Wildfires Have Absolutely Ravaged Australia’s Cherished Kangaroo Island

Australia’s Kangaroo Island on December 16, 2019 and on January 7, 2020. Colors have been adjusted to show the areas affected by wildfires.
Gif: NASA Worldview/Earther

Approximately one-third of Australia’s Kangaroo Island has been torched by recent wildfires, as new satellite photos reveal. Given the island’s ecological importance, it’s a tragedy for the ages.

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Known as Australia’s “Galapagos Island,” Kangaroo Island is located south of South Australia, around 112 kilometers (70 miles) southwest of Adelaide. It’s Australia’s third largest island after Tasmania and Melville Island.

Around 4,700 people live on Kangaroo Island, subsisting largely off agriculture and a burgeoning ecotourism industry. Hefty portions of the island are designated as protected areas, hosting animals such as sea lions, kangaroos, koalas, and various birds, including glossy black cockatoos, which have made a dramatic comeback over the past few decades. At Flinders Chase National Park in the west, one can find colonies of penguins and stunning rock formations. The island is also home to purebred, disease-free Ligurian honey bees, which are an important export item of the island.

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“Which makes the devastating bushfires that have laid waste to almost one-third of the island not only just a major tragedy for the island but an ecological tragedy as well,” said Lynn Jenner from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in a press release.

Australia’s Kangaroo Island on December 16, 2019.
Australia’s Kangaroo Island on December 16, 2019.
Image: NASA Worldview

New images in the NASA press release show the island on December 16, 2019 (above) before the fires and on January 7, 2020 (below) after the fires blazed through a significant portion of its landmass. In total, around 155,000 hectares (383,013 acres) of the island currently exhibit burn scars, along with some areas that are still on fire, according to the NASA press release. The images were acquired by the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Australia’s Kangaroo Island on January 7, 2020.
Australia’s Kangaroo Island on January 7, 2020.
Image: NASA Worldview
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The bush fires on Kangaroo Island began earlier this month following a lightning strike in Flinders Chase park. At least two deaths have been attributed to the blazes. These fires have killed thousands of koalas and kangaroos, with NASA reporting that the total number of dead koalas could be as high as 25,000, which is around half of the total population of the species on the island.

As the Guardian reports, the fires are pushing threatened species to extinction, including the mouse-like dunnart and the southern brown bandicoot. Speaking to the Guardian, Kangaroo Island ecologist Pat Hodgens said the fires went “right through the understory and that’s where these species live,” adding that the “habitat is decimated.”

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It could take decades or longer for the island to recover, with ongoing climate change making remediation all the more difficult. For many parts of Australia, the new decade is off to a very rough and discouraging start.

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George is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo.

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DISCUSSION

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It would be interesting to know what the go/no go decisions was upon developer submission of a Draft Environmental Impact Study for timber harvesting on Kangaroo Island dated January 2019:

https://www.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/507352/KIPT-1-EIS_Exec_Summary.pdf

From the executive summary:

The plantation timber on Kangaroo Island is now ready to be harvested. KIPT has sufficient timber to produce a sustainable average harvest of 600,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) for the first 13 years (the first rotation) and a further 500,000 tpa in the following 12 years (the second rotation). To put this into perspective, the typical grain harvest on Kangaroo Island is less than 40,000 tpa.

The market for this timber is in Asia, principally Japan and China. At present, there is no feasible method of exporting plantation timber products from Kangaroo Island.

The trees are mature, and customers are ready to receive the product. The proposed KI Seaport is the essential piece of infrastructure to establish a new, sustainable industry on Kangaroo Island

Timberland assets map from the Draft EIS linked above: