I visit Tasmania regularly for work because the Invasive Animals CRC funds a bunch of research down there. CSIRO has perhaps the best position of any research lab anywhere in Hobart and, although it is a marine division, they undertake lots of work for us on common carp control. The fox incursion also takes some time and generally the meetings are in Hobart as well. I rarely get any opportunity to see outside the capital, the second city established in Australia. So this year, our family decided to do a pre-Christmas tour of the Island, moving counter-clockwise after arriving at Launceston in the north. A week and a half wasn't nearly enough to even sample everything on offer.
Three-quarters of the family is wildlife-obsessed and Tasmania is known as one of Australia's wildlife hot spots. Twelve-going-on-twenty-four boy can take or leave the wildlife and landscapes and is more into fast-moving machinery. So jet-boating the King River on the west coast was probably the highlight: stomach churning spins then a walk through a Huon pine forest to an incredible lookout to mountains named for the protagonists of the evolution debate. The convict history of the west is fascinating - I knew the cannibal escapee story of Alexander Pierce to a degree (recently played by the CRC's Chair's son, Oscar Reading in Van Dieman's Land). But I had no knowledge of the ship-stealing convicts that made it to Chile depicted in The Ship That Never Was, Australia's longest-running play, showing every night in Strachan.
Another highlight was the penguin tour at Bicheno on the east coast. It takes a lot of people to organise night-time tours to see little penguins come into nests for the night: the tour guide, the bus-driver, the ticket-seller, the three or four people organising the movement of people. This is one of the industries that would be most affected if the red fox establishes in Tasmania. Bicheno is one of many places in the State where penguins can be seen in a relatively undisturbed environment. But unfortunately they can't co-exist with foxes - we see that in Phillip Island in Victoria where only one colony remains of about a dozen originally (apparently worth something like $80 million to that State's economy).
A Parliamentary Accounts Committee has recently reported on the fox issue in Tasmania and concluded that the cost of the program is insignificant compared with the cost foxes would incur if they establish. A couple of dozen species could disappear, which makes the fox issue one for anyone with an interest in biodiversity, not just for Tasmanians.
Tasmania is proud of its position on the edge of the world (there is even a place named Edge of the World). We need to preserve its biodiversity values - but it is much more than a museum or wildlife park - it's a vibrant, fun place to visit if you ever get the chance.
Posted by Tony Peacock, founder of 'Feral Thoughts'