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Potential havens free from the threat of the Cane Toad invasion

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Kingsley Miller, from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and the West Kimberley’s District Wildlife Officer, explains why surveys of The Kimberley’s offshore islands are an important strategy in the defence of native animals to threats from cane toads.     
One part of Kingsley’s job is to survey the offshore islands to see how well placed they are to receive animals that become threatened by any cane toad incursions. The surveys are done in both dry and wet seasons and include mammal and reptile surveys along with bird life and flora. Having been overlooked in the past the islands are proving to be a haven for species that are in short supply on the mainland. The flora is remarkably different since it is not affected by fire and, unlike the mainland, support forests of native oak which is very susceptible to fire.

Below: The colours green, blue, yellow and red on the fire history map below show the areas of the West Kimberley burnt in bushfires for the years 2006, 07, 08 and 09. While virtually all of the mainland was burnt during these few years, the islands have rarely been involved.  Many of the islands have in fact not experience fire for 20 or more years. Fire history map from Ed Hatherley, DEC.    

There are hundreds of islands, many as big as a thousand acres and mostly uninhabited. They are home to various flora and fauna including taipans which are increasingly rare on the mainland. There must have been some sort of land bridge to the mainland but, having disappeared, some species such as the King brown snakes are completely different. Others, like the Rough scale python have done so well their populations have grown from relatively unknown to secure.

The islands have significant Aboriginal art and burial sites.
One animal on the mainland, the Northern quoll, which has already been affected by the cane toad in the Northern Territory, is high on the list for translocation to the islands as there are populations already there.
Other candidates include the Gold and black tree rat and the Golden bandicoot, which also exist on the islands. The surveys, funded by the state government, have been in place for four years.

Above right and below: The Maret Islands are nesting sites for many hundreds of turtles. Here a Flat Backed Turtle is digging her nest, unusually during the daytime. Photos from Russell Gueho.     
The DEC office in Broome is responsible for the logistics of the surveys, organising boats, flights, materials, food and accommodation for the research scientists who do the surveys. Tourists can get to some of the islands by charter boats from Broome, Wyndham or Darwin, these trips beginning around April and usually lasting for 10 to 15 days. However this provide only a taste of the diverse ecological and historic significance of the islands.

There are many islands in Camden Sound which is soon to be made a nature reserve because of its significance as a whale nursery. In their own right the islands are indeed treasures.

Text: V.B. July 2010

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