Australia has 8,222 islands within its maritime borders. The largest is Tasmania (68,332 km2) but seventh and eighth respectively are Flinders Island (1,359 km2) and King Island (1,091 km2) that lie north of Tasmania in the Bass Strait placing them in the path of the “Roaring Forties”, a strong prevailing westerly wind. Flinders is the largest island in the Furneaux Group named after the British navigator Tobias Furneaux, commander of H.M. Ship Adventure, the support vessel on James Cook’s second voyage. Furneaux first recorded some of the islands in the Group in 1773. In 1798 another British navigator Matthew Flinders charted the islands. He then went on to complete the first circumnavigation of Tasmania, accompanied by George Bass, proving Tasmania to be an island separate from the Australian mainland. King Island was first sighted in 1797 by Captain William Campbell of the Deptford, but it was not named by Captain John Black of the Harbinger until January 1801.
Both islands were frequented by sealers in the late 18th century but they soon exploited their quarry to the edge of extinction, causing the last sealing permit to be issued in 1828. Many sealers’ families chose to stay in the Furneaux Group, subsisting on cattle grazing and mutton birding. The last of the old sealers and their Aboriginal ‘wives’ (the majority having been kidnapped from their mainland tribes) left King Island in 1854 and for many years it was only occasionally visited by hunters, and more often castaways from shipwrecks. It was not until the 1880s when freehold land was given out that a new community developed. Today, the Councils of Flinders Island and King Island form part of the state of Tasmania. Flinders has a population of 832 spread around various settlements with the largest being Whitemark. King Island has a population of 1,723 mostly concentrated around the main towns of Currie and Grassy.
Renewable Energy & Eco Housing
Hydro Tasmania is responsible for the generation, distribution and retail of electricity on the Bass Strait Islands. Currently the cost to supply electricity on these islands is much greater than the revenue derived from selling the electricity to customers. To bridge the gap between the cost of production of energy and the revenue collected Hydro Tasmania has implemented over the last twelve years a number of developments to reduce the islands dependency on diesel fuel.
King Island residents have enjoyed the benefits of wind generation since 1998, when the island’s first renewable energy from three wind turbines on Huxley Hill began to power their homes, schools, farms and businesses. Huxley Hill was the second commercial wind farm to be established in Australia. Since then, the three 250kW Nordex wind turbines have generated about 18% of the island’s electricity needs, with the balance generated from a diesel-fired power station located 7 km from the main township of Currie. From that beginning, Hydro Tasmania then began investigating ways to further increase the contribution of renewable energy to the island’s power requirements including mini-hydro, wave power, co-generation and pump storage but concluded additional wind energy was the best option.
Hydro Tasmania expanded their wind farm in 2003 with the addition of two new 850kW Vestas turbines, a state-of-the-art 200kW Vanadium Redox Battery and an innovative control system. With a total installed capacity of about 2.45 MW of wind generation, this was a significant contribution to the island’s then current maximum demand of about 3 MW. This wind farm expansion would also reduce annual diesel consumption on the island by more than a million litres and result in renewable energy contributing about 50% of the island’s energy requirements and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 7,000 tonnes, equivalent to the annual emissions of about 1600 cars. The potential impact of these wind farms on the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle population was also investigated.
In 2008, six dual axis tracking solar photovoltaic systems were installed, adding approximately 100kW of further renewable energy generation to the power station. Further developments have since been investigated including a carbon block/steam turbine energy storage system to store large amounts of thermal energy for later use; construction of up to 4MW of additional wind turbines; and replacing mineral diesel fuel with biodiesel produced using tallow from the local abattoir. Hydro Tasmania has also been approached by a number of proponents for ocean power technologies for deployment in Bass Strait. BioPower Systems has received a government grant for a pilot scale trial of wave power technology on King Island and a pilot tidal power system for Flinders Island. Oceanlinx has installed two wave sensors off King Island’s west coast to collect data.
In December 2010 the former Tasmania Premier, David Bartlett, announced the go ahead of a renewable energy integration project costing up to $45 million for King Island. By mid-2011, construction will begin on adding two new turbines to the five already on Huxley Hill, new solar banks will be built and new technology introduced to ensure the power grid can cope with exceptionally windy days. Every home and business on King Island, including its two dominant industries, the abattoir and the cheese factory, will have smart-grid technology that offers information and choices about best and cheapest times to use electricity. Hydro Tasmania has also formed a joint venture with CBD Energy to test a new method of long-term storage of electricity and the island may also serve as a trial location to test electric cars.
The Whitemark power station on Flinders Island contains four diesel generator sets providing an installed capacity of 2.77 MW. Two small privately owned wind turbines are connected to the system but Hydro Tasmania now has plans to establish a small wind farm on the island. There has also been substantial uptake in a solar hot water scheme whereby residents obtain a rebate for purchasing and installing such a system.
The Tasmanian Greens believe Flinders Island has been poorly served by the Labor Party and in 2010, prior to an election, announced a package of measures that they would like to see introduced to drive rapid take-up of renewable energy and a more sustainable economy in general on the island. The election delivered a hung parliament, with Mr Bartlett forming a minority government with the Greens. The deal enabled the Green MP, Nick McKim, to become Minister for Alternative Energy who quickly announced the creation of an Renewable Energy Fund to help the Bass Strait islands. It was revealed in August 2011 that from 18 applications for first round funding, seven projects would receive a total of around $364,000. These included the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association for energy audits and the installation of solar generators at community businesses; Flinders Island Car Rentals to replace their shuttle vehicle to the airport with an electric one and a 5kW PV system to power it; and Kelp Industries on King Island for a solar power system on its buildings near Currie.
Waste Minimisation & Recycling
There is a fortnightly residential rubbish collection service on King Island and commercial waste can be collected three times per week. At a central transfer station waste is segregated into putrescibles, inert and recyclable material. The putrescible waste is then delivered into a purpose built shed, where it is compacted, baled and wrapped in a protective covering, which minimises odours and loose materials from escaping. The bales are then transported to the landfill site at Pegarah. Due to the cost of freight it is currently not feasible to offer full recycling services on the island. The local Lions Club have been collecting batteries and aluminium cans for a number of years. In the past, CSIRO scientists have helped to recycle King Island dairy’s excess cardboard packaging into dense briquettes to partially fuel the Kelp Industry furnaces and drying kilns.
Whitemark is the main landfill for Flinders Island and is a 35ha, lined, supervised site. Waste is self-hauled to the landfill as there are no kerbside collection services. A Tasmanian environmental management consultancy, SEAM has produced a strategy to better manage solid waste on Flinders. It has also helped conduct a trial to test an inoculated, no-shred composting method and its applicability of reducing green waste to landfill.
Water Management & Security
King Island has two water supply supplies under its control. The one for Currie is sourced from a series of groundwater bores located in the dune area to the south west of the town. There is considerable urban activity in the recharge area of the bores and this has the potential to adversely impact on town water quality. The off take for the water supply for Grassy is located on the Grassy River where blue-green algal blooms have been a problem in the past. Other water quality issues have been found to be high nutrient loads, poor condition of waterways, high salt levels and management of the upper reaches of the catchments. King Island Waterwatch was established in 1999 and regularly monitor change in water quality at a number of sites around the island. Water quantity is another significant issue due to the large investment in the agricultural sector. King Island is generally a wet environment but over the last ten year has seen significantly less rainfall. This rainfall reduction has impacted on some of the wetlands, lagoons and streams. Water availability tends to sway from too much water to not enough.
Currie had the first wetland designed to achieve secondary and tertiary level sewage treatment in Australia. Located within a Reserve, the project area is bounded by the Southern Ocean to the west, residential and commercial developments to the north and east, and a golf course to the south. The system was required to service a small community of 1000-1500 people including seasonal peaks, with potential for reuse at minimal cost. The protection and enhancement of the local environment and the ‘green’ image of King Island were paramount to the wetland’s creation that was completed in 2004. Prior to its construction by Syrinx about 275,000 litres of raw sewage discharged daily into the ocean. As a solution, the project was designed to capture the essence of the surrounding dune landscape to tailor a site-specific wetland treatment system. The wetland is passively fed and treats bio-solids. It consists of a conventional front-end screening device, followed by a facultative pond, a series of vegetated and non-vegetated areas and a subsurface flow wetland.
Due to the low rainfall and relatively small size of the catchments in the Furneaux Group the flow of rivers, creeks and streams is very seasonal. There are very few permanently running streams on the islands. The three largest towns on Flinders Island have their own water supplies. Whitemark’s is sourced from an instream reservoir on Pats River. Water quality issues include erosion of river courses through the removal of riparian vegetation, salinity, agricultural pressures, pollution from badly managed tip sites, road runoff and the impacts of wastewater.
Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production
Agriculture is a very important industry for King Island and their meat processing facility was saved from closure in 2009 thus retaining 100 vital jobs. Local farmers supply this abattoir that can kill up to 180 cattle per day and all packaged product carries the Australian 790 Establishment Number stamp. This shows that the beef has been produced on King Island and to the highest export standard. The cattle are not fed any animal by-products, growth hormones, antibiotics or other unnecessary drugs. They are simply left to graze all year round on natural pastures that are free of genetic modifications and chemical residues.
The island has been long renowned for its local produce that besides beef includes cheese, bottled water, honey, fruit, pepper as well as gourmet pies, shortbread and puddings from the bakery. While beef and dairy products are its mainstay, the island is also noted for its seafood, in particular crayfish, oysters and abalone while bull kelp, that’s washed onto the island’s shores, is farmed, dried and exported as well as having been turned into a local chutney. King Island has developed a unique brand known for its excellence that has led to a network of food and ‘grazing’ trails. Visitors can purchase different hampers of local produce or sample it directly at restaurants.
Agriculture is the main employment sector for Flinders Island with many other local businesses relying on it to maintain their viability. Their farmers produce quality beef and lamb as well as clean fine wool. It supports Bass Strait’s only winery, with the highly rated whites and pinot noir from Unavale Vineyard. For the health and well-being of residents it is important that there is a wide and readily available variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, reducing the island’s dependence on costly imports. In their election manifesto, the Tasmanian Greens stated they would commit $1.2 million over three years to establish a Community Garden and Sustainable Living Centre on Flinders Island. Such a Centre would serve both as a market for fresh produce and provide training in range of skills from renewable energy instalment to brand name development and promotion.
King Island Airlines, Regional Express and Tasair all operate services to the island. There is a weekly ferry from Melbourne that comes into Grassy Harbour. The cost of shipping containers and livestock is almost one and a half times the rate that Tasmania enjoys so there has been a long running campaign for a freight equalisation scheme to be introduced. There is no public transport or taxi service on the island.
Airlines of Tasmania run a daily service from Launceston, Tasmania and a thrice weekly flight from Melbourne (Essendon) to Flinders Island airport about 3 km north of Whitemark. In October 2010, Sharp Airlines also began operating services between Essendon, Flinders Island and Launceston. A ferry service is operated to the island by Southern Shipping Co from Bridport, Tasmania, and also from Port Welshpool, Victoria.
Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing
Although the two islands share the same latitude they offer vastly different travel experiences. In a nutshell, Flinders is about adventure and King is about appetite. One thing they do have in common is a rich history. More than 100 ships have wrecked on King Island (including Australia’s worst maritime disaster, when the Cataraqui smashed into rocks in 1845, killing more than 400 people), while the first-known shipwreck on Australia’s east coast was just of Flinders Island. Today, one of the lures of King Island besides excellent food is its trio of lighthouses, while on Flinders you can still see the consequences of the absence of lighthouses. At King’s northern tip, the towering Cape Wickham lighthouse is the tallest station in the southern hemisphere, rising 48 metres. In the brutally named Pot Boil, a turbulent section of water off the Flinders south coast, the 1912 wreck of the barque Farsund is wedged into a sandbar. A century on, the wreck has accumulated enough plant life to almost qualify as a floating nursery. But Flinders greatest claim on history is not maritime. In empty fields along its wind-blown west coast, the Wybalenna Chapel is a forlorn memory of Tasmania’s attempt to exile and isolate its Aboriginal population. In the 1830s, almost 200 Aborigines were taken to Wybalenna, where most died of disease or homesickness in the next decade. The National Trust is said to regard the chapel as one of the most important historic sites in Australia and further information can also be found in the Furneaux Museum.
The King Island Tourism Association has detailed information about the gastronomic delights but different tours are available to cater for every interest. The Cultural Centre has a constant flow of art exhibitions. The defining feature on Flinders Island is its landscape with inviting chalky white beaches and hills piercing every horizon. A bushwalking trail winds up the slopes to the exposed summit of Mount Strzelecki and a magnificent view of the Bass Strait. Flinders Island Adventures offer walking holidays, 4WD tours and fishing tours. The Tourism Association and Travel Centre provide further information on all the natural attractions, where to stay and how to reach the island. A Nature Based Tourism Market Feasibility Study was undertaken in June 2010 that produced an action plan aiming to deliver on the Flinders Island brand of “wild, natural, friendly” and “a scattering of islands where mountains meet the sea”.
Biodiversity & Protected Areas
There are six reserves on King Island with the largest, Lavinia State Reserve, containing spectacular coastal and bush scenery, wildlife and a significant lagoon and wetland system, which is why it is listed under the RAMSAR convention. The reserve is home for a number of rare birds including the endangered Orange-bellied Parrot that visits the island in autumn and spring. In 2007 a large fire burnt around 12,500 ha of vegetation, with about two thirds of this within the reserve and adjoining Crown Land.
Low physical variation and geographic isolation has led to vegetation that is relatively low in structural and floristic diversity. About 470 native vascular plant species have been recorded and the island is also home to 197 vertebrate species, with 164 of these being birds including large colonies of Little Penguin and Short-tailed Shearwater. A draft Biodiversity Management Plan 2010 -2020 identifies actions to recover threatened species. Priorities include two tree ferns, Green and Golden Frog, Brown Thornbill, Scrubtit, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Orange-bellied Parrot.
About a third of Flinders Island is mountainous and rugged with ridges of granite running the length of the island. With a height of 756 m, Mount Strzelecki in the southwest is the highest peak and the area surrounding it constitutes Strzelecki National Park. Many coastal lagoons punctuate the eastern shore, formed by dunes blocking further drainage. These coastal areas are mainly covered in scrub or shrubs, whereas the vegetation at a higher elevation consists mostly eucalyptus woodland. The total number of plant species in the Furneaux Group well exceeds 800, showing the great biodiversity of its ecosystem. Animals include Bennett’s Wallaby, Tasmanian Pademelon (nocturnal wallaby), the Potoroo - a kangaroo/rat like creature about the size of a rabbit, several species of possum, wombat, echidna and Cape Fur Seal. Besides large numbers of Cape Barren Geese and Short-tailed Shearwater, two Important Bird Areas have been identified on Flinders Island. One tract of land contains three breeding colonies of the endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote and habitat used by Flame Robins. It also supports populations of Tasmania’s restricted-range endemics like several species of Honeyeater. The other strip of land supports small numbers of Fairy Terns, large numbers of Hooded Plovers and over 1% of the world populations of Chestnut Teal, Pied Oystercatchers and Sooty Oystercatchers. Further information about all these species can be obtained from fact sheets produced by the Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Service and a recent report on island birds.
Integrated Development Planning
The King Island Natural Resource Management Group has been instrumental in assisting land managers and the community to manage their natural resources. The Group was formed in 1997 with representatives of the existing Landcare groups and various other organisations. The Group’s objective has been from the beginning “to promote co-ordinated and integrated management of natural resources which will contribute to the economic and environmental sustainability of King Island.” Their first project was to develop the King Island Natural Resource Management Review and Strategic Action Plan 1998 –2001. In 2003 King Island was included into the Cradle Coast Natural Resource Management region of Tasmania.
Since its inception the Group has completed many projects to address problems such as salinity, water quality, threatened species protection, and has introduced environmental management systems on farms. The Group has now produced the King Island Natural Resource Management Strategy 2010-2020 but competition for Australian and State Government agency funding has increased making it more difficult for community groups to access finance for projects. Their current work includes weed management control of various species including sea spurge as well as continuing salinity management, monitoring water quality and removing cats to stop their predation on Orange-bellied Parrots. The Group has produced a range of publications detailing this work that can be downloaded from their website.
In May 2008 almost 40% of businesses from the King Island Community took part in a Sustainable Futures Program to reduce their environmental impacts and capture a larger slice of the green tourism market by strengthening their already distinctive brand. Some 30 enterprises, including the council and the school, signed on to the 12-month program to adopt a more resource efficient approach to business, focusing on optimising energy, water, chemical and transport use to reduce wastes and cut operating costs. For continuing advice and support, Sustainable Living Tasmania is a community resource and education centre that has developed an extensive range of guides to provide impartial information about sustainability issues.
Flinders Council is also adopting sustainability as the overarching guiding principle that drives decisions, integrates all sectors and provides a platform to grow. In 2010 they identified various priority projects that will provide the catalyst for development, options for the efficient use of Council’s resources and deliver direct benefits to the community. Chief amongst them was implementation of an integrated renewable energy plan including the installation and commissioning of the required infrastructure; the transfer of main road ownership and maintenance costs from the Council to the State Government; improved local food production and introduction of a recognisable brand that establishes a unique proposition for consumers; a new recycle, reuse and reprocess waste management facility; and redevelopment of the Lady Barron port as the key sea access point.
Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures
The Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency website has a great deal of material on climate change science, impacts, mitigation and adaptation. The Tasmanian Climate Change Office is a small, multi-disciplinary team established within the Department of Premier and Cabinet to lead the Government’s efforts to respond to the challenges of climate change in Tasmania. Climate Tasmania is about global climate issues from the perspective of a local journalist.