The Wet Tropics are home to the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforests on earth and harbour the greatest diversity of animals and plants found anywhere in Australia. Rainforest Aboriginal people have occupied, used and enjoyed the Wet Tropics for at least 40,000 years.
Without urgent action a horror story will unfold in and around this unique World Heritage Area.
Yellow crazy ants have breached the boundary of the
Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
– internationally recognised as the world’s second most irreplaceable natural World Heritage site –
Yellow crazy ants are a serious environmental menace, agricultural pest and risk to human health.
The aggressive, acid-spraying ants have already infested 830 hectares of rainforest, cane farms and people’s homes. These ants are known to form super colonies with devastating impacts to neighbourhoods, crops and biodiversity. They are considered among 100 of the world’s worst invasive species and judging by the ants’ impacts elsewhere, this is an impending natural catastrophe for the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Yellow crazy ants can also have devastating impacts on the health and well-being of local residents. Formic acid sprayed by the ants can burn the skin and eyes of people and pets and make it impossible to enjoy life outdoors. But they don’t stop there, these little nasties also invade indoor areas and destroy electrical equipment.
They even threaten agricultural productivity by harvesting sap-sucking scale insects, protecting them from predators that would otherwise keep them in balance. Already, local cane farmers have suffered financial losses from the impacts of yellow crazy ants on their crops.
But there is a plan.
A detailed and costed Eradication program put together by the Wet Tropics Management Authority with the help of the local community, expert scientists and industry stakeholders.
For eradication programs to be successful, stability and commitment is paramount but the community’s experience here in the Wet Tropics has been more like a rock’n’roll rollercoaster.
The local community was absolutely dumbfounded when Biosecurity Queensland ceased eradication efforts in 2012. With leadership from the Wet Tropics Management Authority, they were forced to pick up the torch and together have kept the deadly ants in check through a $1.9 million Caring for Country grant. But with funding for treatment running out in June 2016, the Yellow Crazy Ant treatment program team was forced to make the gut wrenching decision to cease baiting in residential areas in early 2016 in order to focus the limited remaining resources on high risk areas such as the World Heritage Area and riparian zones.
At this point the community became concerned all their effort would be for nothing with both the state and federal governments reluctant to commit new funding.
But the local community wouldn’t stand for it.
Failure to eradicate Yellow Crazy Ants from the Wet Tropics region is simply not an option for us here, not when we are stewards of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
The community did everything in their power to convince our politicians that this was a fight worth fighting.
They didn’t just stop at meeting with their local MP’s. Stakeholders took the plea for funding to key politicians in Canberra and Brisbane and even hosted key politicians in the far north so they could visit the infestations and see first hand the devastating impacts.
The community’s enormous efforts to raise awareness through local, state and national media took the plea to new heights and a powerful open letter signed by a diverse range of stakeholders showed key politicians that a whole community was calling out in desperation. Here at CAFNEC, we also launched an e-petition to the Queensland government to re-enforce the community’s call for action.
And finally after all this, we started to see funding commitments from both the state and federal governments.
But that is not the end of the story, it is just the beginning. Eradication takes time and needs stability and unwavering commitment.
Although it may take 10 years to ensure full eradication, the detailed eradication program calls for an initial commitment $15.3 million over the coming 3 years. With commitments of $7.5 million from the federal government and $3 million from the state, the program still needs $4.3 million to give us the best chance of successful eradication. If decisions have to be made to skip or reduce parts of the program due to the need to stretch the pennies, it could end up taking longer and cost more in the long-term.
While it is great that baiting in residential areas will recommence and the funding committed to date will allow treatment to continue, the fight’s not over yet.
If history is anything to go by, we will have to keep the pressure on our politicians to ensure consistency and stability of eradication efforts in the coming years.
If not eradicated, yellow crazy ants will have devastating impacts on biodiversity, business and backyards, threatening the environmental, economic and social values of life in the Wet Tropics.
The fight’s not over yet. We must keep advocating for the full eradication of Yellow Crazy Ants from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and surrounds.
For more information on the topic, be sure to check out this must-read story of Yellow Crazy Ants in the Wet Tropics.
You can also keep up-to-date with what’s going on with the Yellow Crazy Ant treatment program on this Facebook page.