Every summer, our garden pond is alive with the antics of pond-skaters. With tiny bodies and legs so long they could advertise stockings pond-skaters walk on water, suspended by its surface tension. They live their lives on the pool’s silver skin, come rain or shine, blind to the world below.
Underwater it’s a life and death struggle. Golden Rudd squabble for the right to mate, and their eggs and fry become snacks for brethren who are not above a bit of opportunistic cannibalism. Adult newts feast on young tadpoles, leeches lurk in the weeds waiting to suck the life-blood from unwary goldfish, and dragonfly larvae patrol the depths like U-boats, watching, waiting, the ultimate aquatic mini-beast carnivores. And yet the pond-skaters go about their business, oblivious to the drama unfolding daily beneath their feet.
Tourists are like pond-skaters. They spend their time on the surface of the places they visit, guide books in hand, cameras at the ready, taking it all at face value, never looking into the shadows or hidden places, not asking too many questions. Is it naivety, or are they complicit, deliberately not enquiring too deeply because they know that if they do they won’t like the answers?
The Hunter, the movie I wrote about in my last post, lifts the lid on one on the tensions lurking just beneath the surface in Tasmania. It vividly portrays the enmity between the environmentalists, who would protect the island’s forests and the loggers, who make a living out of chopping them down.
Tasmania is justly proud of its natural heritage. The Discover Tasmania website boasts that the island’s “national parks cover a diversity of unspoiled habitats and ecosystems with plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. Around forty per cent of Tasmania is protected in national parks and reserves. Most of them are stunningly beautiful.” And yet much of Tasmania’s virgin rainforest is potentially at the mercy of loggers.
The Australian Wilderness Society says on its website “logging and mining are decimating Tassie’s spectacular forests every day. We’ve lost too much ancient forest already. … Continuing down this path will only damage more irreplaceable forests and fail more local communities.”
PHOTO CREDIT: By TTaylor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It would be hypocritical of me, someone who is wealthy enough to travel to the other side of the world to pursue his passion for nature, to condemn out-of-hand people who have far less money and many fewer opportunities than I have enjoyed. But I passionately believe a way forward can be found that protects the wild places and their eco-systems as well as local people.
The Wilderness Society says that its “vision for real forest protection means that regional communities can protect their backyards, grow tourism and recreation jobs and have a timber industry of which the whole community can be proud.” I don’t know the full details, but in principle the Society seems, to me, to be on the right track. As conservationists we are not going to win many arguments by preaching, by promoting environmental protection as a moral imperative or a simply as a “good thing.” But if the environment can deliver the tourist dollar then maybe, just maybe, we can save it. This is a compromise, it’s less than ideal but almost certainly the best we can hope for.
Taking the longer term, pragmatic view, eco-tourism is last best chance for the wild places of Tassie and beyond. Let’s make it work.