When is the last time you cleaned your approach shoes? What about your car tires?
While it may seem like an unnecessary chore, cleaning our equipment, approach shoes, car tires and anything else that may carry mud or dirt is an extremely important step to protecting our beautiful local flora, not just in Tassie but all across Australia.
A nasty, microscopic plant pathogen called Phytophthora cinnamomi (pronounced Fy-TOFF-thora). Introduced with early European settlers, Phytophthora (also called die-back, root-rot or cinnamon fungus) is one of the most significant threats to Australian ecosystems. It affects over 130 Tasmanian plant species, including 35 rare and threatened plants. This deadly pathogen lives inside plant roots, blocking the uptake of water and nutrients while gradually consuming it's host. Different species of plants react differently, with some species (such as Waratah, banksia and heath species) dying rapidly and never recovering, while others show signs of increasing stress over extended periods.
Phytophthora spreads very slowly on it's own, through root-to-root contact and localised spores, but is easily and very rapidly spread to new areas on shoes, tires, and equipment. Given the fungus is microscopic, you can carry transfer it from infected to uninfected bushland without having the faintest clue of the damage you have unintentionally caused!
While it is one most well known and most relevant to climbers, Phytophthora is not the only disease affect Tasmania's native plants and wildlife. By not abiding by biosecurity measures, we could unwittingly help spread diseases that affect native frogs, waterways and even the Tasmanian platypus!
To stop the spread of these damaging pathogens, please make sure you do the following BEFORE and AFTER every foray into the outdoors:
Always start your trip with clean, dirt free dry gear
Obey track and road closed signs, these may have been closed to prevent the disease spreading
Keep to the designated and formed tracks! You may be unwittingly moving off infected tracks into uninfected areas
If camping, clean your gear before you leave camp. Brush the soil off your tent floor, pegs, toilet trowel etc.
When you get home:
Clean mud and dirt from your shoes, gear, vehicles or bikes
Make sure soil is washed straight into sewerage or septic systems so any Phytophthora pathogens are killed.
Spray gear down with alcohol once mud and dirt is removed. A spray bottle of ethanol or methylated spirits in the gear room, in your car or by the front door is a great reminder for this!
Remember, the 10-20 minutes it will take to clean gear is a small price to pay for ensuring the protection of Tasmania's fragile and wonderful ecosystems. Don't forget!
Image credit (first image): Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania
Image credit (second image): NSW Environment and Heritage