Over the past two decades and more, considerable research has studied the impact of vehicles on beaches and the studies have found that the visual marks of the tyre tracks are the least of all the problems. Unfortunately, it is not widely known that when off-road or on-road vehicles drive along beaches and over sandy dunes, real, permanent changes will be made to the local ecology which, in turn, affects the wider environment. An example of a report describing some of these issues can be read in this Discussion Paper – they focus on another part of Australia but the principles are constant.
So, with that information coming to mind, I was horrified to read yesterday’s story on ABC News online. While many of the tracks in the Tarkine are officially closed to vehicular traffic, it seems a couple of quad bike riders ignored this restriction and have hooned along the sandy paths in a world recognised Conservation Area between the Arthur and Pieman Rivers on Tasmania’s west coasts.
I feel sure there are many who are ignorant of the underlying damage caused to the flora and fauna when vehicles access such natural areas. A concentrated public education program needs to be instigated. But it is not only the damage to the natural environment to be considered.
In our Tarkine, some parts of beaches and sand dunes contain remnants of social history; physical evidence of the culture of the aboriginal tribes who lived in the area for thousands of years before European settlement. To some, perhaps one shell or one tiny flaked stone tool might seem insignificant. That is, because such objects are small they may not be considered as valuable as more prominent artefacts. When there are a collection of these objects, as can be found in and around Tarkine middens, some people may think the sheer volume means it will not matter that some are broken or removed.
Global history is full of artefacts being taken and relocated (eg the marble relief-sculptures removed from the Greek Parthenon to England known as the Elgin marbles), and being destroyed by cultural vandals (eg the large Buddha statues carved into a cliff in Afghanistan). Once moved their integrity is confused. Once destroyed the totality of the history is lost.
If you own a 4WD or other off-road vehicle and have been thinking of driving along beaches or across sand dunes wherever you live in the world, please read the Discussion Paper above and think about the permanent effect you will be making on this world –even if others do not see you.