Climate Change

A Call for Education, Protection, and Respect for Our Natural Heritage

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Ancient Thrombolites in Western Australia Damaged by Visitors

An ecological site in Western Australia, home to 2,000-year-old thrombolites, has suffered extensive damage after visitors disregarded restricted areas during a recent aurora australis display.

Lake Clifton, known for its stunning views of the aurora, attracted numerous visitors in early May. However, this influx led to people walking on the delicate thrombolites and microbial mats, causing significant damage.

Thrombolites, resembling round rocks, are microscopic ancient organisms that hold immense scientific value, aiding in understanding Earth's history. Palaeontologist Heidi Allen, who assessed the site, expressed concern over the damage.

"This is a very special place and a threatened ecological community, vulnerable to such disturbances," Ms. Allen stated.

Perth resident Katie McGinty witnessed the disregard for the restricted areas, despite signage urging visitors not to walk on the thrombolites. "Numerous people with torches walked down through the reeds to the shoreline," she said.

The Lake Clifton site boasts the largest reef of living thrombolites in the Southern Hemisphere, making them some of the rarest living fossils on Earth. These rock-like formations coexist with microbial mats, formed by layers of microscopic organisms.

Following the aurora display, Ms. Allen observed footprints covering the microbial mats. The long-term impact of this damage remains unclear due to the limited knowledge about these ecosystems. However, Ms. Allen pointed out that damage from 90 years ago is still visible today.

Paddi Creevey, chair of the Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, hopes this incident will spark an educational campaign highlighting the significance of these organisms. She believes that infrastructure improvements to accommodate visitors are necessary, but the core issue lies in a lack of understanding about thrombolites.

"I don't believe anybody would deliberately damage them if they knew just how important they were," Ms. Creevey stated.

Despite the damage, Ms. Allen emphasizes the importance of public access to the Lake Clifton thrombolite reef. "We need to understand the significance of the site, as well as it being 2,000 years old," she said. "It's important for people to appreciate that life didn't always look like it does now.

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May 21, 2023 | 05:09