Unless you’ve been in outer space or 20,000 leagues under the sea, COVID-19 has affected everyone including the day to day work of all Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships (QPWS&P) personnel, from the city to the regional offices and remote areas of K’gari. As isolation measures continued around the country, the QPWS&P offices, campgrounds and day-use areas have been closed for public safety against this deadly and economically devastating virus.
Great Sandy National Park – K’gari (Fraser Island) section essential operations are being maintained by a contingent of Queensland Police Service, Queensland Ambulance Service and QPWS field staff, supported by operational and management personnel working from isolation areas such as home or a limited office presence. The remaining rangers on K’gari are fortunate that the local stakeholders have been vigilant in screening all who access the island via barge. Travel by residents and essential workers is permitted for essential travel only. A local police presence has been instrumental in ensuring compliance and working with the local essential ambulance personnel and rangers – at a distance, of course.
These actions have prevented the issues our mainland counterparts have experienced; where an increase in visitors to their parks during the week has included people frantically trying to escape the confines of their homes, homeless people seeking shelter, backpackers in vans looking for a place to go, and families trying to keep their kids entertained by bushwalking or swimming in water holes. They watch in disbelief as car after car full of people ignore and remove barriers to gain access. This puts these rangers at risk through unnecessary public contact during this time, by having to deal with people who are potentially distraught, angry or COVID-19 infected.
For the typical ranger workplace, a few adaptive changes and creative solutions have been incorporated to accommodate the ‘Working in remote areas’ policy of rangers working in pairs for safety reasons but have to adhere to COVID-19 separation. For example, working around sharing a 2-seater land cruiser ute with someone and keep a social distance of 1.5m, lifting or rolling heavy objects in a remote location that requires two people or sharing offices and attending virtual meetings in phone service challenged areas. These problems are being worked around while using plenty of sanitiser and disinfectant.
In the words of Monty Python, always look on the bright side of life. The up-side for K’gari is a temporary rest in high visitor-use areas such as Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie), the eastern beach, Eli Creek, camping zones and Central Station. The usually visible wongari (dingoes) have noticeably disappeared inland, while rangers are thrilled not to have to clean toilets daily. Instead, the remaining staff are maintaining ‘dingo-safe’ activities, maintaining essential roads, preparing for approved hazard reduction and ecological burns, catching up on pest plant species management, and infrastructure maintenance ready for the Islands reopening.
Field rangers are unable to work from home, and their jobs are essential to the public. K’gari is thriving in the reprieve from normal disturbances and getting some breathing space (and rain). Nature reminds us that things constantly change and adaptation is the key to survival. Article contributed by the Great Sandy National Park, K’gari (Fraser Island) NRM team, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Partnerships, Great Sandy National Park