Mission - HOME - Koalas ride the gale - St Bees Island - Trina's Spider - The July Team
The goats - Earthwatch volunteers - Seasons Greetings - Koala safe in Deborah's hands - Rumbalara Winery - How much can a researcher bear? -




A very special thank you to Denise for printing the newsletter each month and organising everything for Dawn and me to get the newsletters ready for posting.  Couldn't be done without you! Doreen 




Koalas ride the gale

This has been a busy field year for me and the volunteers with regard to koala research and – surprisingly this is the first time I have had the peace of mind to prepare a newsletter report. Even now I am writing this entry four days before setting out on a 15 day expedition to western central and north Queensland to get some sense of koala habitat at the edge of the species range in tropical Australia. Carmen, Shirley and Mary are traveling with me along with visitors John and Barbara. I’ll talk about that trip after I get back in mid-September.


St Bees Island

The wet season

There have been two Earthwatch supported field trips to St Bees Island this year – in May and July. The May trip is in autumn and just after our wet season. The wet season had been intense and about 1.5 metres of rain fell in February. It was fortunate that we had decided, in 2007, not to run wet season trips as any work would have been impossible.





Peter Berck has water running through his house. All the rainforest streams and gullies carried large volumes of water and the ground was saturated. In May we found many small land slips and fallen trees. Our field equipment was covered in mould. Despite the intense rain there was no indication of adverse impacts on the koalas. The island vegetation has responded to the rain and in May it was difficult to find koalas in the thickened foliage.
Trina and the spider. Orb-web spiders are particularly common    

This wet season is ecologically important being a decadal event. The flood flows scoured the valleys and carried large volumes of litter and debris to the bay and reorganising the beach dunes and tidal sand banks. There has been a widespread seedling response and we can expect to see a pulse of young trees, shrubs and vines growing into the rainforests and eucalypt forests over the next decade.


Despite that there is still no evidence of regeneration of the koala’s food species Eucalyptus tereticornis (Blue Gum) and Eucalyptus platyphylla (Poplar Gum).

July team from top left: Doreen, Justine, Trina, Rhonda*, Alistair, Geoff, John, Alex, Marita, Gayle. From bottom left: Bik, Angie, Caleb*, John*

*indicates a member of the National Parks Team



The goats

Queensland Parks and Wildlife (service) commenced managing the island goats last year after it became evident that the vegetation was being severely graded. Goat browsing was also considered as one possible factor limiting regeneration of the koala food tree species. About 2,500 goats have been removed so far. Despite that in the May and July trips we found small groups of goats wherever we went on the island. So it is possible that the remnant browsing pressure is still sufficient to suppress Eucalyptus regeneration. Goat control teams are continuing to visit the island with the intent of removing all goats eventually. There has been an exponential decline in goat numbers and the project is now in a long tail of low detection numbers for effort. It will be some years before goat eradication is achieved.


We can detect changes on the island, however. Firstly, the island is much quieter. The constant background bleating of nanny and kid is gone. It is no longer possible to glance at a hillside and see 40 or so goats. Also the degradation of the vegetation seems to have stopped.




May team from left: Veronique, Alistair, Paul, Vicky, Bill, Louann, Deborah, Jacque, Sean. The poles and flags are used to guide the koala down the tree for capture


Five Earthwatch volunteers (an all USA group) joined the team in May. We spent the time relocating the koalas last tracked in October last year, servicing the weather stations and data loggers and assisting Bill and Sean to catch koalas and recover GPS data loggers. The trip went well although the sand flies were frustrating in the evening.


The July trip was at capacity with 10 volunteers (five Australians, 5 from USA). The work focused on tracking the 13 radio collared koalas to follow their response to the severe weather experienced during this trip. The weather was cold and windy at times. At the end of the first week a three day gale blew across the island. We confined ourselves to the houses for a day and a half when flying branches, falling tree limbs and coconuts as well as buffeting wind gusts and heavy rain made field activity dangerous. By day the koalas' reaction to the adverse weather was not what we expected. As the gale and rain intensified the koalas moved to exposed trees and limbs – some leaving their usual habitat in sheltered rainforest communities. Once the rain and wind had passed and the sun reappeared they returned to their use of sheltered trees and gullies. Why would these animals place themselves at greatest exposure to the elements rather than retreating to the most sheltered aspects of their habitat available to them? In the last few days of the trip a team from National Parks and Wildlife arrived to monitor the vegetation recovery after goat removal.

Seasons Greetings to all of you and may 2009 be a very happy, safe and peaceful year.  Alistair

Deborah with a koala securely swaddled for measuring.






 “African Rhythm and Reds on Tap”

was a great way to spend 6 hours at Rumbalara Winery in the Stanthorpe Region. With four large wooden kegs of red wine and food all day, fresh chilled water so we didn’t dehydrate and a main meal after 6pm.  For sweets three Belgium chocolate fountains and as many strawberries as you could eat.  We can recommend Rumbalara as a fine winery and one to visit.  While there ask for a taste of Impy Cream (when you take the link, skroll to the bottom of the page to find Impy Cream) and you won't be able to leave without taking a bottle or two with you.


To do with our web site, I’d like some feedback from readers - their opinion on the opening page and subsequent layout.  I’ve tried the drop down menus and I don’t know if it is the way to go, so some feed back would be appreciated


Cheers Happy Christmas and Have a Safe New Year, Nick