Unnoticed by most Australians and ignored by politically correct environmental reporters, the disaster at Macquarie Island has gone past breaking point.

Whole slices of steep, once-green hillsides are avalanching down onto penguin and other bird rookeries pushing them into the sea. Macquarie Island has been turned into a tip by the biggest c+ckup in environmental management in Australia since the introduction of the cane toad.

Canberra has already been warned of the potential humiliation of having the fragile island’s World Heritage listing revoked because of the avoidable damage that will now take hundreds of years to correct, if, in fact, the island recovers at all.

The dispute is described as all about funding. Tasmania refuses to match $24 million by Canberra to fix the rabbit plague that has caused massive erosion. But the real story is one of congenital mismanagement, or in popular terms, the cat’s revenge.

The fools in charge of the island in Hobart joined Canberra to conduct a high-profile cat hunt in the late 90s that killed the 200 feral pests — but ignored the rabbits. Result. One hundred thousand rabbits. It has been described in hushed tones by concerned government scientists as one of the most gratuitously, stupid policy decisions ever made.
The feral cats and rabbits basically kept each other in check. Neither should be tolerated on the island, but eradication had to be simultaneous.Macquarie Island seems to attract intellectual dwarfs in environmental management. In 1978, myxomatosis was introduced to reduce rabbit numbers. Result. Cats started eating even more endangered or protected bird life.
Two decades later, there was a cat pogrom. Result. The rabbits that were thought to have been driven to the brink of extinction rooted their brains out. There are now so many of them that they have eaten away steep slopes held together by vegetation that takes decades to regrow. The once-green buttresses of the island have been turned into boulder chutes as rainfall measured in metres carves them into hideous vertical gashes discharging the soil and rocks out over former bird and seal colonies.
Perhaps the WWF is right in calling for Macquarie Island, a territory of Tasmania, to be annexed by Canberra. That way the screw-ups will take place in the national spotlight, not hidden from view in a state becoming notorious for invisible relationships between government and the timber industry.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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