Geoscience Reference
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Further damage was documented at Lady Musgrave Island during the 1960s,
including other impacts besides the destruction of vegetation. In 1964, although
the goat population had declined to around 18 animals, many ticks were found on
the island . 15 I n 1966, Peter Ogilvie, a zoologist at the QNPWS, counted 14 goats
at Lady Musgrave Island, which he argued damaged the vegetation and threatened
the gull and bridled tern nesting sites on the cay . 16 However, a research biologist
with the QNPWS, H. S. Curtis, stated that the situation at Lady Musgrave Island
in 1966 - while still unsatisfactory because of the destruction of vegetation -
was an improvement since MacGillivray and Rodway had reported the almost
complete destruction of the vegetation, in 1927, by around 200-300 goats;
nonetheless, Curtis recommended the removal of the remaining goats in order to
allow the surviving vegetation to recover . 17
Oral history evidence provided by Curtis corroborated this account of
extensive damage by goats to island vegetation. He reported that 'the devastation
caused by goats on coral cays is total', especially at Lady Musgrave Island, which
had been 'denuded of vegetation' by the animals. He also stated that:
Fairfax Island, which is a double island […], had lots of goats on both of the
islands; [on] the larger of the two you wondered how the goats managed to
survive because the vegetation was reduced to a group of mature Pisonia trees
at one end of the island, trimmed flat underneath, up as high as a goat could
reach standing on its hind legs. Other than that it was bare coral rubble with
here and there a green sprout of a weed or something germinating, but still
too far down amongst the coral for a goat to get at it. And I can only think
that they managed to eat seaweed at low tide […] . 18
Curtis also acknowledged that the vegetation of Lindeman Island was severely
affected by the large number of goats on that island.
Oral history evidence provided by a zoologist and environmental manager
gives a consistent impression of the impacts of overgrazing by goats; however, the
damage caused by the animals was exacerbated by lighthouse keepers, who cut
trees to provide food for starving goats:
At some locations, the damage was quite significant. [The goats] systematically
wiped out all the vegetation on the island. If you go back through the lighthouse
keepers' records, there are records which have these little cryptic comments:
'chopped trees to provide food for goats.' Ultimately, between them, they
removed everything from the whole island. On other islands, that didn't have
human occupation, where [animals] were left, they basically grazed the island
so that it was virtually bare, and they browsed the trees to the extent that they
could jump up and get the leaves. I've got photographic evidence from Lady
Musgrave and Fairfax Islands where you can look across the whole island and
it's almost as if someone's shaved the trees off up to a certain level: there's nice
green vegetation above that level, and below it there's nothing at all . 19
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