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The appearance of Beach Spinifex on K’gari

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Most people accept that Beach Spinifex (Spinifex longifolius) is natural to K’gari.  I don’t.  I can recall seeing it for the first time in the early 1970s.  The appearance of the roly-poly seed dancing along the beach swept along by wind when I first saw it was unforgettable.


“For decades modern visitors to K’gari (Fraser Island) thought I was imaging things when I said that Beach Spinifex (Spinifex longifolius) had only appeared on the island in my lifetime.  This Photograph of the South Waddy Point Beach in the early 1970s shows an area devoid of both Casuarinas and Beach Spinifex.  The hummocks above the high tide mark are built around Sesuvium portulacastrum.”– John Sinclair, FIDO 

During the 1970s and early 1980s, I led FIDO safaris that were able to travel and camp wherever we could.  We frequently camped along K’gari’s eastern beach, beside lakes, in the rainforest and Top End.  35mm slides (now slightly mouldy) taken during this period show the northern parts of the foredunes free of Beach spinifex.  Instead the most memorable features were lines of hummocks parallel to, but back, from the high-water mark built around communities of Sesuvium portulacastrum.  These hummocks are not commonly-seen today as a result of the dominance of Beach Spinifex occupying that frontal foredune niche.

I recently noted that the Pipits that were once so common along K’gari’s beach front have declined dramatically in numbers.  I associate this with the intrusion of Beach Spinifex changing their habitat and the demise of the Sesuvium hummocks.  It inspired me to hunt out old photos and to write a children’s story about “Peter the Pipit’s Prophesy” to illustrate how important anecdotal stories and observations are in understanding K’gari’s ecology.  That kids’ story carries a very significant message for adults on why it is important to preserve the memories of our youth.

Since writing that story I found further confirmation of the demise of the Pipits.  On a WPSQ field outing in October 1968 Pipits were on the Bird List.  I recall that they were the most common bird seen along the foredunes between Wabby Lakes and what is now Dilli Village.  48 years later despite the intensive effort put into bird-watching over the BioBlitz week (compared with just 24 hours of observations on the WPSQ trip), no Pipits were observed.  The observers were based at Dilli Village and patrolled the beach daily.

Much more attention is needed into not the new species that can be added to the list but to the disappearance of species from the list and the reasons for it.  Hummocks of Sesuvium portulacastrum along K’gari’s foreshore were once common but have become increasingly rare since the appearance of Beach Spinifex.  They are so uncommon now that when I saw some great examples in August at North Spit, I had to photograph them for the record.

 Article submitted by John Sinclair, Fraser Island Defenders Organisation

This article is the first in a series by John Sinclair on the value of recording anecdotal evidence:

“People tend to ‘pooh-hoo’ anecdotal stories of personal observations of environmental changes on the basis that they lack scientific proof and objectivity.  Yet in an example of double standards, they are happy to accept some ‘good news’ anecdotal stories they hear about changes such as the ecosystems adjusting to cane toads because some birds disembowel them or that in places some vulnerable reptiles or mammals survived encounters with cane-toads.  It is strange that people should give credit to stories they want to hear, but dismiss stories they are uncomfortable with.

Fishermen are always good for anecdotal stories and rarely will they report that their contemporary fishing experiences are equal to or better than in the past.  The truth is that anecdotal stories have a very important part to play in helping enhance our ecological understanding.  I hope that my anecdotal stories might be noted as something more than rambling observations.

Because I might have the longest living memory of environmental observations on K’gari, these need to be placed on the record while I am still able. I plan to record a series of articles for the FINIA Newsletter based on 50 years of observation.  Many I am able to back up with written and photographic records.  I plan a series of articles to try to demonstrate the decline and adverse ecological changes on K’gari.  These are just a few anecdotal stories I have oft-repeated but few people are willing to listen to.”


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