Image for Why Tasmania needs a community-based eco-toxicology research fund

Born in 1953, I’m a Baby Boomer. The demographer and social commentator, Hugh McKay, would be able to tell us about the assorted values that underpin that post-war generation.

I’m one of four children all born after the war to a father who was traumatised by his wartime experiences and to a mother who in sometimes difficult circumstances nurtured, encouraged and loved her children.

My mother died in 2005 and I made a conscious decision to use that portion of her estate handed down in death to support and sustain Nature.

As a veterinarian trained in pathology I moved to Tasmania with a young family in 1980.

In looking back part of me wants to say that others encouraged me to come to Tasmania because of my qualifications and experiences……..but in my teens I read of the natural beauty of this southern island, it sowed a seed of wonderment and perhaps deep longing to go there. In those years I read another book that shook the world - Rachel Carson’s 1965 book, Silent Spring.

I have never regretted the move to Tasmania. It remains a magical place full of wonder and deep solace.

Like so many who come here I felt an instant connection to its landscape - its mountains, forests and rugged coastline; the rich-soiled farmlands forming chequered colours of crops; the forested hills protecting rivers and streams, sheep and cattle grazing in mellow paddocks and then of course, there was Tasmania’s wondrous wildlife.

Yes, it was Tasmania’s wildlife in all its variety and abundance that gave me - ‘a little slice of heaven’ on earth!

Those first impressions were a generous gift that has nurtured me for thirty years. I am full of gratitude for the privilege to have been so close to some of Tasmania’s wild creatures in sickness and in health.

Naturally over those three decades I’ve aged from a naïve dreamer into a willing but tamed government pathologist, to a middle-life crisis whistleblower highlighting the suppression of public science on this beautiful island to now a somewhat tired, mid-fifties man who has seen enough of the destruction of a special place.

From my experiences here, I believe, Tasmania’s ecology has now reached a tipping point and yet daily our elected government is in denial and it seems that its own scientists have been unable to convince them of an impending catastrophe.

For all the rhetoric of Tasmania as ‘clean-green’, disease-free, residue-free, pristine, the natural state - there is the reality of chemicals contaminating our water, wildlife with unusual illnesses & diseases, dramatic declines in abundance of iconic species, mass oyster kills and high cancer rates in humans.  We are witnessing the legacy of tight control over science in the Pubic Service and it is now up to the community to speak their truth to political power.

A group of independent ecologists and scientists have just published a paper on the key ecological processes that Tasmania relies on for its overall triple bottom line sustainability. It is an acknowledgement of the under-valued richness of this unique place that supports all life in Tasmania and it highlights what many of us are now calling Tasmania’s ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Tasmania’s wildlife has suffered enormously over two centuries since European colonisation yet they are mute victims in the face of a persistent conflict with humans. After the years of persecution and unfettered trapping of all manner of wildlife for their fur and decades of legalised use of lethal poisons such as strychnine and 1080, the 21st century attacks on wildlife are now more covert and insidious. Broad acre habitat destruction, landscape fragmentation, the growing list of alien species & pathogens and the legalised use of a vast array of biocides and harmful chemicals.

In the thirty years of working with wildlife I’ve seen the good, the bad and the unspeakably ugly. Biodiversity decline and the impact of insidious disease processes are now the hallmarks of Tasmania’s wildlife and ecosystems - a transmissible cancer in Tasmanian devils, fungal diseases in frogs and platypus, bacterial and protozoal infections in wombats, bandicoots, birds and echidnas, unusual new pathologies still to be understood. And I have continued to ask - Why?

Make no mistake please; what we are living through in Tasmania is a microcosm of what is currently happening around the world. Wildlife diseases spilling over into domestic animals and humans; completely new diseases emerging - sometimes caused by unexpected infectious pathogens, sometimes with extraordinary and truly worrying pathologies completely novel to science.

Simplistically it was once accepted that infectious ‘disease’ was triggered by the coming together of three essential components - the HOST, the PATHOGEN and the ENVIRONMENTAL circumstances - an 18th century, 2-dimensional triangle of cause & effect. That thinking has been literally, turned on its pointy head as there is now universal acceptance of a fourth important dimension - HUMAN IMPACTS or ANTHROPOGENIC EFFECTS. It has made disease or what more scientists are referring to as societal or ecological ‘dis-ease’ into a 3-D shape - a triangular pyramid of causality.

The impact of humans - now a global population of 6.4 billion people and set to rise to 9.1 billion by 2050 - cannot be under-estimated…it’s massive!  With the economic expansion of China and India and the exponential growth of globalised trade, I believe we inevitably face the risks of importing harmful synthetic chemicals in clothing, in food, in household products - electrical equipment, furniture, childrens’ toys and many other products.

In Tasmania, we face some particularly local human challenges - the ignorance of some of our politicians and senior bureaucrats and the active suppression of science to speak up for the health of our human communities, for Tasmania’s voiceless wildlife and for the only natural environment we are custodians for.

I want to thank Environment Tasmania and our newly formed friends in the Pollution Information Tasmania network for unswerving support for this bottom-up venture. Each day we make progress in “joining up the ‘dis-ease’ dots”. Only a few days ago a Commonwealth Government official offered congratulations, saying that it was an issue with enormous impact for the Planet, second only to the impact of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide rises linked to Climate Change.

Thank you for coming today and please consider making a donation to the Tasmanian Eco-toxicology Research Fund.

All about pollution in Tasmania, SourceWatch: HERE