Home - About us - Research - Fundraising - News - Gallery
Dr Alistair Melzer - St Bees 2000

St Bees 2000. Well what a trip! I really don't know how to sum up our third trip to the island.

From a scientific perspective the trip was a success. The team caught, radio collared and tracked 20 koalas. Fifteen of these were tracked intensely for studies on the tree selection and ranging behaviour of St Bees koalas. Five of these koalas along with a further five were injected with metabolic markers that allow Bill Ellis (Uni of Qld) to estimate water use by the koalas. From this trial work Bill will be able to design a more effective examination of koala metabolic rate and water turnover. This experiment will be carried out during the next trip in July 2001. With this information and knowledge of the productivity of the eucalypts on the island we will work out a carrying capacity for the island.

The tree use information will allow us to work out what trees the koalas prefer. This will refine the carrying capacity model. This model will then be able to be applied elsewhere to determine how suitable a forest is for koalas and how many we would expect the forest to support.

Only a few of the 30 or so koalas caught had tags from last year. This tells us two things. Firstly, the koalas on the island appear to move widely. Indeed one female koala moved steadily across the island during the month we were there. Secondly, from the proportion of previously tagged animals to the number of animals caught this trip we can crudely estimate the island koala population to be between 200 and 300 koalas.

As with previous years the koalas exhibited almost no tooth wear irrespective of size. This year evidence was found of some abnormality in the structure of the jaw in a few individuals. This needs further study.

The use of rainforest trees and rainforests as day roosts was common. Indeed some koalas spent almost every day in dense rainforest canopies. This raises questions about koala researchers using day use trees as a guide for diet and habitat suitability. We'll persue this next year with some night surveys of koalas as well as the day surveys.

Bill Ellis and Leigh Slater from UQ and Gail and I had some brainstorming sessions and have come up with good questions on koala conservation biology and habitat reconstruction that the St Bees Island koala study may answer. I'll outline those in a later newsletter. In the meantime I'll be travelling to Melbourne and Adelaide to meet with Bill and Frank Carrick (Melbourne) the Victorian Department of Environment and the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage to seek their involvement in the St Bees koala study.

I think that the trip was an even greater success from a team perspective. We survived a month together under trying conditions - my snoring I believe! The volunteers maintained a great sense of humour and FUN (see Gail, Sherie and Leigh for more details) during long work hours over steep country and with difficult koalas. The organization of the trip was excellent. Thanks to Gail, Sherie and all the others who made it work. Kev came into his own in many minor and one or two very serious ways. His expertise and organization and the support of the QAS was wonderful. Thanks Kev - especially for the largest finger bandage in koala research history. Sherie's cooking and household organization was a delight to see and taste and an entertainment to watch - especially when expertly aided by Leigh and Gail. Everyone else worked well in the field and at home. Kev commented on what a good team of volunteers were on the island. He was right. Kim and Shelly came for a holiday from Biloela and joyfully jumped into the koala work. Thanks for a fine effort and a valuable contribution to our study. Harry escaped from Kingaroy for a few weeks of serious holiday from business. He certainly showed little signs of thinking about work. Between ballads, koala catching, whale watching, playing games and camp fires well…. We would welcome you all back at any time.

We were disappointed that Liz Huff and the "Sarina team" could not make it. Hope you can pay us a visit next year. Barries absence was particularly noted upon. He was missed in the field and also around the campfire (What did he do to get remembered so well?).

The details of island activities will appear elsewhere in the newsletter and be more colourfully recalled around future campfires and social gatherings for a while to come.

This trip was not without events that brought some emotional lows to counter the highs of the catch and the campfire. One of our party had to leave to attend the funeral of a close relative. After only a few days on the island Ken Sinclair suffered a stroke and had to be evacuated from the island by helicopter. We all wish him well for his future recovery. Kev Rapley, Mary McCabe and Ros Beasley did an excellent job of looking after Ken, keeping him comfortable and reassuring him while we waited for the helicopter to arrive. Kev we are most grateful for the care and attention you gave Ken and Ros. The emergency response procedures that Kev prepared in cooperation with the QAS worked well. For most of us it was our first experience of the valuable service provided by the rescue helicopters. We agreed informally that the CQ Koala Volunteers should provide a donation to the Mackay rescue helicopter in recognition of that service and in thanks for aiding us (it will be on the agenda for the next meeting). Imagine then our feelings when we heard the news about the crash of the Rockhampton rescue helicopter - and the crew were close associates of one of our team!

The few other scratches, bumps, bruises (bits of Gail, Sherie and Leigh were a work of art - apparently - some hand crafted!) and bites (Bill's finger) were hardly noted in comparison.

Despite all this the trip worked well and held together. A few other notable things follow. Peter Berke had the hot water working and we did use it a bit. The septic did not block once but did maintain its usual odour. Peter and his mates Glen and John (the boys) treated us to a night of good food (goat and seafood curry) and good music. A long day was had by some the next day. They were good hosts throughout the trip and helped us out with trips to Keswick Island and some boat trips to good fishing spots as well as on the great hunt for koala "F' who in the end was best sought by boat. A thanks guys for all the assistance and see you next year not sure about the cherry ripes however.

There is much more that can be said and will appear in later newsletters - the wonderful sunsets, antics of stingrays and sharks, theories on rainforests overtaking koala habitat and the need for fire as well as the future of the island itself.

I'll remember this trip a while. Thanks again to everyone.