Earthwatch/Future Leaders Environmental Award Report
By Declan Clausen
The Earthwatch Project, Animals of the Outback, that I was engaged in as a Future Leader’s Fellow was to Charles Darwin Reserve, a 63,600 ha semi-desert property approximately 4 hours drive North East of Perth on the Western Australian Wheat Belt. The field project that I was involved in was designed by Dr Rob Davis of Edith Cowen University. The main aim of his research was to identify strong links between small animal biodiversity in certain regions of the reserve to develop a comprehensive Integrated Predator Control Program to manage introduced pest species such as feral cats, foxes and goats on the property. These introduced species have a huge impact on the local environment and members of the community. Within Charles Darwin Reserve these introduced species have drastic impacts changing composition of the environment by removing some species of flora and fauna. To the local community the economic impact is huge as they kill livestock.
Checking a funnel trap
The field research undertaken on the expedition was to set up and monitor traps of various types across the property. Most prominently this involved the use of 16 sites of 12 bucket pit fall traps, 16 sites of 6 funnel traps, 100 Elliott traps placed in strategic regions as well as 28 camera traps. These traps were set in different areas of the reserve and neighbouring crown land so that the scientific method would be followed removing unwanted errors. To this effect, of the 16 sites where pit fall and funnel traps were placed, the lines of traps were split into groups to cover burnt sandplain areas, unburnt sandplain areas, 1080 baited areas, non-1080 baited areas and woodland areas. Each of these sites were left opened and monitored daily, with species found in traps being weighed, measured and tagged with a paint pen (to indicate possible recapture).
Recording the length of a Thorny Devil Lizard
Although many repetitions of this trapping regime would be required over many years before an accurate animal trend could be established, it was clear that the volunteers on the project had a real involvement in research. I feel that I was able to contribute much to the project – such as being involved in some of the more physical aspects of the project like assist with the opening of some of the more challenging sites, or using some of the very basic engineering problem solving skills that I have learnt in the first semester of the first year of my degree to help resolve small problems. I found the research and Earthwatch teams to be very accommodating with the needs of each individual in the volunteer team, allowing each to choose specific tasks based on their scientific background, and in many cases physical fitness. The dynamics of the team were fantastic! Made up with people from many generations, with people aged 18 to 84 and everywhere in-between, there was much to learn from fellow expeditioners. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting to some of the others on the trip about their background, politics and science among other topics.
The knowledge and skills that I have developed as a member of this Earthwatch Expedition would easily outweigh the amount that I was able to contribute to the project itself. While saying that, I assisted the researches with their research to the best of my ability and made sure that I was actively involved in all aspects of the project, attempting to lend every assistance to the scientific team. The skills that I have gained will assist me throughout the remaining 5 and a half years of my double Engineering (Environmental) and Science (Chemistry) degrees at the University of Newcastle, and allowed me to develop new skills that will help me as a graduated Engineer and Chemist in my vocation in 6 years time.
While it would be lying to say that this project has established my thoughts about the importance of environmental conservation, it has certainly rekindled my love of the grass roots environmental conservation and the importance of environmental sustainability. Dr Matt Appleby, from Bush Heritage, was an absolute inspiration. His willingness to share his knowledge about the reserve both in the area of his own expertise as a botanist, as well as knowledge he had gained from the traditional custodians the Aboriginal Peoples from the Badimia, Widi and Binyardi Nations.
Vast Granite Outcrops with spectacular Aboriginal Gnamma Holes
I had expected to gain and give a lot from the expedition, but the reality was I learned far more that I could have ever imagined. I had the most amazing time on expedition! I have caught the “Earthwatch Bug” and this trip will definitely not be my last Earthwatch expedition!! Perhaps as I move towards the completion of my degree, I may well be involved as an Earthwatch Scientist!