Hot Island 2014


By Jan Aldenhoven

 January 2014 saw much of North Stradbroke Island engulfed in wildfire

No human life or human property was lost.

All those involved in fighting the fire and supporting those fighting did a magnificent job. The community pulled together to help each other. But what were the impacts on the bush?

The following article by Jan Aldenhoven first appeared in SIN March 2014.

Many plants are now sprouting from lignotubers, storage units held underground, or from epicormic buds that have lain dormant under bark. Grass trees pushed out green within days of being burnt. The sturdy seed capsules of some banksias are only opened by the heat of fire. Other seeds are stimulated to germinate by smoke.

Scribbly gum bark reflects heat, and the golden trunks stand in stark contrast to the charred fibrous bark of other species: two different strategies to protect the inner tree and its epicormic buds. Now the outer carapace of the scribbly gum is falling away and the shiny new skin beneath is adorned with bunches of new leaves.

Clearly plants know their stuff. They have been weathering fires for a long time.

The rains of the past two years ensured the peat beds of the swamps didn’t burn, providing a refuge for frogs and other aquatic life to burrow into. Eighteen Mile Swamp flushed green so quickly it was hard to believe it had been burnt at all. Other swamps were soon dotted with flowering trigger plants and sundews, taking advantage of the opportunities fire brought.

But there are concerns and questions

Sensitive species in fire shadow areas burnt: tall tree ferns and rainforest pockets. Elsewhere, grand old trees hundreds of years old succumbed. How well will mining-rehabilitation areas recover?

Long-term residents can’t remember a fire that burnt so much of the island at one time. Sixty per cent of the island was affected. Those animals that couldn’t find shelter were incinerated. Thousands died.

The Australian bush is adapted to fire but critically, different plant communities need different fire regimes. The periodicity and intensity are important.

Too-frequent fires will not allow some plants to mature to produce adequate seed. Too long between fires, and some species disappear. Too little rain after fire will exhaust plants.

Aboriginal people have been in Australia for some 70,000 years, and for 21,000 years on Stradbroke. Aboriginal burning practices have shaped habitat diversity.

In times past it seems very unlikely that Quandamooka People would have risked half the island burning in one hit. So what was their burning practice?

Piecing together and synthesising knowledge – traditional, local and scientific – is the challenge ahead. Climate change is giving us more frequent and more intense fires. We want to protect the townships and infrastructure, but no one wants to sacrifice huge swathes of bushland to do so. The process of review and planning is under way.

The months ahead could be an opportunity to tackle the fox and wild dog problem on the island. The local Wildlife Forum is working with agencies to come up with a plan.

In 2007, the drought focused our attention on the island’s hydrology. Now is our opportunity to understand more about fire for our own sake and that of the bush.

Help the bush recover

– Slow down and watch out for wildlife when driving.

– Stick to roads and designated tracks so not to disturb regeneration or spread weeds and disease.

– Keep dogs in an enclosed yard or on a lead except in designated off leash areas.

– Be aware of fire regulations and stick to them.

– Keep a tidy camp and don’t let bins overflow, as this will encourage proliferation of feral animals that target native species trying to recolonise.

– Report sick and injured wildlife to 0407 766 052

– Report feral animal sightings and fox dens to 07 3829 8999

or email

2012 Fresh Water Aquifer

 Dragonfly Dragonfly


Stradbroke is the planet’s second largest sand island, after Fraser Island. Over hundreds of thousands of years, sand has been blown by winds and deposited in dunes and valleys to create the island we see today.

Beneath the surface lies a large freshwater aquifer that consists of saturated sand. In places like Blue Lake, Eighteen Mile Swamp and the island’s many streams and creeks, the aquifer comes up to the surface. The aquifer is replenished only by rainwater seeping into the sand. Blue Lake is called a ‘watertable window lake’ because it opens a window into the deep aquifer.

Some fresh water is held in more superficial (perched) lakes and wetlands, like Brown Lake, high up in the dunes, where a layer of cemented sand holds the water and feeds the lake. This layer is called coffee rock.

Everything living on Stradbroke Island, the forests and wildlife, the frogs, fish and insects living in streams and wetlands like 18-Mile Swamp, depends on freshwater from the deep aquifer, or from the superficial aquifers that form into perched lakes and wetlands.

Scientists who have studied the freshwater biology of Stradbroke’s freshwater lakes and streams have found new species never before known to science. One special insect is the dragonfly Orthetrum boumiera – a deep blue dragonfly first found at Brown Lake. It lives only around brown-water dune lakes on Stradbroke, Moreton and Fraser islands, at Cooloola and along the coast south to Lake Hiawatha in northern NSW. Another new insect species belongs is the caddisfly – Westriplectes angelae – first found in swamp near Blue Lagoon on Moreton Island, and in 18-Mile Swamp on Stradbroke.

The best way to look after the waterbodies where rare creatures live is to keep them as natural as possible – with clean water (brown and blue waters are both healthy), diverse surrounding vegetation and habitats for many aquatic and wildlife species. We must make sure that humans do not cause changes to waterways – no rubbish, no damage to vegetation, no driving of vehicles into the water, no washing dishes or people’s hair. Mangroves too are sensitive to disturbance; their exposed roots must be left free to exchange gasses with the air, their leaves left to fall and rot into food for crabs and prawns.

Ocean Plastics Posters

There are loads of things we can all do to keep our waterways healthy. Waterways include lakes and wetlands, freshwater streams and rivers that travel out to the ocean, and our underground water reserves (aquifers). What do you want to tell the world about how waterways are being affected in your part of Australia? Draw a line in the sand, and put your message into a poster design. Load it up here by June 5, for World Environment Day 2012.

These posters present a social and environmental commentary about human pollution of non-biodegradable waste (especially plastic bags and balloon plastics) and the devastating effect they have on the local coastal ecosystems including precious wildlife such as Loggerhead and Green turtles.