It would be a difficult task to choose a diamond from the "Greater" Murramarang National Park’s bag of gems. The coastline is spectacular, the rock platforms at Wasp Head and Snapper Point of national geological significance, Pebbly Beach is heralded as one of the ten best beaches in Australia, the misty forested gullies and rainforest pockets resound with the calls of lyrebirds and whistlers and Durras Mountain offers a outstanding views up and down the coast and west to the mountains of Budawang and Morton National Parks. But Durras Lake stands apart. It is the "jewel in the crown" of this magnificent national park.
"The two settlements of North Durras and South Durras dream the undisturbed days away beside (Durras) lake which is a prolific breeding ground for prawns and fish, a haven for migratory birds, and a significant wetland area surrounded by rainforests, stands of spotted gum and thick with burrawang palms" (Moses, 1985).
Durras Lake cuts the"Greater" Murramarang National Park almost in half. It is shallow, sinuous and approximately 6 kms long with a water area of 3.214 sq. kms. The Lake intermittently reaches the sea between the villages of North and South Durras and its headwaters reach almost to the Princes Highway. Three major and several minor streams feed the lake. The three major streams are Benandarah and Bridge Creek which flow in from Benandarah State Forest to the south, and Ryans/Cumbralaway Creek which enters the Lake at its north-west corner from Kioloa State Forest (Map 7).
The catchment area of Durras Lake is relatively large. At some 5,060 hectares (50.6 sq.km) it is larger than the catchment areas of Tabourie, Termeil, Meroo or Willanga Lakes to the north (Total Catchment Management, 1995). Around 78% of the catchment area is in State Forest, 7% in Murramarang National Park, 5% in Crown Land and the remainder freehold -South and North Durras villages and farmland at Benandarah and East Lynne (Craven, 1987).
Durras Lake is a barrier, estuarine lake, "a partially enclosed body of water (intermittently) connected to the ocean and characterised by brackish water derived from the mixing of oceanic and fresh waters." It may also be described as a shallow estuarine wetland "an area of land temporarily or permanently covered with water that is flowing, or static, fresh, brackish or saline; the transition zone between terrestrial and aquatic environments" (Total Catchment Management, 1986). The main body of Durras Lake is NSW Wetland number 215b while wetlands 215c, 215d, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256 and 257 are within the Lake’s catchment (Map 8). When referring to the biological and ecological attributes of Durras Lake, the terms estuary and wetland may be interchanged. Durras Lake is a large, slow turnover lake with a distinctly slow rate of exchange between lake and sea waters. This has a significant affect on estuarine ecology (Chappell, 1986).
There is a wide variety of estuarine habitat types within the Lake including seagrasses, saltmarshes, soft substrates (sand and mud), reedbeds, rocky reefs and deeper zones of fine sediments.
Unfortunately, while it is possible to assign monetary value to wetlands and estuaries as sites for development or as sources of employment and cash flow (in this case through timber harvesting in the catchment), it is more difficult to evaluate the economic case for guaranteeing their conservation. There is little information on the economic value of Australian wetlands. Examples in the United States placed a value of US$200,000 per hectare on intact wetlands for nitrogen retention alone. A pilot study in Victoria, using the Contingent Valuation Method (a technique used for valuing non-market resources), placed the value of the Barmah Forest, an internationally important red gum forest wetland, to the Victorian population at between $76 and $97 million (Land and Water Resources, 1995).
The high conservation value of Durras Lake with its "catchment and shoreline in natural condition" has been recognised by the Australian Heritage Commission (1983). Fifteen years ago they acknowledged that Durras, Meroo and Termeil Lakes (both to the north) "are the only lakes with intact ecosystems between Ulladulla and Nadgee National Park " on the Victorian border.
In 1986, Professorial Fellow John Chappell, Head of the Australian National University’s Department of Biogeography and Geomorphology completed a review of the coastal lakes of the South Coast between Durras and the Victorian border. He concluded that of the 59 lakes examined, many had already been affected by forest clearing and settlement, to such an extent, that there was no case for their preservation on usual conservation grounds. Durras Lake was the only lake of the set of lakes examined, in the large, slow turnover class, which was sufficiently undamaged to warrant special protection. On 17 November, 1986 he recommended to the NSW Department of Environment and Planning that Durras Lake be identified for preservation on the grounds of being the last of its kind. The Environmental Protection Unit of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service recently assessed Durras Lake as a significant Australian wetland and it will list it in the 1999 Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia (Appendix 10).
Since its inception, the Friends of Durras have seen the inherent value in maintaining the environmental integrity of Durras Lake. It was in fact, potential environmental threats to Durras Lake (a proposed development on its foreshore; see Community Support and Commitment which provided the impetus for the South Durras community to form the Friends of Durras over 10 years ago. The two primary objects of the association remain to:
Estuaries have very important functional attributes such as productivity, nutrient cycling and hydrological and geomorphological functions. They are critical to the sustainability of commercial and recreation fisheries. Both commercial and recreational fishers realise that "estuaries are the productive engines that drive inshore fisheries - No Habitat = No Fish" (Commercial Fishing Industry of NSW, 1993). It is important to maintain the diversity of habitats within estuaries so that all the needs of fish and other aquatic fauna are catered for. Different species use different habitats, and different life history stages of the one species often need different habitats (NSW Fisheries, 1992). The majority of fish caught by commercial and recreational fishers in New South Wales are estuary dependent. The annual wholesale, commercial seafood production in New South Wales was worth $114.8 million in 1989-90. Over 60% (by value) of the 1989-90 fish catch depended on estuarine habitats for all or part of its life cycle.
Estuaries also support important recreational fisheries. Recreational fishing is an extremely popular pastime. Surveys show that 27 to 33 per cent of Australians fish at least once a year. In New South Wales that amounts to about 1.75 million people fishing recreationally each year (NSW Fisheries, 1992). Mr Bob Martin, Minister for Fisheries recently announced that New South Wales recreational fishers spend almost $1.83 billion each year (NSW Recreational Fishing Advisory Committee, 1997). Recent research carried out in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne by Ray Morgan, identified fishing along with national parks, beaches, whale watching and food experiences (especially seafood) as the main reasons visitors choose to holiday in Eurobodalla Shire (Moore, 1997).
In 1996-97 seven commercial fishers caught 7 248 kg of finfish and 108 kg of molluscs (prawns and crabs) from Durras Lake. This was down considerably from the 1988-89 financial year when 17 854 kg of finfish and 165 kg of molluscs were caught commercially by 6 commercial fishers. These figures are based on monthly catch returns submitted by commercial fishers and cannot be verified. It could be expected that real commercial catch figures are even higher. When recreational fisher catches are added, Durras Lake is clearly very productive. The ocean waters offshore from Durras Lake (Ocean Zone 8, between latitudes 35 and 36 degrees south) are a rich fishing resource. The average annual commercial catch between 1984 and 1997 was 2 464 822 kg of finfish, 119 863 kg of molluscs and 79 635 kg of crustaceans (Appendix 3). Recreational fisher catches would increase these catch figures substantially.
The value of Durras Lake and its catchment to the regional tourism is inestimable and fully examined in Tourism. It is the tourism focal point of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park. Visitors and residents alike "dream the undisturbed days away beside (the) lake", paddle, swim, go boating, birdwatch, enjoy the sunsets and peaceful surroundings. The tourism value of the Tuross Lake catchment, also in Eurobodalla Shire, is estimated at $145 million annually (Environment Protection Authority, 1997).
Estuarine lakes such as Durras Lake, provide high quality waterfowl habitat. Goodrick (in Coeling, 1985) believes that 40% of the South Coast’s high value waterfowl habitat has been destroyed. That left provides valuable drought refuge to waterfowl with a southern distribution. He states that "if waterfowl are to remain in numbers on the coast it is necessary that important remaining wetlands be preserved,...and that substantial areas of land be managed primarily for waterfowl." More than 100 bird species have been recorded on or around the shoreline of Durras Lake including the threatened Osprey, Lesser Sand-Plover, Hooded Plover, Blue-billed Duck, Australasian Bittern and Pied and Sooty Oystercatcher (Appendices 2 and 4). Durras Lake is a refuge for a large number of shorebirds some of them long distance migrants from as far afield as Alaska and Russia (Appendix 6). These include the regionally rare Large Sand Plover, Hooded Plover, Black-fronted Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Latham’s Snipe (Appendix 5). Durras Lake is part of the chain of important wetlands which shorebirds use to rest and feed. During the unusually dry summer of 1998, hundreds of black swan and chestnut teal and unusually high populations of great egrets also used Durras Lake as a refuge from drought.
SEAGRASS AND SALTMARSH
Of its 3.214 sq. km total water area, Durras Lake has an estimated 50.9 ha of seagrass (Zostera capricorni) and 4.6 ha of saltmarsh (Map 7). Seagrasses play a pivotal role in the coastal ecosystems of Australia and the world. Seagrasses are particularly important in the sustainablility of commercial and recreational fisheries, primarily because of their roles in maintaining sediment stability and water quality, and in providing shelter and food critical to the survival of a wide variety of aquatic biota.
Seagrasses generally grow quickly and produce a large amount of organic material which enters the estuarine food chain. Seagrasses are eaten directly by echinoderms, crustaceans, molluscs and some fish species. Many species of juvenile fish and crustaceans use seagrasses as nursery areas before moving to other habitats. The postlarvae and juveniles of some fish, such as yellowfin bream, luderick and leatherjackets recruit to, and live in, seagrass habitats. Because of their particular importance as shelter and habitat to the juvenile life history stages of marine fish and crustaceans, seagrass beds are sometimes referred to as the "nurseries of the sea" (NSW Fisheries, 1997)
New South Wales State Fisheries (S.P.C.C., 1981) concluded after their study of the estuarine waters of Botany Bay that "The Zostera seagrass habitat is an exceptionally important fish habitat. Small juveniles of at least nine commercially and recreationally valuable species use this habitat as a nursery area the greatest number of species and highest abundance and biomass of fish were also recorded in this habitat."
Seagrasses are a fragile habitat. The growth and health of a seagrass meadow are affected by chemical, physical and biological conditions in its immediate environment, such as; dissolved oxygen, carbon dioxide and nutrient concentrations, light levels, water movement and temperature and epiphyte and grazer communities (Kirkman,H et al., 1995) . Disturbances in the catchment of Durras Lake could seriously and perhaps irreparably damage its seagrass beds. Nutrient enrichment (from sewage or fertilizer), increased turbidity and sediment loads (from the clearing of vegetation in the catchment), mechanical damage (from water craft) and other more insidious long-term pollution (from anti-fouling paints or petroleum products) could all contribute to the permanent destruction of seagrass. Seagrasses have declined in area, particularly the temperate species, and most species are slow to recover (if ever) after disturbance. Many major estuaries in New South Wales have lost as much as 85% of their seagrass beds in the past 30 to 40 years. This loss may contribute to declines in the abundance and diversity of fish and invertebrates in some of these estuaries and the nearby coastal zone. Lake Macquarie, for example, has lost an estimated 44% of its seagrass area and the Clarence River some 60% due to increased turbidity and a general decline in water quality (Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996).
Many saltmarshes on the coastal zone of south eastern Australia have already been destroyed or heavily modified and in many areas the future of remaining sites is bleak. Saltmarshes are a major a source of organic matter for detrital food chains. They are an important habitat for birds, particularly waders (see "Waterfowl"). To many people, saltmarshes are an intrinsically attractive part of the coastal scene. Few, if any saltmarshes are still in a completely natural state and very few studies have been undertaken. It is known that changes in the flow of rivers and streams into estuaries does reduce the range of conditions experiences by the marshes. It is impossible to predict what effect this will have but it emphasises the difficulty of accounting for the effects man has on ecosystems (Adam, 1995).
Environmental degradation, especially in estuaries has destroyed valuable fish habitats. In many areas, the widespread destruction of mangroves and seagrass beds has resulted in the loss of nursery grounds for a range of estuarine and oceanic fish (NSW Fisheries, 1992).
Estuaries and wetlands are very sensitive ecosystems, and may be severely affected by nearby activities such as the clearing of catchment vegetation, the exposure of acid sulphate soils and the use of fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide (Total Catchment Management, 1995). Potential acid sulphate soils are generally found less than 5 metres above sea level and are a particular problem in estuarine parts of south coast catchments. These soils produce sulphuric acid, which can move through the soil affecting ground and surface waters and severely impact on fish and other aquatic life. Red spot disease in fish for example is related to acid soils and costs the commercial fishing industry on the east coast of Australia an estimated $1 million per year. The fishing industry is paying the price of fish habitat degradation and so too is the economy. The fishing industry is seeking solutions to land use conflicts in estuaries so that there is strict wetland protection which is beneficial to all parties involved (Commercial Fishing Industry of NSW, 1993).
The health and indeed survival of the diversity of Durras Lake ecosystems is much dependant on the maintenance of riparian vegetation in its catchment. This vegetation stabilises riverbanks, stops erosion and subsequent siltation, and contributes organic matter to the stream and food chain. This vegetated buffer strip also partially filters out pollutants, such as soil, pesticides and fertilisers, being carried towards the waterway. Many native fish make use of a range of stream sites for breeding. Deep pools provide refuge for fish in hot weather, and in drought, when streamflow may cease (NSW Fisheries, 1998).
It is of great concern that integrated harvesting operations are likely to significantly increase the amount of sediment entering Bridge, Ryans and Benandarah, the major creeks which feed Durras Lake. During periods of heavy rain these streams carry enormous volumes of water, fed by the many drainage lines which, after harvesting operations, are likely to be loaded with sediment. Maintenance of riparian vegetation and soil stability is essential for the prevention of sedimentation of these streams and Durras Lake. Norton and May (1995) agree stating that, "changes in the structure and composition in riparian and adjacent terrestrial areas resulting from harvesting or burning are likely to influence biogeochemical cycles and the thermal, light, nutrient and sedimentation regimes experienced by the forest aquatic system. Such changes, in turn, can be expected to affect the biological productivity of these systems as well as aquatic species and assemblages of taxa."
From research conducted elsewhere on the South Coast, it is apparent that there is a considerable lag time between disturbance and the arrival of sediment in an estuary (Nichol, 1989). In his review of soils on the South Coast, Gunn (1978) discusses soils overlaying Ordovician sediments such as those found on the south-western shore of Durras Lake. Craven (1987) cites the 1968 work of Bormann et al. which found that the removal of trees in a clear felling exercise significantly increased the amount of water passing through the soil, since transpiration had been reduced and soil nutrients were lost by mineralisation and leaching in the absence of root system uptake.
In the Eden district several studies on logging-soil-hydrological and fire inter-relationships have shown sediment transfer to markedly increase following logging, road building and post harvest burning. Quarmby (1986) discusses at length implications of forestry and fire on erosion. Notable facts and statistics presented in her report are: "runoff increases following logging through decreased soil infiltration and lower transpiration rates"; "runoff following fire in a catchment has been found to increase by 2 to 3 times the normal rate and peak flows by 4 to 6 times."
Erosion can result from a wide range of land-use practices. Durras Lake has the unique attribute of being large and shallow. The potential for degradation through increased sedimentation and lake turbidity is high (Haberle, 1989). In Benandarah State Forest Compartment 128 there is visual evidence of soil erosion (gullying) having occurred in watercourses of the watershed. In some stretches, gullying is about 2.5 metres deep, indicating severe channelling may have occurred in the past under extreme runoff volumes and velocities. It is almost certain sediment would have been exported to Durras Lake (Craven, 1987). Similar gully erosion has occurred on steep forestry roads in Compartments 134, 135 and 136 with almost certain sediment transfer to wetland 251a. In Compartment 092 on the northern shore of Durras Lake and in the Crown Land opposite, vehicles have cut deep ruts into access roads to the Lake. At several points boats have been launched from makeshift ramps resulting in severe bank erosion. State Forests undertook an extensive program of roadworks in Benandarah State Forest during 1997. Silt traps, to contain sediment washed from the newly disturbed road surfaces are an integral feature of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s roadworks in adjoining Murramarang National Park. They were not constructed by State Forests. The result of this will be increased sediment loads entering wetland 251a, Bridge Creek and in time Durras Lake.
Examination of the 1996 Harvesting Plan for Benandarah State Forest Compartment 133 gives an insight into the potential for long term soil erosion from integrated harvesting operations. Up to 86% of this 302 ha. compartment was to be logged between November 1996 and April 1997. Up to 50% of the forest canopy was to be removed during the operation. Compartment 133 is moderately to steeply undulating. Numerous drainage lines dissect the Compartment with slopes generally ranging from 10 to 20 degrees with maximum slopes around 31 degrees. This places 44% of the compartment in Soil and Water Pollution Category 3 (high), 50% in Category 2 (moderate) and all proposed roads (1% of the area) in Category 3 (high). Indeed only 5% of the proposed logging area had Category 1 (low) Soil and Water Pollution status.
Almost all existing State Forest compartments in the"Greater" Murramarang National Park have similar terrain, slope and drainage characteristics. Harvesting was proposed from November to April. March to May are the wettest months in the area with February to March the months of heaviest rainfall events and highest erosivity value. No sediment traps were incorporated into 1996 pre-logging roadworks. The Compartment was selectively logged between 1962-70, and mining timber extracted in 1972. Hazard reduction burning had occurred to various extents in 1995. Despite 25 years since any form of harvesting "all roads and drainage lines (continued to) show evidence of minor erosion", erosion that most certainly resulted in increased sediment being carried downstream.
While the Harvesting Plan points out that "erosion is of a minor nature and does not pose a risk to the pollution of waters", it has continued to occur for at least 25 years since the last harvesting operation. This operation was much smaller than that proposed for 1996-97. Friends of Durras objected to the harvesting proposal for Compartment 133 and plans were dropped.
Land degradation was considered by respondents to the Shoalhaven Total Catchment Management survey as a major natural resource problem within their region’s catchments. They reported that forestry roads were contributing to increased sediment runoff to nearby waterways. Unmanaged recreational pursuits in State Forests were perceived to be contributing to erosion problems and water quality deterioration within the region. These included 4 wheel drives and trail bikes causing erosion and damage to vegetation and wildlife habitats and campers depositing litter and contributing to increased nutrient runoff. They were also concerned that a general decline of riparian vegetation had exacerbated riverbank erosion (Total Catchment Management, 1986).
The New South Wales Government’s Total Catchment Management Policy 1986 recognised the need to look at the big picture when conserving the natural resource values of aquatic systems. They chose catchments as the logical unit for natural resource planning. Catchments are systems of interdependent components of land, water and vegetation which require coordinated use and management. The Policy recognised the need to maintain vegetation cover as an essential ingredient of healthy catchments and aquatic systems.
Premier Bob Carr also saw an urgent need "to preserve and protect coastal wetlands in New South Wales." He introduced State Environmental Planning Policy No. 14 in 1987. It recognised that "coastal wetlands have many important natural values which benefit both landholders and the community; but they are easily degraded or destroyed." SEPP14 applied to about 1100 wetlands extending up to 35 km inland from the New South Wales coast. The"Greater" Murramarang National Park contains 9 identified wetlands, Numbers 215b, 215c, 215d, 251a, 252, 253, 254, 255 and 257 (Map 8). SEPP 14 also saw vegetation disturbance in the catchment of wetlands as a primary cause of their degradation.
Wetland in Australia is a limited resource and permanent wetlands are largely restricted to the coastal region. In coastal New South Wales there are still many areas which can be mapped as wetland, so many that there may seem little concern over their future of wetlands. This impression of abundance is in part, an illusion of scale. The existing coastal wetlands represent the majority of permanent wetlands in the State then clearly permanent wetland is a very small proportion of the State’s total area. In addition the present wetlands are but small fraction of the area present 200 years ago and few of the remaining sites are totally free of the modifications of man (Coastal Council of New South Wales, 1985).
Wetlands are a vital element of regional, national and international ecosystems and economies. At the most fundamental level, wetlands are a key part in the water cycle, playing critical roles in maintaining the general health of Australia’s rivers and coastal waters. Wetlands are critical to maintaining and improving our quality of life. They provide tangible benefits to the Australian economy and are a focal point for recreational activity. They form nurseries for fish and other aquatic life and as such are of critical importance to commercial and recreational fishing industries. Despite a growing understanding of their many values and functions, wetlands remain one of our most threatened resources. Where wetlands such as Durras Lake were once abundant, they have been altered or destroyed, without recognition of the long-term impacts these actions will have on our quality of life (Environment Australia, 1997).
There are a multitude of reasons why the ecological and economic values of Durras Lake must be preserved.. Many examples and much research shows that disturbance in catchments such as that of Durras Lake is likely to cause long term and perhaps irreparable degradation to the catchment, estuary and all associated environments. To ensure future generations have access to the economic prosperity and the rich environments of Durras Lake the Precautionary Principle must apply. Integrating harvesting must never occur in the catchment of Durras Lake.
Park and reserve declaration in Australia has been largely ad hoc and based, to a large extent, on amenity or landscape and recreational values, rather than on intrinsic biodiversity values or identification of deficiencies in representative samples of ecosystems (Preece and van Oosterzee, 1997). If Australia had built a comprehensive and adequate reserve system many years ago, history may have presented a different picture. Australia may not have needed to spend the many millions of dollars currently being invested in the RFA process.
Government leadership, however, has, in most cases, been characterised by a push for economic development without the full consideration of the implication for biodiversity. As a result, most national parks are located in areas of little productive value. The most commercially valuable of Australia’s native forests tend to be the least protected. In short, Australia’s conservation reserve system protects our biodiversity in neither a comprehensive, adequate nor representative manner (Young and Howard, 1996).
Murramarang National Park presents a perfect example of this. The 44 km discontinuous coastal strip was declared in 1973, probably to ensure that some of the New South Wales south coast was protected from insidious urban strip development. As it presently stands, the Murramarang National Park cannot offer long-term protection to its biodiversity. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (1998) accepts that "the viability of animal habitats in the park is to a large extent dependent on the continued existence and sympathetic management of the adjacent state forest areas. Many species, for example the threatened yellow bellied glider, may need a larger area to sustain viable populations than is available in the park."
Biodiversity is not contained by artificial boundaries. Ecosystem relationships resemble a web of connections from one living thing to other living and non-living things. Due to the complex nature of ecosystem relationships, the removal or disturbance of one part of the ecosystem in State Forest, is likely to affect the functioning of another in the State Forest or national park or both.
Since its declaration, there have been continued proposals put to the New South Wales to extend the park’s size and rectify what is perhaps the worst perimeter:area ratio of any park in the State (see "Significant Events". The logical extensions to the Park have always been: (i) the purchase of the private land on the western and southern shores of Durras Lake; (ii) the inclusion of Crown land on the Lake’s south-east shore and (iii); the addition of Benandarah, South Brooman and Kioloa State Forest, east of the Princes Highway. The Friends of Durras took the purchase of the private land into their own hands and ‘put their money and effort where their mouth was’. The major and most important portion of the private land was bought by the Friends of Durras and the New South Wales Government and became part of Murramarang National Park in 1993.
The Crown land has been pursued by the Friends of Durras for 10 years. The Department of Land and Water Conservation wrote to the Friends of Durras on 6 February 1998 stating "that consent was given by the Department of Land and Water Conservation in February, 1995, for sections of Crown Land adjoining the southern bank of Durras Lake to be gazetted as national park (Appendix 11). Requests from the Friends of Durras to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to identify exactly which of the Crown land portions will be added to the Park have been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, one would have to assume that common sense will prevail and that the Crown land which is important to the ecological integrity of Durras Lake will be that included. The Friends of Durras remain dismayed by the length of time taken to implement what should be simple changes.
Why have successive State Governments found the addition of Benandarah, South Brooman and Kioloa State Forests, east of the Princes Highway such an impossible task? It would appear to be a politically sensible and advantageous decision. If the tremendous unequivocal support for the Friends of Durras’ campaign to purchase the private land is any indication, the decision is very much in the public interest. CSIRO scientists Braithwaite, Belbin, Ive and Austin, in their study of land use allocation and biological conservation in the Batemans Bay Forests, throw light on the reason for inaction. Simply, the Benandarah and Kioloa forests are too productive. By examining a wide range of forest values, they found that "the associations characteristic of sites of maximum productivity were, the C. maculata; C. maculata-E. saligna; rainforest and C. maculata - E. globoidea." The Benandarah and Kioloa State Forests are dominated by the C. maculata and C. maculata-E.saligna association with pockets of rainforest at its southern limit. No-one would consider logging rainforest but the C. maculata and C. maculata-E.saligna associations offer a wealth of timber resource.
Braithwaite, Belbin, Ive and Austin also discovered that the most productive forest associations were the least represented in National Parks and the most extensively disturbed by logging or clearing. In fact only 3.5% of the C.maculata association was in national park, 55.7% under State Forest tenure and 40.8% freehold - and only 8% of the association was ‘minimally disturbed.’ In contrast, of the three vegetation associations on the poorest sites, more than 38% by area was in national park and of each association, more than 74% remained in a minimally disturbed or undisturbed condition. Braithwaite (1996) has also found that many populations of Australia’s terrestrial vertebrate forest fauna species, including notably the arboreal herbivores, are concentrated in habitats on soils relatively rich in nutrients.
Braithwaite, Belbin, Ive and Austin concluded that "in the conservation management of these (the Batemans Bay) forests the accumulating evidence is: (i) The significance of the portions of forest of high site productivity should not be underestimated. (ii) Such portions and patches should always be included in reserve areas. (iii) The FCNSW (State Forests) has obligations, perhaps not fully hereto appreciated, to manage the areas of high site productivity giving appropriate recognition to their special and specifically identified conservation values. The FCNSW is the custodian of the predominant proportion of the total forest estate remaining of areas of high site productivity; an estate that will in all likelihood continue to diminish in size. (iv) But finally and above all, further loss of forest areas of high site productivity through clearing should be avoided.
The use of reserves is central to conservation of biodiversity. In fact, it is clear that more protected areas are needed, and the management of current areas for conservation purposes needs improvement (Young etal., 1996). The present size of Murramarang National Park, is too small to demand a high degree of management input from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s Nowra District. They have the major parks of Morton and Budawang under their control as well as a number of smaller, scattered parks. However the"Greater" Murramarang National Park would be large and popular enough to warrant a major visitor’s centre and resident ranger who could not only manage the "Greater" Murramarang but also the Five Lakes National Park, the Murramarang Aboriginal Area and the Tollgate, Brush and Belowla Islands Natures Reserves.
The question of the optimum park size and shape for biodiversity conservation has been examined by, among many others, Professor Spellerberg (1992) from the Centre for Environment Sciences at the University of Southampton, UK. He concluded that shape, size and connectedness are important criteria for the viability of biodiversity in protected areas. Larger size will increase the number of species that persist in a park, allow larger animals to persist there, and buffer the internal habitat better from external influences. More compact shapes rather than the present long, narrow and discontinuous shape of Murramarang National Park will also buffer interiors better. A reasonable generalisation is that elongated or irregularly shaped parks (high perimeter:area ratios) will suffer proportionally more from edge effects from adjoining land uses or habitats. He also found that smaller protected areas need more management intervention to maintain their desired characteristics. This is because natural processes can more often be left to run their own course in larger, unaltered areas.
The Commonwealth Government’s ‘Commonwealth Proposed Criteria’ for reserve design emphasised the need for the Regional Forest Agreement process to work towards a well designed reserve system in which reserves incorporated the following criteria:
Unfortunately, the assessments undertaken by Resource and Conservation Assessment Council which led to the Interim Deferred Forest Agreement placed "little emphasis on reserve design due to the dispersed nature of many of the features and the need to maintain timber volumes." Once again, despite the overwhelming scientific and socio-economic evidence, the extension of Murramarang National Park was compromised because "a consolidated reserve design would involve a considerable decrease in timber volumes" (Resource and Conservation Assessment Council, 1996).
On November 12, 1997, The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article ‘Saving the coast; Protected - as far as the eye can see.’ It announced that the Carr State Government had tripled the amount of coastline to be protected and would buy back environmentally sensitive land as part of their 1997 Coastal Policy to create a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system for the New South Wales coast. Three million dollars had already been spent on acquiring sensitive areas.
The Friends of Durras applaud the vision of this government to protect comprehensive, adequate and representative parts of our coast and their willingness to spend substantial amounts of money to do so. The south coast is not comprehensively, adequately nor representatively protected. Existing reserves are minute and many, like Murramarang National Park, are discontinuous with unsustainable perimeter:area ratios. Extending many of the south coast parks would be expensive and logistically difficult and in some cases, politically unpopular. The"Greater" Murramarang National Park offers the State Government an opportunity to protect coastline and biodiversity at minimal cost. Young and Howard (1996) evaluated the cost of a representative reserve network in Australia by 2000 and found that "if areas are chosen to represent biophysical regions and to minimise acquisition costs, the acquisition budget can be reduced by around 50%. Costs to the government can be minimised by first choosing land under their control." The Friends of Durras have deliberately selected the boundaries of the "Greater" Murramarang National Park to only include government owned land.
Magules of CSIRO and Pressey (1987) from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, recognise, as do the Friends of Durras, that many decisions on the allocation of land for nature conservation have been, and continue to be made on pragmatic rather than scientific grounds. These include low primary production potential, inaccessibility, availability, public and political perceptions etc. For related reasons it will be difficult or impossible to conserve all species in the reserve network. The creation of the"Greater" Murramarang National Park serves all masters. It rectifies the unsustainable perimeter:area ratio of the existing park; it will be a focus for the growth of regional tourism and the economy; it will conserve a remarkable variety of ecosystems and associated biodiversity; it will protect some of the little undeveloped New South Wales coastal zone remaining and for political and economic pragmatists, is uncomplicated, inexpensive and satisfies the popular will of the people.