Kangaroo Island North Coast Hope Spot Highlights Need for Greater Protection
September 10, 2020
KANGAROO ISLAND, SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA (AUGUST 10TH, 2020)
Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third-largest island, and one of immense biological significance. A plunge beneath Kangaroo Island’s crystalline waves reveals a bursting rainbow of life – lucky divers can spot animals like striped reef fish, radiant sea stars, enigmatic jellyfish, pods of 100 dolphins and several threatened and endangered species. However, not unlike many other marine ecosystems, it faces the threat of ever-growing human interference.
Kangaroo Island North Coast has been declared a Hope Spot by international marine conservation nonprofit Mission Blue in recognition of the Hope Spot Champions’ goals of increased marine protection for the island’s surrounding waters and the expansion of ecotourism and research tourism in the area. Mission Blue also recognizes the need to protect Kangaroo Island from a proposed timber port project. The Hope Spot is Championed by Tony and Phyll Bartram of Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch (KI/VH) and their partner the Australian Ocean Lab (AusOcean).
Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue, says, “Kangaroo Island in South Australia holds an immense diversity of life, with many species there that are endemic to the region, meaning they are found nowhere else on Earth. We are a part of nature, not apart from it, and thus protecting the marine and terrestrial environments means protecting ourselves as well. I applaud Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch and their partners for recognizing what is at stake and putting in the work to help safeguard this Hope Spot for the future.”
Tony Bartram, Dolphin Watch Coordinator of Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch and Hope Spot Champion says, “We seek, through research and data collection, to inform appropriate management practices and strategies and ensure they are employed. Kangaroo Island North Coast Hope Spot lies between two Marine Parks and therefore lacks targeted protection for the many highly endangered species who live there.”
The Honourable Leon Bignell, Member of the South Australian Parliament for Mawson, voices his support of the Hope Spot. “The North Coast of Kangaroo Island is a pristine part of the ocean which needs to be preserved.” He continues, “Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch is a fantastic organization that has successfully been unobtrusively monitoring dolphin populations since 2005. Their volunteers have been collecting vital baseline data on populations, movements and habitats off the coast of Kangaroo Island and Victor Harbor, raising awareness about the importance of protecting dolphins and their habitats.”
Cath Larkin, Marine Ecologist working with AusOcean defines the importance of KI’s North Coast perfectly in the following statement from a blog on the AusOcean website.
“The entire north coast of Kangaroo Island forms part of the wider Great Southern Reef (GSR) spanning the entire southern coastline of the Australian continent. The GSR is one of the most pristine and unique temperate reefs in the world and has been recognized as Mission Blue’s newest hope spot in recognition of the reefs exquisite, raw beauty and immensely rich biodiversity.
KI is unique in that it sits at the confluence of two oceanographic systems providing unique habitat that supports an abundance of marine species, many of which have high conservation value. From Leafy sea dragons to pods of 100 dolphins and large coral colonies that have existed for hundreds of years, KI has provided an important refuge for many vulnerable species whose numbers have declined significantly elsewhere.”
The Champions’ goals for the Hope Spot include scientific and research-focused endeavors along with restoration activities and calls for improved protection for the island. They are continuing acoustic monitoring of dolphin and whale movements with partner AusOcean and plan to collaborate with other scientific research entities to further research. The Champions have roadmaps laid out for supporting restoration initiatives and conservation efforts around the island, including seagrass planting and oyster reef restoration along the North Coast with researchers from Adelaide University.
Plans to develop a timber port at Smith Bay by Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers are threatening to impact on many species’ habitats, including the highly endangered Southern right whale, migratory dolphins, Kangaroo Island kangaroos, echidnas, and many other iconic animals.
“There is too much at stake”, says Phyll Bartram, Hope Spot Champion and Dolphin Watch Program Manager of Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch. “We need to think about the future of the island and both its terrestrial and marine ecosystems. This area is so precious; there are still so many unknown species here on the north coast.”
Kangaroo Island, as a part of the Great Southern Reef, has an approximate 85% endemic rate, which means that about 85% of the species in the area are found nowhere else on Earth. Very much living up to its name, the kangaroos on the island are called Kangaroo Island Kangaroos. There is estimated to be 65,000 of these fuzzy creatures, or 14 kangaroos for every one human resident. Unfortunately, it is estimated more than 40% of these marsupials perished in the devastating bushfires which burnt almost half of the island earlier this year, resulting in massive native habitat destruction and wildlife loss, and several endangered species severely affected.
“What we see on land mirrors what’s under the sea”, says Tony Bartram. He elaborates, “Kangaroo Island has a totally unique ecosystem and life, both on land and in the sea.” Among the animals that call Kangaroo Island home are elegant leafy sea dragons, the endangered Southern right whale and large coral colonies that have thrived for hundreds of years. Kangaroo Island has provided an important refuge for many vulnerable species whose numbers have declined significantly elsewhere.
Rebekha Sharkie, Member of the Australian House of Representatives, Division of Mayo in South Australia, says, “I hope that with the designation of Kangaroo Island as a Hope Spot, it can lead to protection to these temperate waters for marine research, ecotourism, research volunteer tourism, education and recreational pursuits.” She continues, “It would also help to garner international interest in the region and possibly deter environmentally damaging development, such as drilling in the Great Australian Bight.”
Dr. Cath Kemper, Curator of Mammals, South Australian Museum says, “Community organizations such as Kangaroo Island/Victor Harbor Dolphin Watch have played a pivotal role in the study of coastal dolphins because they have first-hand knowledge of the dolphins and are able to put a great deal of time into observing them. Community groups such as this are the ‘eyes and ears’ of scientists and it is important for their data to be accessible to the scientific community.”
The Hope Spot Champions hope to see an expansion of ecotourism and research tourism on the island to grow both the public’s awareness of the area’s beautiful biodiversity and to invite them to become active participants in its healthy future. “When you preserve the environment, it will pay you back”, explains Tony Bartram. “We must think about the future and act accordingly.”
Dive into the Kangaroo Island North Coast Hope Spot StoryMap here!
Dolphin Watch is an award-winning, data-rich, citizen-led volunteer project in partnership with Whale and Dolphin Conservation, monitoring dolphin populations in SA, on Kangaroo Island since 2005 and Victor Harbor since 2011.
Developing understandings of custodianship of these fascinating creatures and their habitats, dolphins are monitored unobtrusively, minimizing impacts and behavioral change, collecting vital baseline data to globally inform practice.
Scientists and dedicated volunteers of all ages collaborate on effective “Citizen Science” in surveys on Eco-Tourism vessels: Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures and The Big Duck Boat Tours, Victor Harbor, plus land-based monitoring, contributing a staggering number of hours over nearly 16 years. Images and video footage are collected, identifying individual dolphins by distinctive dorsal fins and body markings. Vital data is recorded on movements and habitats, creating a sustainable, longitudinal study of extraordinary international significance.
The Australian Ocean Lab (AusOcean), is an environmental not-for-profit organisation with a difference. AusOcean’s mission is to help the oceans through the use of technology, with a goal to transform the way in which ocean data is collected and communicated.
“Healthy oceans are vital to our future. Oceans harbour beautiful wildlife, provide a bounty of food, regulate the global climate, and provide many other benefits, such as transportation and recreation. Yet, considering the fact that they cover 71% of our planet’s surface, our knowledge of the oceans and marine ecosystems is still surprisingly sparse. We need to change this.
We partner with other NPOs working in the area of marine conservation and develop and apply technology for solving ocean science and conservation challenges. Current projects are focused on solving technical problems relating to marine habitat monitoring and habitat restoration, currently with a geographical focus on southern Australia.”