Dirk Hartog Island, a National Park in the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, is Western Australia’s largest island. It is 80 km long and 15 km at its widest point with an area of about 63,000 ha.
The island is named after its first European visitor, a captain with the Dutch East India Company, who landed there in 1616. Scientists have established that at that time there were 13 native mammal species living there. These included the Woylie, Chuditch (Western Quoll), Dibbler and Western Barred Bandicoot.
The island became a pastoral lease in 1869. When it became a national park in 2009, there were only three of the native mammal species still living there. The local extinctions were the result of human activity including the introduction of goats, sheep and cats. By 2009 the island’s goat population had expanded to an estimated 10,000 and the impact of these animals grazing and trampling on the native vegetation had been severe.
An ambitious twenty year project “Return to 1616” (costed at $16.3 million) has recently achieved its first major milestone – the removal of thousands of feral cats, goats and sheep. The way is now clear for the re-introduction of threatened native species to a sanctuary in which it is hoped they will thrive.
A fence was put across the island to divide it into two cells. The island was then baited and the southern section was monitored to gauge its success and then this process was continued in the north.
The first native animals to be reintroduced were 140 Rufous and Banded Hare-wallabies from nearby Bernier and Dorre islands. The remaining species will be reintroduced in the coming years.
Stephen Dawson, the WA Environment Minister, said that the project was part of a broader suite of measures the State Government was undertaking to create animal sanctuaries for threatened species around the state.
“Over the past 200 years, we’ve seen our species threatened because of land clearing, because of urbanisation, so to have arks like this available in the state where we can restore the animals is very important,” Mr Dawson said.
- Leonie Blain