Nature gets a hand to stop cane toads
By MEGAN KINNINMENT
"SUE wants to know how many we got."
The call comes from a sweating National Parks and Wildlife Service officer, boots caked in tea-tree sludge, as he humps a bulging green garbage bag on to the tray of a ute bogged down a sandy trail in the Arakwal National Park, Byron Bay.
In that bag is the potential for the worst environmental disaster the park, spanning kilometres of stunning coastal heathland, has faced: Cane toads.
Only 101 toads were brought to Queensland in 1935 to control cane beetles, but with no natural enemies the toads now number in their millions and have spread as far apart as Kakadu in the Northern Territory and Woodburn.
With warmer weather comes the breeding season but, armed with long-handled nets and green garbage bags, NPWS officers in Byron Bay are one jump ahead of the toads.
On the edge of this old sandmining dredge pond, north-east of Honeysuckle Hill, the ground looks like it is moving ? alive with tens of thousands of baby toads.
As adults they will prove fatal for native reptiles, birds and frogs.
"The cane toad has a voracious appetite and feeds on and competes with other native wildlife for food," NPWS Byron area manager Sue Walker explains.
"Their toxin can kill most native animals that eat frogs."
Standing knee-deep in muck on the pond's edge, Arakwal man Wally Stewart peers into his net, repulsed.
"Look in here ...there's thousands of them just in one net," he says.
"There used to be many more black snakes around here, but they get killed by the toads," he says.
"We need those black snakes because they eat the (highlyvenomous) brown snakes."
After the baby toads are removed the pond will be rehabilitated into an ephemeral wetland, the bare edges replaced with reeds and habitat for the endangered Wallum Froglet and Wallum Sedge Frog.
NPWS ranger Norm Graham believes it will work.
"Cane toads are lazy...they won't be bothered making the effort to get through the reeds," he says.