EXPLORE Australia’s Tasmanian Wilderness with this slideshow, check the location map and get all the facts and information below.
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Location and Values: The Tasmanian Wilderness occupies 20% of the land area of the island of Tasmania, lying off the southeastern coast of the Australian continent. It covers an extensive contiguous complex of conservation areas in the southwest of the island, including the major national parks of Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair, Walls of Jerusalem, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers, Southwest and Mount Field National Parks as well as the Central Plateau Conservation Area. The world heritage site encompasses most of the last temperate rainforest in Australia, combining ancient ‘relict’ species originating on the Gondwana supercontinent (such as the southern beech), with extensive tracts of tall Eucalypt forests more characteristic of Australia’s modern-day vegetation. The Tasmanian Wilderness includes large areas of rocky glaciated mountain terrain, alpine meadows and moorlands, highland lakes, swamps, wild rivers and a long rugged coastline. It provides habitat for some of Australia’s most iconic species – such as the platypus and echidna (egg-laying monotreme mammals) as well as the Tasmanian Devil and quoll (carnivorous marsupials) – and its flora and fauna includes an exceptionally high proportion of endemic species, known only from Tasmania.
Conservation Status and Threats. According to IUCN’s most recent Conservation Outlook Assessment (December 2020) the conservation status of the Tasmanian Wilderness is considered to be ‘good, with some concerns’. The exceptional values which are recognized by the site’s inscription on the World Heritage List are not seriously threatened, but a number of issues affecting conservation of the Tasmanian Wilderness are noteworthy, including:
- Climate change. The impacts of climate change are not yet fully understood but may already be responsible for a broad range of changes, increasing the vulnerability of species and habitats to irreversible change. It is expected that climate change will result in (1) sea level rise, (2) the risk of increased fire frequency and intensity due to a general rise in temperatures and increasing drought, (3) increased frequency of severe weather events such as storms, and (4) increases in the populations of alien species, including pathogens.
- Fire. Although fire is a natural feature of the Tasmanian Wilderness, there has been a significant increase in its frequency, intensity and extend over recent decades. If the current trend of landscape-scale fires continues, permanent damage to some of the site’s key attributes (ancient land forms, endemic species, alpine vegetation) is inevitable. In montane and subalpine areas, a change in fire regimes may threaten the survival of fire-sensitive endemic trees such as Huon, Pencil and King Billy Pines, while fire-sensitive palaeoendemic species of the higher alpine zones, such as Pherosphaera hookeriana, Diselma archeri and deciduous beech may also be threatened.
- Invasive alien species. Alien plants and animals are displacing native species and altering habitats in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Amongst the many invasive plants, marram grass and sea spurge are threatening coastal habitats and geomorphological processes while inland areas are affected by species such as blackberry, gorse, ragwort, broom, Canadian pond weed and holly. Amongst the problem animals, 25 vertebrate and 45 invertebrate invasive alien species are recognized including brown trout, common starling, superb lyrebird, European rabbit, feral cat, sugar glider, European wasp and honeybee. Some of these species compete with indigenous species for nesting sites, while others alter the native vegetation or prey on threatened native species.
- Spread of plant and animal pathogens and diseases. Plant diseases and dieback are becoming a major threat, especially the root rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi. The spread of pathogens has been facilitated by improvements in road and hiking trail access throughout the Tasmanian Wilderness. Four amphibian species in Tasmania are at risk of extinction from amphibian chytrid fungus disease (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), while populations of Tasmanian Devils have suffered a decline of over 75% in some parts of Tasmania (outside the world heritage site) due to the lethal Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
- Development of inappropriate tourism infrastructure. As visitor demand increases so does pressure for development of tourism infrastructure and associated mechanised access to remote areas of the Tasmanian Wilderness (including access by helicopter). This clearly impacts on the wilderness character of the world heritage site.
The slideshow ‘tells the story’ of Australia’s Tasmanian Wilderness with a portfolio of photos by Peter Howard taken during a visit in January 2018. The journey starts at the southern end of Lake St Clair with a short passenger ferry trip to Echo Point and an exhilarating walk along the Lake’s wild shoreline and through its damp, mossy lakeshore forests to Narcissus Hut. It then follows the main road that cuts east-west over the mountains through a diversity of wild scenery, with stops at scenic highlights such as Nelson Falls. Photos of some of the iconic animals of the Tasmanian Wilderness are included here – Tasmanian Devil, Quoll, and pademelon. The road that traverses the wilderness reaches Queenstown and continues to Strahan where a large catamaran service takes visitors around the Macquarie Harbour and into the wild gorge at the mouth of the Gordon River. Visitors are able to step ashore at Sarah Island, one of the oldest convict settlements in Australia (satisfying part of the cultural criteria for the world heritage listing as a ‘mixed’ site), before continuing into the gorge and disembarking for a short experience of one of the wettest parts of the rainforest along a boardwalk at Heritage Landing. Back in the small town of Strahan, visitors can learn some of the history of past forest exploitation – still a highly controversial issue – by visiting a sawmill that uses ancient logs of Huon Pine, one of the area’s relict endemic conifer tree species.
The long series of photos that follow show the Cradle Mountain area, with its iconic scenery, a habituated wombat grazing the alpine meadows and the rocky scramble to the peak. The slideshow then continues with views of the Pandani walk at Lake Dobson in Mount Field National Park, and the world’s tallest flowering trees which can be seen in the Tall Trees Walk or (better still) the nearby Styx Valley. The slideshow then shows views of the wild coastline in Southwest National Park, featuring Lion Rock and the walk from Cockle Creek, before finishing with a few photos intended to highlight some of the controversies that have characterized the fight for conservation of this wilderness for decades – large commercial forestry interests and the damming of wild rivers for hydropower generation.
- Exceptional natural phenomenon (vii);
- Outstanding natural beauty (vii);
- Geological features (viii);
- Ecological processes (ix);
- Natural habitat for biodiversity (x);
- Significant number of rare, endemic and/or endangered species (x)
- Cultural criteria (iii,iv,vi)