Twenty days of sun and sand: conserving bird habitat in remote southwest Tasmania
Updated: Feb 28
By Emille Boulot
This January, in the peak of the antipodean summer, I, along with three others, were helicoptered into the remote south west conservation area of lutrawita (Tasmania), the traditional lands of the muwinina people, to look for sea spurge, Euphorbia paralias, a coastal weed that has colonised much of coastal Australia. Sea spurge can displace native species and take over areas of breeding habitat of shore birds including Sooty Oyster Catchers, Pied Oyster Catchers and Hooded Plovers. So, we were off to search and destroy. After a few food drops deposited high in trees to ensure that Tasmanian Devils did not devour our dehydrated dahl and pasta, we were left on an outcrop, forded a river and set off to begin a 20-day trek along the wild and woolly west coast of Tasmania.
Sea Spurge Remote Area Teams (SPRATS) was formed in early 2007 to implement a part of the Tasmanian Beach Weeds Strategy. SPRATS has been undertaking remote area weeding missions to establish and maintain an eradication zone for sea spurge and marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) along the southwest and southern wilderness coastline of Tasmania, some 600 kilometres of very isolated coastline.
SPRATS missions have been quite the resounding success with more than 14 million sea spurge plants removed over 15 years, resulting in over 99% reduction in sea spurge. Detailed, geo-referenced data on all weeds removed along with targeted research into the most effective treatment method assist SPRATS’ effectiveness and planning for future missions as well as teams on the ground.
The success of the SPRATS is multi-faceted and more complex than simply good information management. Talking to my team member and SPRATS co-founder, Geoff Lubscombe, it becomes obvious that SPRATS’ success is due to a myriad of factors. First, many of the core SPRATS team has been involved and engaged in the organisation since the very beginning. There is very good succession management and strong inter and intra organisational management. SPRATS has also been very committed to long-term ongoing management, monitoring and adjustment in response to monitoring. In my own research, I have found that this long-term social and ecological approach is vital to the successful recovery of socio-ecological systems. Such systems can take decades if not centuries to recover and ongoing management, leadership, effective succession planning as well as strong networked institutional and community support is essential.
Our trip this year saw us head down this remote stretch of coastline pulling sea spurge and marram grass from the dunes and rocky beaches, and keeping a tally of the shore birds that we saw. Despite it being a designated “wilderness” landscape, the south west region of lutrawita (Tasmania) is very much a cultural landscape and has been recognised as both a wilderness and cultural world heritage site. It is a country shaped by the traditional custodians of the land, the Muwinina people, and we saw many examples of their legacy in the region including middens, hut sites and stone carvings. It was a privilege to be able to observe the very interconnected relationship of landscape and traditional custodianship and to spend time in a very remote area.
We also spent much time snorkelling and diving for crayfish and abalone, basking in plunge pools, fording rivers, battling through very thick scrub (occasionally crawling in order to follow wombat tracks) and avoiding snakes and march flies. Highlights include the many glorious sunsets, observing the sea life and passing by a large fur seal colony. 11/10, would do again.