Queensland’s Fraser Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992 —  eight years before Sarawak ‘s Gunung Mulu National Park.  The fight to have Fraser Island World Heritage listed though started in 1974 and was a major public debate for almost two decades prior to its recognition.  It is therefore surprising that once it was listed the Queensland Government has allowed it to become so degraded that some people are now arguing that it needs to be placed on the World Heritage in Danger List.

It isn’t that Fraser Island lacks the values that warranted its World Heritage listing in the first place.  It is just that the management values for Fraser Island are pre-occupied with recreation Management to the neglect of the protection of its World Heritage values.

Photos tell the story

  • On Fraser Island 4WD recreational vehicles rule all policy decisions even though environmental studies have conclusively shown the impact of the 4WDs in compacting sand in the substrate and thus accelerating water erosion.  The mobilization of sand as a result of this means that over a three year period more than a million tones of sand has been mobilized and sluiced down the slopes.  That means over a tonne of sand it relocated for every visitor to Fraser Island!
  • Some roads are now scoured down to a depth of 4 metres and they continue this on-going down-cutting every time it rains.  As little as 5mm of rain is more than enough to start mobilizing surface sand on roads.  Some of the sand is deposited lower down the slopes; other sand is being sluiced into the iconic perched dune lakes.
  • Some of the sand is deposited so that picnic tables begin to get buried and other picnic spots are being scoured out demonstrating the fragility and mobility of any disturbed soil surface on Fraser Island.
  • In 1963 Indian Head had a lawn of thick grass extending right to its summit.  Since then the unprotected surface soil has been disturbed but hundreds of thousands of feet.  This has been eroded and washed away by rain exposing an ever expanding area of bare rock. There are no plans to repair the damage or rectify this problem in the foreseeable future.
  • A disproportionate amount of the budget is spent on recreational facilities, visitor safety and management, waste management.  Road widening and upgrading has become an obsession. This focus has led to the neglect of research and the natural resource management, — environmental monitoring of wildlife and ecosystems, fire management, weed control, and quarantine.

The preoccupation with recreation management on Fraser Island is encouraging more and more visitors to visit Fraser Island in unsustainable ways.  Recreation is degrading Fraser Island’s World Heritage values including its iconic lakes.  Recreation management is at the expense of managing the island’s natural resources.  These suffer from lack of adequate monitoring.  No monitoring of the water quality in the lakes was done for a decade while road run-off continues to pour into the lakes impacting on water quality.

Fraser Island has less than one kilometre of boardwalks.  Queensland government policy prevents any feasibility into developing an environmentally more sustainable light rail people mover there.  Yet Mulu National Park in Malaysia, with exactly a tenth of the visitor number of Fraser Island puts Fraser Island management to shame.

How can Malaysia manage Mulu National Park so well for 35,000 visitors annually while Queensland fails to properly manage Fraser Island — an asset that attracts ten times the number of visitor?  Why does Queensland that fail to do enough to stop the degradation on Fraser Island while reaping the financial rewards and kudos for its World Heritage status?

About the Author

John Sinclair, one of Australia’s leading nature conservationists, has lead the fight to save Fraser Island since 1971 when he founded the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation.

In 1993 he was the recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize (Island Nations). In 1990 he received the United Nations Environment Program’s Global 500.

Photos of Fraser Island Management

Inspect Lake McKenzie Picnic Area

Inspect Lake McKenzie Picnic Area
 

Indian Head circa 1974

Indian Head circa 1974
 

Indian Head Degradation

Indian Head Degradation
 

Indian Head Degradation

Indian Head Degradation
 

 

Lake McKenzie Road after 5mm rain 19-April-2008

Lake McKenzie Road after 5mm rain 19-April-2008
 

Runoff draining to Lake Allom

Runoff Draining to Lake Allom
 

Road to Lake McKenzie

Road to Lake McKenzie
 

Road Widening 27-April-2004

Road Widening 27-April-2004
 

Roadwork 27-April-2004

Roadwork 27-April-2004
 

Fraser Island Pedestrian Down Cutting

Fraser Island Pedestrian Down Cutting
 

Location

Gunung Mulu National Park Sarawak

Malaysia

Gunung Mulu Gunung National Park in Sarawak, Malaysia is a stunning World Heritage site inscribed for both the enormity and magnificence of its limestone caves and for its enormous biodiversity.  At 52,865 hectares Mulu is about a third the size of Fraser Island yet it has tremendous biodiversity.  It has daunting biodiversity of both plants andanimals.  It list 3,500  vascular plants alone.  That is at least five times as many plant species as found on Fraser Island). I was surprised to see Angiopteris evecta growing right outside the HQ offices. The stunning and enormous limestone caves (Deer Cave has a roof 300 metres above the floor and you could fly a 747 into it) hold an inestimable number of bats (several million).

However it wasn’t the World Heritage values that made such an impression on me but the superb and sustainable management that the Malaysian authorities have established there.

  • There we no cars allowed in Mulu.  People have to walk although they can take a longboat ride on a river to visit some sites up-river.  The only motor vehicles I saw in the park were small motorcycles for staff to take their children to school.
  • The walkways are wide and substantial. I estimate that this Borneo park must have had at least 5 or 6 kms of boardwalk or proper paths that I walked on to get to the great World Heritage caves.  In fact we didn’t walk anywhere in Mulu that wasn’t on a substantial boardwalk or concrete path.
  • We stayed in accommodation provided by the Park.  We did three tours — Two cave tours and the 500 metre long tree tops walk.  All required a guide accredited by the park.  All were local indigenous Penans and they we very good
  • Although the park currently is reported to  attract only 35,000 visitors annually. That accords with what we saw, about 100 per day with most visitors spending 2-3 days there as we did.  Yet this developing country, Malaysia, has installed an infrastructure that shames the paltry or non-existent Queensland efforts to protect the integrity of Fraser Island.

Having visited more than 50 World Heritage sites I was most impressed to observe just how this country was able to manage and present a great National Park so sustainably and in a way that makes the management of Fraser Island, the World Heritage site I am most familiar with shameful.  A comparison of the photos of the two sites shows just what a contrast there is and yet the Queensland Government refuses to explore the options for people movers and has failed to develop adequate boardwalks on Fraser Island that would make visitation more sustainable.

How can Malaysia do so much so well for 35,000 visitors annually and Queensland that reaps the financial rewards and kudos for 350,000 visitors to Fraser Island fail to do enough to stop the degradation there? Worse, why are the Queensland and Australian Governments so indifferent to the degradation occurring on Fraser Island?

Photos from Gunung National Park

Mulu Boardwalks

Mulu Boardwalks

Mulu World Heritage Values

Mulu World Heritage Values

Mulu Park Head Quarters

Mulu Park Head Quarters

Mulu Park Tracks between Caves

Mulu Park Tracks between Caves

Mulu Park Discovery Centre

Mulu Park Discovery Centre

Mulu Park Deer Cave

Mulu Park Deer Cave

Mulu Park Tree Top Walk

Mulu Park Tree Top Walk