals in the pack hierarchy." You are not doing them - or fellow visitors in the national park - any favours by feeding them.

3 Stay on Track: From a guest perspective, our company’s commitment is to provide a unique and memorable ecotourism experience.  Our resort Ranger team and tour guides (for Fraser Explorer Tours and Cool Dingo Tours) are passionate about the island and go to great lengths to tell visitors to stay on the designated pathways and tracks (there’s plenty of interpretive signage on the island to give you more information).  Not only do you minimise your risk of injury, but you preserve natural settings, do less damage to the fragile eco-systems and won’t contribute to erosion problems.

There’s plenty of Fraser Island to love and by modifying our behaviour, we’ll ensure it’s kept pristine for future generations.  Until next time, tree-huggers, this is Ranger J signing off.

May 20, 2015

May's Migrants Make All Kinds Of Tracks To Our Island

Now here’s something to tweet about!   Our winter migrants are on their way and our resident Ranger Twitchers and Whale Watchers are ready to welcome them with open arms to Fraser island’s sandy shores.  
Putting the WOW into whale watching. Whale Watching officially starts from1 August.
Hervey Bay's famous Humpback whales (Megatera novaengliae) are on the move - slightly earlier than usual – with just over two months until we start our official whale watching season from Kingfisher Bay Resort.  Meanwhile, if you’re headed our way over the next few months, you’re likely to see surface behaviours - like breaching and tail slapping - beyond the shorebreak on 75-Mile Beach. 

Here at the resort, we Rangers think Fraser Island’s sea and shorebirds are a fabulous feature of any island stay – they occupy a range of habitats in and around our creeks, estuaries and island foreshores - and all just a stone’s throw from Kingfisher Bay. If you're a bird nut, like us, feel free to join us on our regular Ranger-guided early morning bird walks - you'll find all the details in our What's On Guide.

Far Eastern Curlew  (Numenius madagascariensis)
This month we're talking birds because May 10 marked World Migratory Bird Day so it’s a great time to chat about our wonderful bird life on island.  The theme for this year’s World Migratory Bird Day was all about energy and how to make it bird-friendly. Habitat loss, electrocution and collisions with infrastructure are just some of the man-made problems that threaten migratory bird species.

You may not be aware, but Fraser Island acts as a transition zone between tropical and sub-tropical areas.  In fact, the Great Sandy Strait—from Dayman Point – Sandy Point (near Hervey Bay) to Tin Can Bay in the south—is a RAMSAR wetland of international importance. It has been declared a shorebird designated area within the marine park to protect resting migratory shorebirds.

DID YOU KNOW that long distance migratory birds must gain significant weight – for their annual migration?  All sea and shorebirds must rest and feed to replenish their energy levels.  Please given them a wide berth if you see them whilst you’re out and about on island.

Spotted! A Wallum Rocket Frog on Fraser Island.
The resort grounds are also home to specially adapted frogs – like the Wallum Rocket Frog (Litoria freycineti) that reside in the wallum heath at the front of the resort’s hotel wings and Centre Complex and are able to tolerate the mildly acidic waters.  For those that can’t identify their “ribbits” from their “croaks” in the cloak of darkness, we’ve got a great solution for you.

In recent ‘ribbiting’ news for nature lovers, James Cook University scientists have developed a frog-spotting smart phone app that can identify a frog by its individual call.  The eGuide app also gives the user descriptions of the amphibians, location maps and photographs.  And best of all, nearly all 238 of Australia’s known frog species are included!  Happy spotting!  

Well, it’s been an action-packed May with wildlife galore and the promise of more migrating holidaymakers over the coming months. Please remember to give our migratory birds their resting space and enjoy your time on the world’s biggest sand island.  Catch you next time, tree huggers.