Forest fires in Australia went down in history as the "Black Summer" and could become the main event of the outgoing year. But against the background of the pandemic, the ecological catastrophe that has engulfed the whole continent has receded into the background. We recall the events of a year ago and tell how Australia lives now and why local scientists are still struggling with the psychological consequences of what they saw and experienced.
The first reports of fires in Australia appeared in the summer of 2019, and by the beginning of winter, the fires were already considered the most destructive in the entire history of observations.
By January 2020, about 6.3 million hectares of forests and more than 2,500 buildings were burned. According to NASA, the smoke from Australia reached South America, and in New Zealand, it led to severe air quality problems.
At least 33 people were killed. The loss of wildlife, according to the World Wildlife Fund, is estimated at three billion individuals. The Foundation has notified the Australian government that the habitat of 13 species of animals has either been destroyed or they have suffered serious damage. Australia will need 100 years to recover, the website of The Sun newspaper reported, citing data from the fire department.
Fires have destroyed more than a third of the traditional habitat of these herbivorous symbols of Australia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, koalas were particularly badly affected. 60 thousand individuals were affected by the fire, the organization's interim report published in July said. This is an alarming figure for a species already in distress due to drought, land clearing, and cars, environmentalists say.
The Foundation has set a plan to double the koala population by 2050. To raise funds for these purposes, WWF launched a campaign called "Koalas Forever".
Scientists are going to use drones to scatter seeds to restore the habitat of marsupials, to plant 200,000 tree seedlings for the so-called "koala corridors" in the Richmond Valley, along which the animals will be able to move safely. The project includes the construction of a new hospital for marsupials. Another essential task is to convince landowners to create reserves for koalas.
On December 2, the Ministry of Environment allocated 2 million Australian dollars for a national audit of koalas. This monitoring should suggest where it is possible to expand the habitat of marsupials and whether measures to protect koalas are working.
When environmentalists also need help
A year after the devastating fires, it turned out that scientists also needed support, who had to visit the site of destroyed forests and face the death of individual species. According to a column by Daniella Teixeira, an employee of Griffin University, this has become a difficult psychological test for some environmentalists in The Conversation. She studied a population of rare glossy black cockatoos on Kangaroo Island near South Australia.
"While the fires were raging and for several weeks after that, I put a lot of energy into my mission, driven by the belief that conservationists should be strong and resilient in the face of disaster. But I was excited and worried. How could the island recover from such a fire? What is my role as a scientist in such a crisis?" – the author of the publication asked questions.
She organized a fundraiser and talked a lot with the media. At one point, her friend, who is engaged in nature conservation, said that a break is normal. It became easier for her to accept this truth from a colleague and tear herself away from her mailbox and the map of expanding forest fires.
The most difficult thing for her was to return to the well-known nesting place of the black cockatoo. The researcher found trees and nests burned to the ground. Among them, she managed to find a nest with living inhabitants. The exhausted bird did not fly away and did not make a sound, just watching the man.
"In the year that has passed since the fires, my acute sadness about the plight of nature has subsided. But the hidden sadness and anxiety about the future remain. From my discussions with other conservationists, I know that I am not the only one who feels this," the author of the column admits.
The natural disaster made her think about the culture of mental health. Environmentalists are overworked, and grief is an integral part of their activities, Teixeira notes. But immediate action is not the only response to disasters; you need to allow yourself to experience emotions such as grief and anger without feeling guilty or ashamed, the ecologist adds, admitting that she will have to face a lot of crises more than once.
A new threat
Exactly a year later, the news from Australia is again devoted to fires. A forest fire on the world's largest sandy island has been raging since October: it broke out because of an illegally built campfire by tourists. Residents of the Australian island of Fraser were urged to leave their homes due to fire spread. By December 6, about 80 thousand hectares of forest had burned down there — more than half of the territory included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
In Australia, December is the season of drought. However, after the fires of 2019-2020, fewer and fewer Australians are questioning the connection between fires and climate change, and more and more are discussing the changes that are needed. The Australian branch of the World Wildlife Fund has proposed a plan to restore the country worth $300 million, designed for five years. In addition to the already mentioned "Koalas Forever" program, this plan includes planting up to 2 billion trees, the transition of Australia, which is traditionally dependent on fossil fuels, to alternative and low-carbon energy sources. Another point is: "Mobilizing the best minds to find the brightest solutions."
On October 28, 2020, the Royal Commission on Natural Disasters, the highest form of investigation in the country, presented its report on the results of studying the causes and consequences of forest fires. The authors of the investigation confirmed that in the next two decades, global warming is "inevitable," and "complex disasters" will become commonplace when fires, floods, and storms co-occur or one after another.
The fires in Australia have had a significant impact on all of us. If you are not indifferent to this problem, you can always help Australia, participate in the volunteer movement, which is very much appreciated worldwide when applying for a job or other cases. The work of firefighters in Australia is challenging and honorable occupation. If you are wondering how much do firefighters get paid, then in Australia, firefighters are paid on a par with police officers. On average, firefighters receive starting at 35k-75k as a recruit with a salary increase in the future for work experience, but people work there to help this world and bring it some benefit, and if you are interested in how to become a firefighter, you can learn more about that.