Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson writes about his experience at the Tarkine BioBlitz

"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."

Baba Dioum

Photo: Emma Anglesey

When we arrived at the Tarkine BioBlitz early on Friday evening, it was already in full swing. A “BioBlitz” is where a group of scientists, naturalists and community volunteers undertake biological surveying in a chosen area with the purpose of recording as many species of plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible.  Sound like fun?!  Well when we walked into the BioBlitz Basecamp - the Riverbend camp, 6km south of Smithton – it was buzzing with excitement.  Around 100 volunteer naturalists, scientists and community members had been out in the field during the afternoon and they were marveling at and documenting their discoveries.  This was Tasmania’s - and my - first Bioblitz and this is just what I had expected.

Photo: Emma Anglesey

What I didn’t expect was to find groups of teenagers voluntarily documenting species of moss and attending lectures about “slime moulds” and rare Tasmanian orchids late into the night.  On your average Friday night in Tasmania, you don’t often find groups of people 25 and under excitedly hovering around microscopes looking at plants, invertebrates and microbes.  By their very nature BioBlitzes get people interested in biodiversity and encourage public participation, and it was fantastic to see so many young people involved and inspired by science in nature.

Photo: Emma Anglesey

On the Saturday we split into smaller groups and set off to two field sites which were chosen to allow us to explore some of the diverse ecosystems of the Tarkine. The coastal site was Dartys Corner/Eva Point (located south of Temma) - rocky and sandy shoreline, with two creeks and a variety of coastal vegetation - and the inland site was Dempster Plains (near the lookout on Sumac Road) - buttongrass, moorland and heathland surrounded by rainforest and eucalypt forest.  As participants we could choose our own adventure and naturally I picked the coastal option - how could you resist a visit to the magnificent Tarkine coastline?

Photo: Emma Anglesey

Highlights for me were seeing chitons while hanging out at the rock pool survey with Rodolfo Maia, an Environmental Scientist who work as a park ranger for Parks Victoria, and discovering how to identify different plants species with Anna Povey on the plants survey. Anna works with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and has an environmental consultancy, Bush Matters, providing flora and fauna surveys, bush management plans and environmental education.  Between the plant and rock pool survey areas we had to go through a make-shift quarantine station to apply the appropriate biosecurity measures that prevent the spreading of any weeds and pathogens, and we were thankful that Jessie Westbury, the coast field site coordinator, was there to show us the ropes.

Photo: Emma Anglesey

There is a growing interest in organising BioBlitzes in Australia. A BioBlitz is a fantastic way to have fun, explore and learn together in special places and they are definitely worth the hard work of organising them.  We hope to see a developing community of practice around the BioBlitz model in Tasmania as it definitely works, and we’ll continue to support these fantastic community events.  Thanks all those naturalists, scientists, volunteers and participants who helped to make Bob Brown Foundation’s and Tasmania’s inaugural BioBlitz a fantastic experience - see you at the next one!

Peter Whish-Wilson

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Tarkine BioBlitz "Invertebrates" Video

Peter McQuillan talks about the hunt for invertebrates in the Tarkine BioBlitz and the importance of recording the species present there.

Thanks to Jase White for filming, editing and producing this video.

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Tarkine BioBlitz "Slime Mould" Video

Sarah Lloyd takes us to the weird world of Slime Moulds in this short Tarkine BioBlitz video.

Thanks to Jase White for filming, editing and producing this video.

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Tarkine BioBlitz "Bryophytes in the Tarkine" Video

Paddy Dalton tells us why Byrophytes (mosses, hornworts and liverworts) are important in the Tarkine.

Thanks to Jase White for filming, editing and producing this video.

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Tarkine BioBlitz "Sampling the Rainforest Treetops" Video

Join Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness in this short video as he collects samples from up a giant old Leatherwood tree in the Tarkine.

Thanks to Jase White for filming, editing and producing this video.

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Tarkine BioBlitz "Schools Day" Video

Day 1 of Tarkine BioBlitz was also Schools Day. Scott Jordon features in this short video explaining the involvement of schools in BioBlitz.

Thanks to Jase White for filming, editing and producing this video.

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Tarkine BioBlitz on ABC Radio


ABC Rural Radio featured a segment on the Tarkine BioBlitz...the story starts at the 30 minute mark in this broadcast.


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Day Two at BioBlitz


Photo: Dan Haley

The Tarkine continues to reveal its secrets as we carefully pry into its nooks, crannies, dunes, waters, skies, buttongrass plains and old growth forests.

I’m realizing the vast task ahead of scientists to gain a tiny fraction of the knowledge lost when the indigenous Tarkiner people were taken from this land. In a cradle of the dunes blown smooth by the westerlies an ancient midden holds remnants of their memories in the broken shells and bits of bones they tossed away during thousands of years of fresh seafood picnics on the beach. I notice that their gourmet diets included a lot of abalone.

Photo: Helen Cushing

Down by the shore amidst the sunbaking kelp a seal skeleton is not very old. Maggots infest the bits of meat left by the scavenging devils. The curving spine of the seal is the shape of the waves it used to know so well.

Photo: Helen Cushing

Meanwhile down on the rugged rocks where the waves wash and crash all day and all night, Radolfo and the rockpool mob went into raptures over red, pink and blue starfish. Plus they learned how to tell a carnivorous sea snail from a herbivore – turn them over and you’ll see that the meat eater’s interior is shaped like a gravy boat while the herby like a salad bowl – sea snails know.

Photo: Helen Cushing

We part the flowing seaweeds and lo and behold, a still life of shells, anemones and sea stars.

Photo: Helen Cushing

And just in case you thought barnacles were boring, let me inform you that they have the longest penis to body ratio of any species. Why is this so? Well, they are stuck to the rock and can’t chase her. So they must reach out as far as need be with their penetrating organ which is eight times their body length. As they are hermaphrodite any old barnacle that can be reached will do. And if the penis still can’t find another, they just fertilise themselves. Plenty of options in the permissive intertidal zone. To find out more try this fun article.

Photo: Helen Cushing

And that reminds me, Peter of the invertebrates told us about the velvet worm whose penis is on its head. Unlike the immobile barnacle, this opportunist is ready whenever he meets a lady head on. Sadly, we didn’t find one today.

Speaking of invertebrates, it was a blowy day so insects and birds were a little shy of our attentions. Nevertheless, I spied a shiny green endemic dung beetle crawling patiently across an equally green expanse. 

Photo: Helen Cushing

Jack jumper ants were busy as ants always seem to be (keep away, they have a nasty bite with a nasty poison that causes anaphylaxis).

Photo: Helen Cushing

The efforts of bush beaters and net wielders were rewarded with enough creepy crawlies to fill pockets full of specimen jars. Peter got excited over moths (he knows a lot about moths) and things that jumped tended to get away. Serena’s photo of a fly has been declared ‘rare’ (the fly that is).

Photo: Helen Cushing

Coastal meadows nibbled right down by browsing wallabies and other herbivores are smooth as a golf course and covered in scats. The mammal team are into scats. Wombat poos are sort of square, devil poos are full of animal remains and due to all the calcium turn white when they dry out.    

Photo: Helen Cushing

Late in the afternoon I found the mammalians huddled under the side of a dramatic sculptural dune contemplating a wombat burrow tunneled deep in. Another smaller hole right up high had the mammal guy scratching his chin. Not sure who lives in there and no-one wanted to put their hand in to find out.

Photo: Helen Cushing

Re mammals, when we’re not looking, the camera traps are. They’ve snapped shots of southern brown bandicoots, healthy Tassie devils, wallabies, pademelons, wombats, brush tail possums, a tiger snake (not a mammalian one) and good old Ratus ratus. Still waiting for the Thylacine. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Spider woman and her curious followers are happy with their day’s discoveries. The old growth forest yielded plenty of 8-leggers, yet to be indentified.

The orchid report was that the buttongrass needs burning. Not many orchids to be found there but Tasmania’s only endemic epiphytic orchid was looking beautiful in the forest. 

In the shady forest streams of the Tarkine, the wading aquatic gang found several of the world’s largest freshwater crayfish, Astacopsis gouldii. Growing up to 6kg in weight, the Tasmanian giant freshwater crayfish is found only in northern Tasmania and is listed as endangered. The Tarkine is an important habitat so let’s help it thrive by saving the Tarkine from exploitation and development.

More tomorrow when I do some dawn birdwatching (or listening) and head to the plains.

Helen Cushing




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Growling whitecaps surge around serrated rocky isles


Growling whitecaps surge around serrated rocky isles.

Banks of grey cloud advance across the great Southern ocean while the wind whips through sand and hair.

Jagged rock and sand merge into a hazy horizon at the edge of the world.

A truly fearsome coastline. In the winter, eighteen metre swells smash into these reefs, whipped up to enormous heights by unabated winds streaming from the Antarctic. At these lower latitudes, the wind circles the globe unimpeded by any serious landmass. Known as ‘the roaring forties’ by sailors, this immense energy is transferred into the waves which build across thousands of kilometres of open ocean only to dash themselves on these shores.

It shows.

Rock platforms abound, while any shreds of sand have been driven into narrow bays in the lee of offshore reefs and isles.

This fierceness is a good defense. Sparsely populated by boat dependent European settlers, the few contemporary settlements cling to grassy knolls above sheltered rocky inlets. Rusty steel fishing boats perch like ungainly seabirds at the head of ancient sliplines, high above the reach of the waves.

Beyond these tiny fishing settlements stretches a vast wild coastline, a true haven for flora and fauna.

It is to these shores we have travelled. Grandparents and children, amateur naturalists and professional ecologists, we have gathered together to document the diversity of this place as it exists now.

Liam Oak




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Day One at BioBlitz



Day one of the BioBlitz and the Tarkine welcomed swarms of fans into its intricate and marvelous world. Scientists led survey teams through coastal heath in full bloom, rolling expanses of plant-covered sand dunes and along white beaches decorated with sprawling masses of giant kelp, shining shells, remains of cuttlefish and all manner of other wondrous things washed up from the deep seas.


Blitzers in intense states of concentration could be heard yelping in excitement as the full beauty of tiny orchids was revealed under the sharp eye of a hand lens. The delicate faces of these miniature miracles grow inconspicuously in the Tarkine herbage and hidden under bushes. It’s a matter of getting your eye in and knowing where to look.


Birders followed the magnificent flight of a sea eagle against the blue sky while red-capped plovers ran nervously across the sand. Masses of shearwaters gave a mesmerizing performance as they flew around islands of jagged rock not far offshore.


The Bryophyte team were in raptures over Tasmania’s only endemic moss, draped thickly over rocks by the Arthur River.  

A tree climber clambered almost 30m into the rainforest canopy to collect moss mats and leaves from a leatherwood tree. Back at the Riverbend camp the invertebrate team spent the evening peering into a tray filled with said mosses and foliage, tweezering out unsuspecting little critters.


A bunch of botanists on the way to study the heathlands in full bloom decided to do a quick transect of a coastal herb field. A couple of hours later they had traveled a massive 2 metres and counted at least 28 different species. Yay!!

The aquatic team messed around in lovely lagoons and streams flowing into the ocean, kicking rocks and dipping nets for simply hours on end. Various water bugs, wiggly squiggly things and a few sleek brown fish found themselves in specimen jars and tanks for a close up look later on. The word going round is that new fish species may have been discovered.  


The algae people are in a state of anticipation as they wait on identification of a possible blue green algal bloom. Apparently there were unusual blue dots… yes, that’s right, unusual blue dots!!

Then there were the spider hunters, poking around in dark corners and under things to tempt out the leggy arachnids. Apparently the small boys were the stars of spider discovery. Some things never change…

A wild rainstorm blew in mid-afternoon, soaking us through and giving a blast of Tarkine drama. And so the humans retreated, leaving the families of this vibrant corner of planet Earth to live and die another night.  


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