By Shane Bousen
Last weekend I had the pleasure of spending some times at the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, thanks to an invitation from head ranger Barry Lyons.
I had not been to the Reserve before, though obviously I had heard a lot about the property and was keen to visit and see what was there.
I headed north to Stones Crossing, where the drive itself was interesting and fun.
My mate Glen Peisley from Napranum had volunteered to be the driver.
We charged through the crossing hitting the hole in the middle square on, of course.
On the other side of the crossing we waited for Barry to come and guide us into the Reserve and his camp site, where we were met by a great bunch of blokes who had come from all over Australia to conduct research into the varieties of fresh water fish found on the Reserve.
After introductions and a quick cuppa, we loaded into three vehicles and set off for Blue Bottle Springs.
Blue Bottle Springs, I was informed by Barry, was found by studying topographic maps of the area. The Springs were identified as rainforest on the map; this required further investigation, informed Barry.
"So we came to investigate as part of our conservation work and we found this incredible spot."
We began leaving set traps in the woodland area above the springs to see what mammals and reptiles could be found, then worked our way through and around the spring system to find what freshwater fish were there, all the while looking at the incredibly beautiful flora of the immediate area.
The researchers were from the Australia and New Guinea Fishing Association (ANGFA) and specialise in the species of fish which are found in this part of the world. These land masses were once one and there are many similarities between both countries and their fish.
The researchers study the collection, breeding and conservation of fish and I could tell you from their enthusiasm that they really enjoy their work and take a great deal of pride in what they do.
The guys also study the water conditions of the plants and fish and monitor them over time for any changes and then try and find out why and what its impact will be.
They also work with most state museums across the country to provide samples.
In between laying the traps and catching freshwater fish, we were shown seven different species of rare or endangered plants within ten yards, four of which had not been recorded on the Western Cape before!
One of the researchers, trying not to damage any of the plants, was heard to say: "it is like walking on glass trying to be so careful."
That afternoon we went to Gibsons' Billabong for a look and to flick a lure to see what other freshwater fish could be found there.
We were secretly hoping, of course, for the metre-plus barra on the bottom.
We had just enough time to get back and load up for a trip to Saw Fish Landing, where we were to conduct a night survey of nocturnal animals focussing on aquatic animals.
On the way the guys showed me where they had found an 18 foot scrub python skin the day before. Aware that snakes of this can drop from trees, I felt more comfortable walking in the Wenlock River looking for fish than sitting on the bank waiting for that monster to turn up.
I should mention that there are also 20 listening stations in the Wenlock for 15 saltwater crocodiles with tracking devices attached (part of a research program with Dr Craig Franklin from the University of Queensland).
Anyway, it was a good chance to cool off while everybody was looking for wildlife, which was everywhere.
Some of the fish found that night included saw fish, which are very rare, sole fish and, of course, another snake, the file snake. Currently there are six file snakes with acoustic tracking devices on them as part of another research program being conducted on the Reserve.
Later that evening, on the way back, Glen managed to spot a death adder of the road and he quickly placed it in a container to take back to the camp, where Barry and Josh (Barry's son, who also works for Australia Zoo, to help conduct surveys on reptiles, amphibians and mammals) informed us that they had been trying for 12 months to find one.
Surprisingly, some people think they don't exist around here. I can confirm that they definitely do!
We had time for a quick meal and then we camped under the stars to rise to the sound of hundreds of birds as the sun rose (no need for an alarm clock here).
We had a quick cuppa and then it was back to Blue Bottle Springs to inspect the traps from the day before.
Some species had been brought back to the camp for further observation.
It was about then that we said goodbye to everybody and headed back to Weipa.
The fish researchers at the time we left had identified 41 species of freshwater fish of the 45 that had been previously recorded. However, some species had not been recorded before either.
It was a truly eye-opening experience to see how this research is conducted and it was a pleasure to be with Barry, Josh and the fish guys (as I call them) while they conducted their work.
I appreciated their efforts to accommodate this Desk Jockey (as they called me), while they conducted their very important work and research.
Barry said he was also looking forward to maybe having students from Western Cape College out to the Reserve to conduct field studies and surveys possibly at a later date.
The Bully has been invited back later this year to conduct a crocodile survey on the Wenlock River and a botanist is also coming up in December.
Irwin's widow fights company over plans for wildlife reserve
A Key crocodile research area dedicated to the memory of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin is under threat from strip-mining.
The 135,000ha Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve on Queensland Cape York Peninsula was one of the last places visited by Irwin for his annual crocodile tagging expedition only weeks before he was fatally wounded by a stingray barb in September 2006.
It was bought for $6.3 million last year by the Federal Government to be owned and managed by the Irwin family trust. However, mining company Cape Alumina has lodged mining lease applications targeting more than 50 million tonnes of bauxite within 12,300ha of the reserve.
Terri Irwin, Australia Zoo principal and widow of the wildlife icon, said the reserve’s ecological value was irreplaceable and needed to be preserved in order to protect Australian habitat.
Ms Irwin said it was home to three important spring-fed wetlands that provided a critical water source to threatened, a permanent flow of water to the Wenlock river, and were home to rare and vulnerable plants and wildlife.
The proposed area for mining on the reserve contained the headwaters of irreplaceable waterways and unique bio-diversity which would not recover after mining was finished, she said.
The Wenlock River also supported a critical population of endangered spear-tooth sharks, sawfish, and the now-vulnerable estuarine crocodile.
"I am a realist and I understand that mining is an important industry," she said.
"However, we have learned over the past 50 years of bauxite mining that it is critical to set aside the most environmentally sensitive areas such as Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and not consider mining them.
“Responsible mining companies are already doing this as part of developing carbon credit programs,"
Cape Alumina chief executive officer Paul Messenger said yesterday that he agreed areas of sensitivity needed to be preserved and there were no plans to mine any wetland, only dry bauxite, plateaus covered by common vegetation which would be consistently rehabilitated.
He said his company had started a full environment impact study of the area last year, which would not be completed until next year, taking half of former Bertiehaugh Pastoral Station within the reserve area, plus and adjoining section of Aboriginal land.
Mr Messenger said the company would be conducting extensive consultation and held the view that the project could benefit all stakeholders, especially the Aboriginal community.
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