Australian weather; Australia; Peter Bate; weather discussion
William John Freeland
Australia; William John Freeland; Cane Toad discussion
Michael Patrick Scully
Interview about being Australian; Australia; Michael Patrick Scully; being Australian discussion
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
22 Mar 2000
- -12.45 130.83333
- :04 - 26:02
- Darwin; Bureau of Meteorology
- -12.37222 130.88167
- 30:28 - 44:09
- Palmerston; Goyder Centre
- -12.48 130.98333
- 44:46 - 1:23:42
- -12.45 130.83333
- 1:24:41 - 1:43:39
Log of DAT #: 1-4
Engineer: Manoli Wetherell
Date: 20 March 2000
ng = not good
g = good
vg = very good
MW: Manoli Wetherll
AC: Alex Chadwick
PB: Peter Bate
:27 AC: It's March 22, 10:36 AM, in the office of Peter Bates at the meteorological bureau in Darwin, here's some room tone.
:36-1:12 ROOM TONE
2:07 PB: I'm the manager of climate services in the weather bureau in Darwin. AC: You have a map .. . Manoli, get him while he's looking at the map. PB: this shows the percentage of rainfall over all of Aust. during the month of
feb. We've been talking about above average rainfall over Aust. And you can see there ' s a very large area here in central Austr. and also down thru the eastern part of south Aust. and western New South Wales, parts of Queensland, a little bit of western Aust. where the rainfall for Feb was more than 400% of the normal. So it's been very heavy rain. In fact there aren't any comparatively small areas near the east and west coasts and a little bit slightly inland in the northern part of the northern territory where it's been below average. Generally it's above average over almost the whole continent.
3:16 AC: We were surprised to come up and see Alice Springs all green, to,look down from an airplane and see so much green.
PB : Yeah, well, you' re really lucky to see that because in most years you wouldn't see that, but after heavy rain it comes green, it's beautiful.
AC: can you tell me, right there in the center of that dark purple blot that takes up most of the central part of Aust, there's a little lighter place, a bluer dot. What's that?
PB: Well it's still wet, but not quite as wet as the big blot. The big purple blot is rainfall more than 400% of the average, and that grades down in the middle of the blot to 2-300%.
4:09 AC: where would that be? Is that where Oolaroo or Ayer' s Rock is? vw
PB: Close to there, yes.
AC: it's just about where that blue dot is?
PB: Yeah, pretty close.
AC: Why is there less rain there?
AC: Here's a typical journalist question.
PB: Natural climate variability's the best way to describe that. When you look at any of those patterns, although you can see some pattern in it, there's a large amount of variation across any area. It's not smooth, it' s bumpy. And that' s what weather and climate does. There's always large amounts of peaks and troughs in it.
4:55 AC: people say that Aust is a very dry place. Is it changing?
PB: Uh .. . there have been studies done by CSIRO and others that show over the past 50 yrs or so an increasing trend in rainfall, but I can't give you a figure offhand I'd have to go back and read the numbers. But it's not suddenly going from dry to wet. It's going from dry to in some places to a little bit less dry.
AC: I've talked to Australians who think that the climate is changing , who think that Aust is going to be different.
PB: Who think that Aust is goiing to be different. Well, most people who rely on personal memory, it's notoriously bad. Anyone will usually only dimly remember the season they're in at the moment. They won't have very accurate memory atall of the previous season. Going further back than that it's even worse.
6:16 AC: they're talking about the flooding. They say God you know we 've been flooded out this year and flooded and I was flooded last year and there are more floods and I'm leaving. I'm gonna leave this community and move away.
PB: yeah, well it's possible that it has increased and their community is gonna be susceptible to more flooding, but it' s also possible that they might be the only flood events that they' ll have for the next 20 years, we don 't know. It' s because these things vary so much from year to year. But indications are that with global warming, with trends already identified of gradually increasing rainfalls, that translates to a susceptibility to an occurrence of heavy rainfall events. Rather than just an increase in the average rainfall from day to day.
7:13 AC: So if there are going to be more heavy rainfall events, would that have more impact in a place like aust. which is quite dry than it would in the US where large parts of the US are fairly wet, they get a lot of rainfall.
PB: That's an interesting question. I guess if you're talking about the arid parts ofthe interior of Aust which is a large part of the continent, when people are used to fairly dry conditions, when you do have floods it certainly is a big change for them. So I guess more heavy rainfall events would have a bigger impact on those people. But at the same time, a flood 's a flood anywhere, and if a flood floods out your house even if you're used to seeing wet streets day after day, it's still bad news.
8:21 AC: can you characteristic the current inso status , is this a big el nino year or is this a la nina year, or how do you describe this year?
PB: this is a la nina year, but it's a weakening la nina on the global scale. We've had a situation where for about the past 15 -18 months we've been seeing below average sea surface temps in the equatorial pacific, but those anomolies-we call the difference between the current conditions and the long term mean anomolies-those anomolies are gradually weakening. Which means that the cooler than normal sea temps in the eastern equatorial Pacific are now closer to average. In the aust. region, la nina typically causes wetter than average conditions in the tropical parts, in large parts of eastern austr. So that the conditions that we 've seen this summer with aquatic monsoon, esp since about the second half of Jan, reasonably typical for la nina. We tend to see widespread flooding more often in la nina years than we would in el nino years.
10;05 AC: I guess there's no way to say the trend is weakening and so you don't know whether you 're gonna stabilize at the mean or you're gonna swing in the other direction.
PB: well now we never know but there are a number of global computerized models that make predictions of this. And at the moment there's no real sense that we 're seeing an el nino likely to develop. The general consensus appears to be that we'll see a relaxation of the la nina conditions and it' ll go to fairly average neutral sorts of conditions for a time. These are the current general consensus predictions.
11:01 AC : Long range weather predictions are of course notoriously difficult but I think something that american audience would want to know are, well we're planning on going to these games, you've just had a rain out of the queen's visit, what are conditions going to be like during the olympics, do you know?
PB: Well you 're getting to a part of the country I don't have great familiarity with weatherwise-I was actually born there but most of my work's been here in Darwin in the tropics. You're talking about spring now in Sydney, and it can be quite changeable. Susceptibility to thunderstorms, that kind of thing. I'd expect to see that it's not a dry completely dry stable situation, I'd expect to see the odd shower, that kind of thing. But going out on a limb regarding whether we ... no, I'd hate to do that.
AC: thanks. Here's one question: you note you're in the tropics here. How do you think of Aust, is it a tropical place or not. You know it's atropical place with a huge amount of desert, bt that doesn't' ... it's kind of hard to get your mind around that.
PB : well, Aust sits astride the latitudes in round figures about 10 degrees to about 40 degrees south. And the tropic of capricorn runs around 23 12 south , so that runs about, across the continent. So roughly a third of the aust continent is in the official tropics, if you like. The rest of it is in the subtropics. Worldwide, most of the world's deserts are in subtropical regions, like the sahara for instance, similar sorts of latitudes to that. So the northern part of Aust certainly is tropical, but it's not-large areas of it aren't what we call wet tropics such as you find thru indonesia, new guinea, all that sort of thing, because it is such a large land mass. We find that our northern coastal fringe, coastal hinterland really, is affected by heavy rainfalls during the summer seasons, that's the wet season. But in the winter seasons, they're much drier than a lot of other tropical locations because of the effect of the subtropical ridge of high pressure which just vw produces very constant southeasterly winds thru the northern half of the continent and they maintain fairly dry conditions. The only parts of tropical aust that are really wet during that time of year are along the coast of Queensland and a little bit along the northeastern coast of the northern territory which are exposed to southeasterlies that have come off the sea rather than off the land.
14:46 AC: So for a tropical place it's-the dry season here must be very comfortable, very plesaant.
PB: Oh yeah, it's great. Some people still find it too hot. In the dry season our typical maximum temps around the coast still get to around 30-32 degrees. Some people who come here from winter in southern austr or other parts of the world still find that hot. But the locals find that beautiful.
AC: And what is that, in F? PB: 30 degrees celsius is 86 degrees F. So 30 to 32, I'm talking about 86 to 90. AC: So with a little breeze blowing, that's pretty nice. PB: Yeah, tis. AC: Thank you. By the way, is it Dr. Bate? PB: No, just plain old Mister.
15:50 MW: That was recorded split track, with Alex using the KMR 81 and Mr. Peter using the MKH 50.
16:24 Dr. Bill Frieland (BF), I'm Director of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the northern t erritory, and we're currently located in my office in Parmiston which is adjacent to Darwin in the northern territory. How's that?
AC: Good, now you know where you are. MW: And we also know it's split track, Alex is on the KMR 81 and Dr. Freiland is on the MKH 50.
16:50-17:43 ROOM TONE
AC: Ifwe could just begin here, we wanta talk about cane toad and this area. But because of your travels and extensive experience and knowledge of America-we're speaking to an american audience-maybe you could just help us by saying the northern territory is like what in the US in terms of geography, size, what's there.
BF: The northern territory of aust is a self-governing territory as part of the commonwealth of aust. in size it's approximately 4 'l2 times the size of michigan. Considerably larger than texas. Geographically it's unlike anywhere in the US. Approximately a bit over a third of it is actually well within the tropics and the rest of it is only a bit south of the tropics. It ranges in the north from monsoonal tropical climates to in the south which is actually arid or semi arid desert country with sandy deserts, stony deserts and rocky mountain ranges.
18:52 AC: and you are the director of wildlife.. BF: director of parks and wildlife for that northern territory. AC: that's quite a range of terrain and habitat to cover.
BF: its an absolutely fantastic geographic gradient. All you have to do is drive from Darwin to alice springs and it' s a continual process of change and it's a highly predictable change and you can explain it all on the basis of one variable which is rainfall. It's a lot of challenges but it's very exciting environment to work in. the fact that we have a relatively small population in the northern territory helps because it means tht many of the mistakes in conservation and land management that are being made all over world, we don't have to do it unless we actually choose to. And hopefully we can do it well.
19:47 AC: it's a very large area and comparatively speaking at least for the US and indeed for aust, almost no one lives here. A couple hundred thousand people, I saw in the paper today.
BF: that's absolutely correct, the largest city is darwin and the associated environs, and you're talking about over half of them live here. So most of the land is largely unpopulated other than a few small scattered villages, some aboriginal outstations, and some pastoral properties where you get a simple cattle station headquarters, if you like, which'll be a building or two, so most of the land is actually unoccupied. And to a large extent its in pretty good shape.
20:26 AC: Let me ask you about Kakadu ... could you say compared to ... what is the kind of american analogy to kakadu? Yellowstone?
BF: it depends on what parameters you use to define it as. In terms of the habitats it's obviously tropical, it's a huge area, nearly the size of Belgium. It has a lot of rocky escarpment which is very very diverse biologically, it has some wetlands and towards the south you get rolling hills with tropical grassland savannahs. So it's got a wide diversity of habitat, it has been listed on the world heritage for its biological values. Its an impressive park, and yeah, it's a beauty.
21: 13 AC: is that you r big thing, your number one?
BF: well actually I don't manage that cuz the commonwealth manages that. We collaborate closely with them and we 've got cooperative programs with them cuz some of our parks border on it and you can't manage a part of the northern territory without dealing with the rest of it as well.
AC: you have this creatures coming this way, the cane toad, which we've done some interviews on. Do you know where the cane toad is now. ?
BF: yes, my last report was it was approx 56K south of catherine, about 300K south of darwin along the highway, so it's getting rather close. It' s simply moving up that river (?) at the moment and filling the catchmemt area. At the same time its moving along the east coast around the coast and at the same time its managed to find a way thru central western (?) throough a lower part of the escarpment and is now penetrating down a river drainage into a thing called the Arafeera Swamp, which at the moment is aust's largest permanent freshwater swamp, and it's a huge area and it's very impressive. It'll be there within the next couple of years.
The cane toad will be there within the next couple of years.
22:39 AC: You've done research on this creature ... what is going t happen when the cane toad arrives at the swamp and at Kakadu?
BF: I think the only thing you can base that sort of decision on is, what information do we have about areas of aust that have already been colonized. What are the changes that have occurred, and then once you' ve worked out what those changes are you have to assist them in terms of their significance, in terms of management of the biodiversity, and you also then have to say Ok if this is going to be a problem, how does this problem rate against all the other problems that we have. It doesn't matter if its feral horses or feral donkeys or buffalos or pigs, a pig or a week from central america, or simply the management of fire. They're all serious issues that we have to manage. How does cane toad stack up against that lot. And the other things that you've gotta think about: the history of queensland, which isn't all that different , there are some different species, but essentially you're dealing with similar kinds of habitats by and large ... in queensland it has to be acknowledged that not one single species of terrestrial vertebrate has gone extinct. So the cane toad isnt known to have caused an extinction of that kind.
I'll give an example. We got the (?) together on islands off the Queensland coast, and we 're particularly interested in snakes that specialize in eating frogs because they had in the popular literature been identified as potentially succumbing to the cane toad and something to worry about. We examined the literature on the snake (?) ofthese islands and evaluated them in terms of whether or not they had cane toads. And what we actually found was they've got the same species on both classes of islands. In other words you can have cane toads living side by side with species of snakes that actually do eat cane toads and die. Even in these small island populations something is going on and the snake populations are surviving. Now that' s a qualitative thing: do they survive or do they not? At the moment the info suggests that on the whole things are surviving. Then we went and did some original work in the Queensland gulf country and they 've been here in the queensland gulf country and the northern territory gulf country for approx nearly 20 yrs now. And our data indicate that none of the birds, the lizards, the snakes, the frogs, the mammals have actually gone extinct. In terms of a cataclysmic change, we have no evidence to support that. That doesn't mean there arent some interesting and exciting things happening from a biologists standpoint, but also some things that we have to worry about potentially in terms of conservation.
25:40 AC: and what are those? What is the impact then?
BF: well the impact , there are some species which undergo massive declines in abundance when the cane toad arrives. The best example are the large goanas, also known as monitor lizards .. .
AC: these are big lizards
BF: about five foot long, in american terms, very impressive lizards. They're carnivorous and we went down there in the wet season, which is the hot time, and started looking for them to see if we could sample them before the cane toads got there, and we found that impossible because the grass was over our heads and we couldn't see and I think in two weeks' work we got one goana which wasn't very helpful. So I had to find a way and what we did was we employed a very old aboriginal lady who also owned two dogs which she had trained to catch goanas. And 10 and behold we went out with here
and we looked at four different populations, contiguous across the landscape, geared such that when the toads got there , year one one area would be colonized, the next year a different one, so they would be contiguous and they'd give a sequential invasion so that you could monitor the goana population through time. We found that with the dogs, instead of finding one every two weeks we were actually capturing one large goana every half hour, which is quite different. The dogs were actually very well trained and they put them up a tree which meant we had to climb and get them, or they'd pin them to the ground without damaging them, so that worked out quite well.
Twelve months later we went back following an invasion and what we found in the first population to be invaded was that yes, there were dead goanas all over the place, very obvious-and the dogs were finding those with no problem. And the population had dropped by approx two-thirds. So it' s a big drop. Instead of catching one every half hour it was taking about an hour and a hlf to find one. The following year the toads moved on and the same thing happened in the next population and so forth for the next four years. In the original population the second year we went back after the cane toad invasion, the pop had increased to the extent that we were catching a goana every hour instead of every half hour. The following year it went back to half an hour. So the first it crashed by 2/3, it improved by a third, then by the third year it was back to where it had originaly started.
28:26 AC: why is that?
BF: now it's a fascinating thing. I think everybody says well they must be learning. So I grabbed a whole collection of goanas from around here in darwin where there are no cane toads, and from other places in the northern territory, and also got some from queensland and some from the northern territory gulf country where they've had toads-some of them for as short as three months and other places for as long as 50 years. And we put them in cages, made certain that they're warm and active and hungry, and provided them with a cane toad each. Now in the case of goanas from places that have had cane toads for even only three months, none of them would even go near a cane toad, they just ignored themn. They didn't try to attack them, nothing happened. They simply starved if they didn't want to eat the toad they would prefer not to eat. That says that yes there are goanas out there that don't feed on cane toads. The ones from darwin were a different story. In general what happened was that the goana would immediately, I mean immediately, leap on the toad, grab it, hold it for five minutes, then release the cane toad, which hopped away, and 15 minutes later the goana died. And it was that quick. Very impressive.
29:48 AC: this is without eating the cane toad.
BF: without eating it. What happens is the toads, just like north american toads, they puff up, and if you really molest them they exude a secretion from the perotoid glands just behind the ear. And that's what happens when the cane toad is attacked by the goana, they've got sharp teeth, the toads frightened, it puffs up, squirts out the toxin, and that's enough to actually kill the goana. And I'm talking about five foot or more long lizard is dead within 15 minutes. Its quite dramatic, and it's quite sad, really. The first thing we thought well obviously we have a
difference, and we thought well maybe they can learn. So I got what I call a jelly bean cane toad, it's about 20mm long, a little baby one, put it in the cage with a very large goana and it immediately jumped upon this little toad and swallowed it immediately, completely down. It went into a coma. The lizard was in a coma for approx 6 hours with massive heart palpitations, it recovered.
31:00 AC: This is from eating a cane toad the size of a jelly bean?
BF: I call them jelly bean, it's a bit bigger than a jelly bean, about 20mm long.
AC: that's a little more than an inch?
BG: And so the next day I thought well maybe they can learn. There's a
possibility here they can survive if they happen to run into a little tiny toad first time. What happened was we gave it a larger toad, and the first thing the goana did was leap upon it and attack the toad and rolled over dead in 15 minutes. And it seems to me at least that the poor goana isn't too bright when it comes to learning about what it should and shouldn't eat. But it still leaves the question of what on earth so that you've got this capacity for the pop not only to survive but to recover. And what seems to be going on I think is that its an evolutionary phenomenon. Whats happening when I tested them, one or two in 10 goanas-just--you can keep them for a week with no food and they will not touch the cane toad.
32:00 AC: is that a darwin? Is that a goana ...
BF: what I'm saying is that a genetically that goana that didn't touch the cane toad, that had never seen a cane toad before in its life, was hungry and active, has no capacity to recognize a goana as food (AC corrects him) ... to recognize a cane toad as food.
AC: what you're saying is that that goana that has never seen a cane toad ...
BF: the ones that we put in the cage and simply wouldn' t eat the cane toad would stay there for anything up to a week without food, being active, and simply didn't touch that cane toad. What seems to be happening is that those goanas are simply genetically incapable of recognizing a cane toad as food. They don 't smell them, they don't touch them, they don't try and bite them, they simply ignore them. Its as if the cane toad simply didn't exist. Now what we think is going on is that this segment of the pop survives the invasion and then subsequently reproduces and the pop gradually builds up again. Its not going to be a nice smuoth simple thing , there's likely to be things they cail linkage disequilibria, as natural selection has it s impact and you're going to get little blips in that pop, but essentially the pop will survive and I believe in the longer term are likely to recover fully and people wont know the difference. I think its important to remember that all toads, the whole thing called the family toad, exists all through africa, asia, europe and north america. And south america where they originated from. In asia and africa there are large monitor lizards that live side by side with toads. Lots of different species. And they survive quite happily. And I think all we get that' s happening here in aust is that the monitor lizards, the big ones, are simply evolving to live with the cane toad. Its darwinian selection before our very eyes and its really really very exciting. Interestingly enough I think there are similar things going on with the freshwater crocodiles. its an inconsistent observation, but quite often you do get freshwater
crocodiles being found dead around billabongs and alongside rivers following the cane toad invasion. If you test a captive freshwater crocodile, they die in about an hour and a half from ingesting a cane toad ...
34:40 AC: and how big is this crocodile?
BF: Oh .. . well, how long's that? About 4 feet? (Yeh). Its one that we did on the crocodile farm, and they're ones destined for slaughter for their skins anyway, so what I did was simply take a standard size cane toad and push it down their mouths to make sure they actually ingested it, and they died on average in an hour and a half. If you put them in a pool , say half a dozen freshwater crocodiles with a dozen toads at the end of ten days, most of the toads were dead , some survived, all the freshwater crocodiles actually survived, but some of them were definitely showing signs of having eaten cane toads. One of the symptoms is that the animal tends to lose its sense of balance and when they walk they might be lopsided or when they're sitting in the water they sort of float crookedly. And there was evidence of toxicity. However if you go to queensland and sit beside the river or a billabong where there's both freshwater crocodiles and cane toads you can actually sit there and watch the crocodiles feeding on the cane toads. Seemingly
35;52 AC: how is that possible?
BF: in other words, again, I think what's happening is you're getting evolution. Any animal or any freshwater crocodile that's highly susceptible to the toxin is killing itself essentially. The ones that are better able to deal with that toxin are the ones that are surviving and you're getting a slight change in the pop thru time.
36: 1 0 AC: do you think there will an impact on Kakadu?
BF: Yes, there are some areas where I've definitely found an impact. No species extinction that we 've been able to report properly as yet. We found, other than one that I think is going to happen, that s a species of tape worm, believe it or not-yes, there's a species of tape worm that definitely seems to be going extinct in those places that been invaded by the cane toad.
AC: hey you know tape worm's ok with me.
BF: no, the tape worms might actually be very important in nature. And its an interesting story, because what happens is normally in the dry season if you collect frogs around the billabong, about 54% of the frog community has the cyst of this tape in the intermediate stage. Now that intermediate stage cant grow to be an adult tape worm until the frog itself is eaten by a kind of python, a children's python, and then it becomes an adult, lays eggs, and then they pass in the feces of the snake, picked up by some sort of insect or other arthropod, which is eaten by the frog, and it forms the cyst in the frog. The cane toads move in and there are so many of them-they eat so much, a cane toad will eat on average about 200 different food items a night-whereas little native frogs are eating about 8. So the probability of an individual cane toad picking up on these arthropods that are full of baby tape worms is quite high. And in fact they get massively infected with these cysts, but the snake wont eat them. So what effectively you' re doing is you're cutting off the tape worms life cycle such that literally 12 months after the invasion if you go and sample the frog pop, fewer than 10% of the frogs have cysts. And that's in 12 months, from 54% average to averaging something less than 10% infestation rates. And thru time that seems to be dropping off. In queensland we couldn't even find that family of tape worms. They just didn't seem to exist. Is that important, you ask. Who cares about about bloody tape worms. I do, I reckon tapeworms are pretty important. One of the things that seems to have happened in those communities is not extinctions of the frogs, but normally without with cane toads we used to go down and every year you could actually go to a billabong and you 'd have your standard place that you sampled in your scientifically correct manner, and yu would collect all the frogs and You'd have so many species and that was highly predictable and the other thing you could predict that every year this would be the dominant one and about 70% of the community would be this species and there'd be so much of this species. Very stable, year after year. Not just-it varied slightly between billabongs, but basically the same pattern tends to be replicated. What happened with the cane toad coming in, and the loss of the tape worm, was that that community became destabilized. And every year you go you get a totally different patterns of abundance of all the different frog species. The frogs are all there, but something that was usually common becomes rare one year and something else is something else is superabundant and its just all over the place. And its not due to the niche or competition with the toad, because if you look at the toad and actually study its food habits and where it goes and the niche its using, it's a niche which is literally different from anything here in the northern territory. None of our frogs have a niche anything like the cane toad. And if yu look at the level of resource overlap between the native frogs without toads, it comes out to a certain small amount. They're nicely separated niches. When the toad comes along, it's got a new niche which has never been in existence before, and its resource overlap with the natives is about the same as that tiny small amount. So its not actually competing very significantly with the native frogs. Its in a totally different world and its impact is trivial. What the impact is is that its cutting out this tapeworm, which is probably impacting on the abundance of the predator, the children's python, and its destabilizing the entire community. So things are happening like that.
The only other thing that I am concerned and I'm quite concerned is there is a (?) marsupial. Colloquially we call them quaIls. A quaIl is a bit smaller than a domestic cat, theyre carnivorous, they feed on birds and small mammals and they'll take insects, theyre quite ferocious little things, and they do have a susceptibility to cane toads. Now in the northern territory we have not had the opportunity to investigate this simply because as yet they havent got to a position where we can investigate whats going on. There are anecdotal sets of info from north queensland suggesting in fact that they may well be going instinct over large tracts of country. If that's the case it's a bit ofa worry and I as a manager if you like of a conservation agency have got a problem on my hands of immense magnitude. But truthfully that is the biggest impact that we seemingly have to deal with. There are a few other studies that have indicated a decline in the abundance of brown beetles or black beetles around billabongs, not a loss, a decline ... and there are a few little other incidental things like that that arent probably very significant. But I think the quoll is something that I have to worry about.
41:41 AC: is there anything to be done about the advent of the cane toad?
BF: its hard to explain to anyone why something is probably very difficult. But a concept would be if yu lived in the US and you said we're gonna get rid of all the toads in the US. That's the level of the problem you've got. In our case its not just trying to get rid of all the toads in the northern territory, we're doing it without people cuz there arent any people over most of that country. That restricts your options. It was suggested that perhaps the introduction of a virus from the toads native south or central america might provide a solution. Theres a problem with that. My understanding is that a virus of all amphibia in general tend to be lacking to a large degree in host specificity. So something that attacks a frog will attack a toad and vice versa and even in many cases attack a fish. So if we begin introducing something from south america my worry is quite simply that we're gonna end up with an even bigger problem than the one we've got now. And that means that there is no blanket solution to cane toads, and it reduces us to a more tactical approach if you like rather than a big broad strategic one and at the moment we're looking at what parts of the northern territory can we protect from the cane toads invasion.
43:15 AC: do you think there' s any part you can protect?
BF: there are some places, peninsulas that are actually isolated by salt flats and mangrove swamps from the mainland, and there's one big peninsula which is actually Garag National Park-its aboriginal owned and joint managed with us , it's a huge park-and its got a narrow neck, and we've already gat'a fence across it and we will be looking at whether or not its possible to erect a cane toad proof fence which would be effective in the long term.
43:47 AC: AC: they're pretty little creatures. I mean they may grow big but they're pretty small.
BF: They start out at less than, I mean they come out of the water anything as small as 9mm long, which is very tiny.
AC: I don't know how you can fence something like that.
BF: well you can, you have a solid wall.
AC: you gonna build a solid wall across a peninsula?
BF: doesn't have to be very high (AC: a foot?) and you can make it out of metal or hard weather resistant plastic or something. You dig it down into the ground about 15cm and have it I suppose 18 inches above ground¿
AC: and how long is the narrow point of this peninsula?
BF: Oh¿ my understanding is about 46 kilometers
AC: 46km? Of 18 inch wall?
BF: Yeah...and we've been doing trials with cane toads down in gulf country, seeing whether or not a cane toad of all different sizes can get across a cattle grid. You know a cattle grid? (oh yeah) where you've got those grids so the cattle can't walk across? What we might do is put 2 or 3 end to end because they don't seem to be able to cross one without falling through the holes. Theyre not good climbers. So if you could get three of those end to end with a nice good concrete wall that would funnel them all back into cane toad inhabitated land instead of letting them through, you could actually have car access into the national park without any problem as well.
So there are those sorts of options. There are other options which we don't know the effectiveness of yet . how effectively we could use fire is an important question. Fire management in the northern territories always a difficult issue. How effective it could be used as a tool for controlling cane toads we don't know. We do know that if! get an infinite number of rangers, or even 2 rangers or 5 rangers at the end of a week around a
tiny little water hole, they're still removing hundreds of toads a night. Practically, collecting them is not a good option. And one female can lay something like 20 thousand eggs and if she' s first in line in the breeding season then most of those will survive, so one female toad really populate a billabong. Which means that physical removal is not a terribly effective control.
46: 19 AC: 2 years and they're gonna be in your swamp in Kakadu?
BF: We'll have to wait and see about Kakadu. We don't really know how long its going to take, for two reasons: when we did the original work, though actually moving around the gulf country along the coastal plain, and they would move from one large catchment to the next every year, and that averaged appro x 30 km a year. OK? Now the difficulty is, once they get into a catchment, the rate of colonization of that catchment, because its all connected by water, is much faster than it is between the catchments. So that's what youre witnessing in the Roper River at the moment. They got
, to the Roper River I think it was about 4-5 years ago now, but they've colonized a huge area of the northern territory, that whole catchment almost now,. in about 4-5 years. Which, ifit was between catchments, they couldn't have done. Now they did a tricky thing getting into the Arrafeera swamp by going over the hills, but its not big hills, but that was a slow process. The rivers that drain Kakadu originate in a set of rocky escarpments in more or less the same places certain tributaries of the Roper system. And theres also the catherine river comes in there as well. So you've got all these rivers converging in this one area of rocky escarpment. Now whether the cane toad can penetrate up those tributaries and over the top of the rocky escarpment into the drainage we have yet to determine. We will only now by accident. So ifit comes that way it could be very quick to get into kakadu, if it goes by the coast it could be a long time yet. If somebody fills their camper van full of them accidentally and drives into Kakadu it could be tomorrow.
So the timing of the invasion of kakadu itself, I actually don't think that's a significant parameter. I think the big issue is we've got a lot of the northern territory that needs to be looked at. we've got massive wetlands, huge tropical wetlands. Kakadu itself is not the issue. The issue is what are going to be the impacts. And I think the only one's the quail, of major significance. I'm happy to be corrected. That's only based on what we know at the moment. My view is, look I think its appalling that we've got them, I'd rather we didn't have them, and we'll do the best we can that we've got them, but really, it's very sad.
49:04 BF: a cane toad, done by the daily river people. AC: oh yeah?
BF: they havent got cane toads yet, and that was done on commission some time ago. Isnt that beautiful? AC: this is a painting we 're looking at on the wall. Very intricate, very nicely done, that' s a major piece of work there. Nice artist. BF: I think its really interesting. If you look around it and look at the things they've drawn, the goanas are certainly have a susceptibility as we've discussed but seem to recover. What's interesting is the fresh water turtles, it's a major major food item for the people. One of their favorite foods in fact. And those turtles are quite capable of eating cane toads. With impunity. Not a problem. So they' re ok. If you look up further, you've got stingrays, there are freshwater stingrays in the major rivers in the northern territory. And you've got the big catfish there. And then you've got a shark. And a barrimundi. All of which are food fish and they should be ok. Barrimundi can die from cane toads particularly if they grow up in a hatchery and are released into the wild without ever experiencing a cane toad tadpole, they can die from it, but most fish are very good at tasting and rejecting and theres not usually a problem. The freshwater crayfish we've got up there on the left, they too are very very good at eating cane toads and cane toad tadpoles. And if we look down there we 've got a few snakes at the bottom of the left hand corner of the picture. Some snakes are highly susceptible to the cane toads toxins, that includes the death adder and the king brown, however there are snakes like the kielback snake which are quite competent at eating cane toads. There are other things, theres a large yellow centipede here, its about 8-9 inches long, and they eat them, cane
toads, I've seen one that size dragging a 60-mm long cane toad. Which is much bigger in weight than it was but it attacked, killed and dragged the cane toad off.
51:40 AC: You're talking about a caterpiller? BF: A centipede. AC: A centipede that' s 6 inches long? BF: Yeah. And theyre a predaceous insect, arthropod, they've got many legs all
the way down the edges.
AC: I'm on my way up to the Millimgimbi. I'm not gonna run into one of those things, am I?
BF: well, I've got them in my pool. They drop in and drown regularly. They're all around my house, you' ll find them everywhere. All you do is go out in the bush and roll em over. Don't pick them up.
There's other things that eat toads, there's quite a few, crows are very good at it. They flip them over and eviscerate them, and that s the same thing crows in asia do, in europe do with a toad, they flip them over, open them from underneath, and it' s the same procedure, they simply avoid the toxins. Bush thickneys will attack toads very readily, and what they do is turn them over and take the tongue. theres the big bustard, the plains (?) bustard, swallow them whole and quite happy, egrets will feed on them ... theres a range of different animals in aust that do it, the native water rat, which is quite a large rodent built along the lines of an otter. And they are very competent at dealing with cane toads.
53:06 AC: maybe you' re gonna have egret explosion.
BF: well I guess its possible. But as yet we have no info to suggest that anything has ever benefited from the cane toad. AC: why is that? You've got this new food source that apparently some things can eat, and this food source is exploding, why isnt there a reaction to that?
BF: I think theres two things. We live in a very funny part of the world. Its called the tropics, and it's the seasonally dry tropics. Six to nine months of the year it wont rain. That's a long time to go without rain. Then the beginning of the wet season, when it starts is highly variable. Could be anything over a three or four month period. And the same sort of thing happens at the end of the wet. So you've got a massively variable climate. And what you find is that many of the animal pops will actually track that. Unless you've got good data on the impact of that climactic cycle, on the abundance of your animal, you cant correct for that to determine whether or not a particular pop is going up and down.
Its interesting with the cane toads. Theres a story that soon after colonization, you get massive numbers of toads, and thru time, the pop declines. In the territory we didn't find that. What we had is that, you get your invasion, but the pop is entirly erratic. One year you'll go there and you've got a huge pop, the next year its medium sized then it'll be huge again then very very tiny, its just all over the place. And its being dictated by how much rain occurs in december. And why that's important is cuz that's approx a month after the first rains , and its when the first young toads are coming out of the water. And if it doesn't rain those young metamorphlings, the young toads, simply dehydrate and die. And if it does rain they can grown and disperse away from that water habitat and survive. In other words, even the toad is being impacated by this highly seasonal climate.
55:15 AC: Thank you.
55:33 AC: We'll just talk here about your family history, about what it means to be an aust., etc.
AC: ... and urn, if you're a radio person the person you really want to talk to is someone who's got a gift of being able to talk. We thought you did. One thing we're gonna do is record the sound of this location and we 'll just start off doing that for 30 sec or so. But we don't know where we are, so could you just say where we are and who you are and what you do here in darwin?
Michael Patrick Scully (MS): My name's MS, I'm 49, and I live in a suburb of Darwin, Malek. I was born in katoomba in new south wales, I came up here when I was 22 because I always thought tIlis was the area of aust that was gonna go ahead and I think I've beeen proved right.
AC: things are going well here?
MS: things are going well, I was offered various jobs when I was younger. My first job was an (?) in kakadu national park, putting in the survey grids for the (?). after the cyclone I joined the govt as a laborer and finished up as a a technical assistant. I was there for 17 Y2 years. And that was 9 yrs ago. Since then I've been driving taxis just to look afater my family.
AC: I was really interested in this term you used, pure marino (?).
MS: Pure marino, it's a term-young kids today don't understand it-I think it actually means you were born in aust. but when I was little I can always remember, I think it was my auntie, she was very old. my grandma died about 1950 on my fathers side, but she always used to quote her mother being my grandma and she said , being a scully, you' ll always be proud cuz you' re pure marino. And I said what does that mean? And she said to me, pure marino, well we go back to the first settlement of aust. there was convicts and there was free settlers. And the best wool in the world is marino wool, and I came out of the free settlers and we adopted the name. Theres no convict blood in our family.
AC : Is that a big thing in aust. ?
MS: that's a very big thing. Especially there are some clubs you go to, they trace your history right back to the first fleet. And they called, I suppose being an american, it would be like being on the mayflower. That's how big it is. Theres one corporal, william scully, he's on the list of the first fleeters, or the royal marines. We think we can trace our ancestry back to him.
58:34 AC: whats your feeling of ... first of all, what did your family do here when they came?
MS: well, there's a big gap there. I've done a bit of tracing back and now.:. the best I can trace back on my fathers side to is my great great grandfather. And he was a bootmaker, a cobbler as it was called in those days. And dad said he died in abut 1908. When he died he was manager of one of the biggest shoestores in sydney.
AC: and on your mom' ;s side?
MS: that's more colorful. When we were little kids growing up in katoomba, the stories circulating abut my moms side of the family, their name' s Sheed. And there' s a sea captain (unintelligible) Spanish came to aust in the latter half of the 1850s and he was a sea captain and rumor got around that he was a black pirate. The black being because the spaniards are darkish coloring skin. We're actually descendants from them, and when we were little people used to say your grandfathers nothing but a black pirate anyway. Whether that's true or not ... one of my nieces has done some research there and she found out he' s actually portugese, not spanish. He was a ships captain, but I think she stopped researching then rather than find any embarrassing truth in what actually happened. We think he was actually written about by one of our great (?), Henry Lawson, there's a story we hear, a fight with a spaniard, and coming from that area, I think that must have been him.
1 :00:26 AC: was the spaniard a ships captain that. .. MS: yes, he was a ships captain. AC: so your family, you've got a lot of history here in aust. MS: yes. AC: what do you think it means to be an aust now today? MS: well the best way I can describe that is, I'm very proud to be an aust. I
wouldn't want to be anybody else. We have a very colorful past, we've got a very strong past, and our future looks bright and hopeful. I still think we have the best life in the world in aust, no one's really poor, there are some real rich, but the main body of australians are middle class. There's nothing that you cant do if you really put your mind to it. We're not overcrowded like some of the cities in america and england and europe. Katoomba's about 60 miles, 120k from sydney. When we were younger I used to go down there to work, and it was just too big for me. I was always looking at the map and thinking the north has got to go ahead and if I get in early, by the time my kids come along they should have a bright future. And that's happened, that's happened.
1:01 :52 AC: how many kids do you hve? MS: I have 3. AC: and what do they do now? MS: theyre still at school, but my oldest daughter's 15, she's already got an
award from the rotary club for community service. My sons 13, he's very heavily into woodwork. He's won a few prizes at the darwin show, and my little one Leah, she's 7 and she does music lessons at the piano.
AC: when you look ahead and think about aust ahead for your kids, what do you think its gonna be like?
MS: I see a bright future for them. The whole world is going thru tough economic times, and we're gonna get athat here too. But I'd rather face the future in aust, esp here in darwin, than somewhere else.
AC: we're been talking to people about (pauses for airplane) reconciliation with the aboriginals and the land claims and all that. How d you think about that?
MS: well, I'll tell you what I do think. I think most of aust would agree with me if they understood the situation. I was lucky that when I was young I was working at kakadu, I met so many aboriginies right in their communities where they come from. And I have a great deal of respect for them. I think something like you would call your american indian the noble savage. Well that's what I found out about our aboriginies. In their own environment, they're actually the best people in the world. If you meet an aborigini in the bush, he'll give his life for you. I do believe we hold a great deal of responsibility and shame for the way they're been treated. The ones in east (?), they never lost their land. And they're not dishearted. There's problems with boredom in the community now with the young kids. B7ut if the rest of aust could give the aboriginies what theyre entitled to, I think the trouble between black and white aust would go away. I'm just sorry that our prime minister, mr howard, hasn't found it in himself, within himself, to say sorry. Eventually an aust prime minister is going to have to. The reason why there' s so much trouble, esp with the half caste, is they've been maltreated, they're undernourished underfed and underloved. If they are allowed to feed themselves, and feel loved within their own family within their own community, we won't have trouble with them.
1 :05:00 AC: that's pretty good advice for people everywhere I guess. MS: yes. AC: do aust ... european americans anyway ...my family came from england as
yurs did, but by now people have been there so long they've forgotten how long they've
been there , they don't keep track ... but I notice you talk about the 1 st fleet, maybe the 6th generation, is it , do aust kind of keep track of that, who came from where, all that stuff?
MS: yes. Esp now in the last couple of years there's been a big resurgence in our history. In early years I think everyone was a bit ashamed, you know they might have had a convict in the closet, but its not so now. I still remember my father used to say this: (unintelligible) ... we 're pure marinos boys and don't you ever forget it. Yeah, people like researching their history, and they' re now beginning to be proud of their relatives.
AC: would it be something that someone woudn't want known, if they had an ancestor who was a convict? I mean a lot of these convicts were sent here against their will, some of them were political prisoners ...
MS: that used to happen, but I don't think that happens today. Yeah, in the early 50s there were stories about different record books had pages missing and they couldn't understand why, only it must have been someone important covering the tracks of his ancestors. But no that doesn't happen toda7y. I think people today are more proud that they can actually trace these people and probably forgive them. It probably helps themselves in one way.