In late 2005, a small group of dedicated people spent two days visiting weed sites on the internationally significant Fraser Island World Heritage Area in a workshop facilitated by the Burnett Mary Regional Group. The group consisted of land managers – Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (National Park), the Department of Natural Resources and Mines (Unallocated State Land), the local council, the Cooperative Research Centre for Weeds, the National Parks Association of Queensland, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation and Sandy Cape Lighthouse Conservation Association as well as Butchulla participants Malcolm Burns, Jo Jo Gala and Marie Wilkinson.
After those two days, it was clear to the group that weeds were just one of many issues threatening the Outstanding Universal Value of this UNESCO-listed site. Following the workshop, the Fraser Island Natural Integrity Alliance (FINIA) was formed with a goal to protect and restore the island’s natural integrity. The FINIA team developed an action plan that provided a framework for ongoing cross-tenure collaboration among the group’s participants and project partners.
Work commenced on addressing the issue of the spread of ‘garden escapees’ around the townships of Eurong and Happy Valley and the historic Sandy Cape Lighthouse that quickly became invasive weeds in the adjoining National Park. In addition to on-ground work to control weeds like mother-in-law’s tongue, Easter cassia, abrus and asparagus fern, FINIA partners also conducted workshops and awareness-raising campaigns to increase awareness and understanding of the damage these non-native, invasive weeds can cause to the island’s unique ecological environments.
As the partnership grew, so did the dedicated effort by group participants and their volunteers. FINIA collaborators ‘branched off’ to lead several other initiatives, including native seed collection; propagation and revegetation (starting with ‘Plant me instead’ replacement programs); pest management of the Jamella pandanus leafhopper and cane toad; marine debris clean-ups; research to address fire, dingo management and increase the knowledge of the island’s unique patterned fens and swamp orchids; erosion and rainfall monitoring; education and awareness (with a newsletter, website and Facebook pages); and cultural heritage mapping in conjunction with the Fraser Island World Heritage Area Indigenous Advisory Committee (which won the Queensland Landcare Award 2015 for Indigenous Land Management).
Members of FINIA gathered on the island recently to celebrate 10 years of collaboration and to review the group’s achievements—enjoying some generous sponsorship by the University of the Sunshine Coast. Mr John Sinclair AO, a long-standing advocate for Fraser Island, said that after 10 years, it was a good time to reflect and plan the next decade, with a recent workshop held at Dilli Village, where it all began. ‘FINIA provides a great vehicle to get things done. It’s overcome a number of issues that hampered on-ground work in the past, but also ensures that we all communicate more effectively’, said Mr Sinclair. ‘FINIA is the catalyst that holds us all together and makes things happen’, added Butchulla elder, Glen Miller. ‘Without FINIA, it’s unlikely that we would have been able to achieve the success we have and the range of projects that FINIA now supports’.
The BMRG’s Conservation Partnership Manager and current FINIA Chair, Sue Sargent, was a participant in the original workshop. ‘FINIA has been an incredible vehicle for the World Heritage Area and thanks to the support of the island’s land managers Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Fraser Coast Regional Council, continues to thrive, picking up awards along the way’. ‘In 2011, the model was even showcased at an international conference as “the key to successful holistic weed management on Fraser Island” by Dr Alison Shapcott from the University of the Sunshine Coast—where it attracted considerable attention’.
Looking forward, although the environmental problems continue to grow, so does the strength of the partnership, with 15 partners now part of the group. FINIA’s success to date is a great example of how a supported and engaged groups of stakeholders can work together to genuinely address long-term land management issues. And as for what the next decade may hold? Well aside from more work with weeds and pests, education and awareness, FINIA is currently planning a BioBlitz to be held in 2017.
FINIA would like to formally acknowledge the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme, the University of the Sunshine Coast (catering sponsors) and Kingfisher Bay Resort Group for their support of our tenth anniversary event.
Chris Stone, BMRG