It was on the WOW cruise (see Walpole pages) that I learnt about the most devastating import ever to reach Australia. Something beyond rabbits, foxes, feral cats and goats combined; worse even than global warming.
I was appalled, not only at the scale of destruction it was wreaking but at my lack of knowledge.
Here was something that not only can, but is, changing the face of Australia forever. Yet it’s something you can’t even see though its effects are visible everywhere.
Global warming pales into insignificance beside this pest. On a map of W.A., if you go inland 100 kms from Perth and draw a line south, more than half the area to the west is infected.
Famous places like Cape le Grand National Park have been flattened by its impact.
Of 5,700 plant species, 2,300 are at risk and, with them, the fauna that relies on them.
Behind the beach at Lucky Bay there’s a road where you look down to the sands and the ocean beyond. Years ago, you might get a glimpse here and there. Now it’s totally clear just about the whole length of the bay and much of the fauna has disappeared. (pics 2-4) The cause? Phytophthora Cinnamoni, what you might know as dieback. It was Phytophthora Infestans that caused the famous Irish potato famine and it’s a genus of water mould.
The main cause of its spread is humans through soil movement, though animals also play a part. Phytophthora literally means “plant destroyer”; an apt name if ever there was one. In W.A. it’s known as the biological bulldozer; which reminds me; Bell Mining once took a bulldozer illegally into Fitzgerald National Park, a biodiversity area so rare it’s World Heritage Listed.
Guess what was on the bulldozer that hadn’t been pre-cleaned? After the infection was discovered at the site, a massive roo proof fence has been erected around the entire affected area in the hope of containment.
Our host on the WOW tour, the manic Gary Muir, pulled out map after map liberally plastered with orange that indicated where known outbreaks were.
Frankly, the whole story left me saddened, frustrated and remorseful; the latter because I once went off a trail to unwittingly photograph some of the ravages of this mould and probably helped to spread it.
Banksia and grass trees (pics 1 & 5) are particularly susceptible and that is what I now know I saw at Lucky Bay.
I, and hopefully others, will be more careful in future.