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Living in Tasmania stories

Science derails Tarkine alarmism

Edition 150 Nick Mooney image from ABC

One of Tasmania’s most respected wildlife biologists, Nick Mooney, has debunked claims by environmental activists that two new mines are endangering the Tasmanian devil population in the Tarkine.

Mr Mooney, who worked in wildlife protection for the Government for 35 years, has recently completed studies for Shree Minerals and Venture Minerals on the potential impact of their iron-ore operations on the endangered species.

“The local population [of devils] will not be substantially reduced nor destroyed nor its viability challenged,” he told a Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal hearing into the impact of the new open-cut mines.

“It follows that neither the regional nor total populations will be significantly affected.”

Even more tellingly, following media disinterest in his evidence to the tribunal, Mr Mooney opted to take his case to the public through an article and a separate interview in The Mercury newspaper.

He said claims that the two new iron ore mines were a death knell for the devils were unsubstantiated and over-stated.

He told the newspaper that resource-access decisions should not be based on false claims, exaggerations and poor science.

Mr Mooney studied devil activity at Venture Minerals’ Riley Creek site and at Shree Minerals’ Nelson Bay River location.

Both companies were eventually successful in legal action initiated by Save the Tarkine.

Ironically, tumbling international iron ore prices are now impacting on planning at both mines.

Venture’s legal battle was still underway when Mr Mooney wrote: “Wild claims, dutifully reported by the press, were made by opponents that these mines, supposedly in the last disease-free population, could be the final straw for the devils.

“Data clearly showed neither mine was in key devil population areas, there are many more disease-free devils elsewhere and Riley Creek was actually on the edge of, if not within, the diseased area.”

Mr Mooney praised management at the two sites and said neither side of the debate should be afraid of quality data after he used movement-sensitive cameras, scat counts and trapping to show very low devil numbers.

Mr Mooney warned: “An irreconcilable ideological confrontation will defeat [the devils’ cause].”

Former Brand Tasmania Deputy Chair, Kim Seagram, also has appealed publicly for co-existence between miners and environmental activists in the Tarkine.

In an article about Tasmania’s future for The Examiner late last year, the environmentally sensitive Ms Seagram wrote: “Being able to bring peace to the Tarkine and show the rest of the world how we can have forestry, mining, tourism and conservation living in harmony, providing a future for the regional community while preserving such a special place to share with the rest of the planet, would be a great coup.”

The Tarkine is a word coined by environmentalists to describe an area very loosely associated with the pre-colonial tarkinner clan.

The word simplifies slogan-writing. It would be much more difficult to persuade urban Australians to fund a campaign to save the previously mined, logged and otherwise disturbed forests of, say, “the north-west Tasmanian hinterland”.

Mr Mooney is not the first visitor to be strongly influenced by the contrast between Tarkine realities and polemics.

Australia’s previous Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, changed his mind about a total mining ban quite abruptly after visiting the area and seeing its disused diggings, rusting mine machinery and over-grown roads and tramways.

“There has never been an issue in my time as Environment Minister where my views have changed so fundamentally after a site visit,” Mr Burke said. “I was expecting to see a pristine area pretty much covered in rainforest.”

The reality was quite different to promoted images, Mr Burke said.

Even one hard-bitten news reporter from the The Mercury changed her opinions after leaving Hobart to view the area.

Former Greens leader Nick McKim was the first respondent to Mr Mooney’s media initiative, asserting in an interview that the Greens had not opposed the mines themselves, but the increased road traffic that was likely to result in increased devil fatalities.

Mr Mooney responded with a letter to the editor, that included: “Permit conditions only allow daytime mine traffic, including pooled staff movements and ore cartage, negating serious road kill risk to devils. Indeed, in several months of operation, no devil road kills have been attributable to mine traffic.”

He also pointed out that all roads being used had existed before the mines were established.

The environmental movement, including Save the Tarkine, will find Mr Mooney a difficult opponent to discredit.

Not only is he a reputable environmentalist and wildlife biologist, his field work has given him as good an understanding of devils in the wild as anybody has in Tasmania.

And he clearly cares about the endangered carnivores.

He told the ABC in 2009 during an interview to mark his retirement from the Wildlife Management Branch of the Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment: “I have a deep suspicion that goes beyond hope that devils have an evolutionary ability to cope with shrinking down to small sizes in their population and expanding again. I hope that’s the case.

“The history would say it is the case. Their physique, their ecology, their behaviour would say that is the case.”

He wrote more recently that the non-territorial nature of Tasmanian devils means displaced animals can survive a disruption, like a mining project, especially if there are sufficient potential dens and lay-ups near the disturbed area.

Lack of strong territoriality also means devils can move more freely across habitats than many other carnivores.

So Mr Mooney has now put forward a choice between compromise and confrontation that will be important in shaping future attitudes towards the Save the Tasmanian Devil campaign, as well as towards the Tarkine.

Image courtesy of the ABC

10 June 2014, Edition 150

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Facts about Tasmania


Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia, located at latitude 40° south and longitude 144° east and separated from the continent by Bass Strait. It is a group of 334 islands, with the main island being 315 km (180 miles) from west to east and 286 km (175 miles) north to south.


Tasmanians are resourceful and innovative people, committed to a continually expanding export sector. In 2012–13, international exports from the state totalled $3.04 billion. USA, China, Taiwan, India, Japan and other Asian countries account for the bulk of exports, with goods and services also exported to Europe and many other regions.


Tasmania is similar in size to the Republic of Ireland or Sri Lanka. The Tasmanian islands have a combined coastline of more than 3,000 km.


The main island has a land area of 62,409 sq km (24,096 sq miles) and the minor islands, taken together, total only 6 per cent of the main island’s land area. The biggest islands are Flinders (1,374 sq km/539 sq miles), King, Cape Barren, Bruny and Macquarie Islands.


About 250km (150 miles) separates Tasmania’s main island from continental Australia. The Kent Group of Islands, one of the most northerly parts of the state, is only 55km (34 miles) from the coast of the Australian continent.


Twice named ‘Best Temperate Island in the World’ by international travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, Tasmania has a mild, temperate maritime climate, with four distinct seasons.


In summer (December to February) the average maximum temperature is 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit). In winter (June to August) the average maximum is 12° C (52° F) and the average minimum is 4° C (40° F). Snow often falls in the highlands, but is rarely experienced in more settled areas.

Annual Rainfall

Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part of the State lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

Annual Rainfall

Annual rainfall in the west is 2,400 mm (95 inches), but hardy locals insist there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. If you travel 120 km east to Hobart, you experience a much drier average of 626 mm (24 inches) a year.


The 512,875-strong community spreads itself across the land; less urbanised than the population of any other Australian state. Hobart, the capital city, is home to more than 212,000 people.

Capital City

Hobart nestles at the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington (1,270 m / 4,000 ft) and overlooks the Derwent Estuary, where pods of dolphins and migrating whales are sometimes seen from nearby beaches. Surrounded by thickly forested rolling hills, the city is home to the state parliament and the main campus of the University of Tasmania.

Capital City

Its historic centre features Georgian and Regency buildings from colonial times. Hobart is home port for coastal fishing boats, Antarctic expeditions and vessels that fish the Southern Ocean.

Land Formation

Mountain ranges in the south-west date back 1,000 million years. Ancient sediments were deeply buried, folded and heated under enormous pressure to form schists and glistening white quartzites.

Land Formation

In the south-west and central highlands, dolerite caps many mountains, including Precipitous Bluff and Tasmania’s highest peak, Mt Ossa (1617 m / 5300 ft). More than 42 per cent of Tasmania is World Heritage Area, national park and marine or forest reserves.


Vegetation is diverse, from alpine heathlands and tall open eucalypt forests to areas of temperate rainforests and moorlands, known as buttongrass plains. Many plants are unique to Tasmania and the ancestors of some species grew on the ancient super-continent, Gondwana, before it broke up 50 million years ago.


Unique native conifers include slow-growing Huon pines, with one specimen on Mt Read estimated to be up to 10,000 years old. Lomatia tasmanica, commonly known as King’s holly, is a self-cloning shrub that may well be the oldest living organism on earth. It was discovered in 1937.


Tasmania is the last refuge of several mammals that once roamed the Australian continent. It is the only place to see a Tasmanian devil or eastern quoll (native cat) in the wild and is the best place to see the spotted-tailed quoll (tiger cat), all carnivorous marsupials.


The eastern bettong and the Tasmanian pademelon, both now extinct on the Australian continent, may also be observed.


The Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, was Australia’s largest surviving carnivorous marsupial and is a modern day mystery. The last documented thylacine died in captivity in 1936 and although the animal is considered extinct, unsubstantiated sightings persist.

History and Heritage

Aboriginal people have lived in Tasmania for about 35,000 years, since well before the last Ice Age. They were isolated from the Australian continent about 12,000 years ago, when the seas rose to flood low coastal plains and form Bass Strait.

History and Heritage

Descendants of the original people are part of modern Tasmania’s predominantly Anglo-Celtic population.

History and Heritage

Tasmania was originally named Van Dieman’s Land by the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642. The island was settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803 and the original name was associated with the convict era. It was changed to Tasmania when convict transportation stopped in 1853.


A resourceful island culture has generated leading-edge niche industries, from production of high-speed catamaran ferries and marine equipment to lightning-protection technology.


Tasmanians produce winches and windlasses for some of the world’s biggest ocean-going pleasure craft; large-scale inflatable evacuation systems and provide specialist outfit-accommodation services to the marine industry.


The Wooden Boat Centre at Shipwrights Point has re-established the skills and traditions of another age and attracts students from around the world.


Tasmania is a world leader in natural turf systems for major sporting arenas and in areas of mining technology and environmental management. Its aquaculture industry has developed ground-breaking fish-feeding technology and new packaging.


Tasmanians sell communications equipment to many navies and their world-class fine timber designers and craftsmen take orders internationally for furniture made from distinctive local timber.


The state is a natural larder with clean air, unpolluted water and rich soils inviting the production of 100 varieties of specialty cheeses, as well as other dairy products, mouth-watering rock lobsters, oysters, scallops and abalone, Atlantic salmon, beef, premium beers, leatherwood honey, mineral waters, fine chocolates, fresh berry fruits, apples and crisp vegetables.


Tasmania is a producer of award-winning cool-climate wines, beers, ciders and whiskies. Other export products include essential oils such as lavender, pharmaceutical products and premium wool sought after in Europe and Asia. Hobart is a vital gateway to the Antarctic and a centre for Southern Ocean and polar research.


The industries in Tasmania which made the greatest contribution to the State’s gross product in 2010–11 in volume terms were: Manufacturing (9.4%), Health care and social assistance (8.2%), Financial and insurance services (7.2%), Ownership of dwellings and Agriculture, forestry and fishing (each 7.1%).

Getting to Tasmania

Travel is easy, whether by air from Sydney or Melbourne, or by sea, with daily sailings of the twin ferries Spirit of Tasmania 1 and 2 each way between Melbourne and Devonport throughout the year.

This site has been produced by the Brand Tasmania Council © 2014

Brand Tasmania

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