Australia is experiencing its worst fire season on record. People need to be evacuated and firefighters need your support!
Australia is home to just over 25 million people, and around 200,000 different animal species, 386 of which are mammals native to Australia. Not only do the bushfires threaten civilization and the well-being of Australian residents, but the natural aspect of the country as well. With fires spreading all over the area, affecting every state, centring in New South Wales (which is the main habitat for koalas) and Victoria, scientists and biologists are concerned about the negative impacts of bushfires on the environment. Ecosystems could be at stake, and the state of the country could be in extreme danger, considering the maintenance of biodiversity and the preservation of habitats. Thousands of people are awaiting evacuation, and the firefight efforts need more support. No matter how far away you are, or how impossible you might think it is, there is always a way to help. But first, we need to look at why it is such a pressing matter.
The country is burning in every state, and people need to be evacuated. Thousands of people have been made homeless, as the fires have taken over 25 million acres of land. That is an acre of land per person living in Australia. Twenty seven people have already died this fire season, some of which were volunteer firefighters, trying to help their friends and families. In Mallacoota, Victoria, 4,000 tourists and residents fled the town, awaiting rescue and avoiding impact on the beach, where two naval vessels took them off the shore. They were wearing face masks to keep from breathing the air (which in Sydney was described as being as bad as smoking 37 cigarettes), and the atmosphere was tainted with a yellow glow. Over 2,000 homes have been either completely destroyed or terribly damaged, and cities have been scorched to the ground.
Due to fallen trees and fire danger, roads and highways have been closed off. Citizens in the midst of evacuation have needed to sleep overnight in their vehicles, parked on the highway. Australia’s government ordered military aid to help support firefighters on the ground, as well as in the air, as aircrafts were sent to drop water on the burning land below, and to rescue residents in dire need of evacuation. With over 10,000 people evacuated and many more awaiting rescue, CNN reports that almost 30 people are unaccounted for, and the panic is estimated to continue well in 2020. People are concerned about the long term impact of the fire break out on citizens as well, as studies have shown that a 5 to 15 percent increased possibility of mental illness development is to be expected in survivors.
There are approximately 2,700 firefighters on the ground in Australia, most of which are volunteers. Due to the large amount of people stepping up to help their country, the Australian government decided it best to create the National Bushfire Recovery Agency, which funds the relief effort and makes authorized payments to volunteer firefighters to compensate them for their contributions.
With 25 million acres of Australia scorched, there are many concerns about the negative effect on the environment, considering that Australia is one of the world's great biodiversity hotspots. It was originally estimated by Chris Dickman (biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney) that 480 million animals had died, but after taking into account the amount of animals that would have died indirectly by the fires, from dehydration, starvation, and loss of habitat, he raised the number to one billion.
Animals specific to Australia, such as koalas and kangaroos, are thought to be at a high risk due to the fires. For example, koalas are mostly found in the Australian state of New South Wales, which has suffered greatly from the fires. Sussan Ley (the federal environment minister) confirmed in December that about a third of koala habitats in New South Wales have been destroyed, and that it is fair to estimate that a third of the koalas in the state have died as well. According to The Telegraph, an approximate total of 25,000 koalas have died in the fires. Wombats are also highly affected by the fires, as they do not cope with heat or stress well. Graeme Jackson (New South Wales resident who has raised orphaned wombats) says that even though wombats can run up to 30kmph, they can only go for a short distance before wearing themselves out, and then they are left for the fires.
Koalas and kangaroos are fairly spread out across the country, therefore they are not facing such a dangerous threat of extinction as the mountain pygmy possum or the corroboree frog, which are both species that live in niche environments, meaning they are limited to specific spaces. If their habitats were in an area that was highly affected by the bushfires, it would be much easier for them to become endangered, or even extinct.
Before the fires had even begun, animals were becoming undernourished and at risk because of the extreme weather conditions of the season. Thousands of flying foxes had died due to the heat and drought. It was known by ecologists at the beginning of the season that this would be the hottest and driest season Australia has ever seen. Fire seasons are becoming more and more intense, as they are hotter and last longer. Meteorologists predict that this fire season will be hotter and drier than the ones before it, and that there will be high levels of wind, which hinders firefighters and aids the spreading of the fires. We have already seen winds of up to 80mph. According to the Red Cross, pyrocumulonimbus clouds created by the smoke have created even more problematic weather, as they trap heat and generate strong winds and lightning strikes, therefore sparking more fires.
The weather has created high risks for small animals, even insects, which play as much of a role in the ecosystem as any other animal. “The whole concept of an ecosystem is about connectivity,” said Manu Saunders, an ecologist at the University of New England in Australia, “Across whole forests there are millions of individuals, and hundreds of different species in those forests that all rely on each other. And if you lose one, it’s like a link in a chain, you then lose the others that it’s connected to.”
How Can You Help?
Since September, many foundations have risen to help aid the firefighting/evacuation efforts. Some you can volunteer your time to, and others you can donate your money or items to, but remember, no matter how small your donation, it can have a huge impact. Here I have assembled a list of different organizations with small descriptions about what they do and why they were made.
- GIVIT accepts donations of items that are needed in areas of crisis, such as backpacks, clothing, and vouchers
- World Wildlife Fund (WWF) restores koala (and other animal) habitats
- Australia Red Cross is a fire recovery and relief fund
- New South Wales Rural Fire Service supports the firefighting efforts
- County Fire Service Foundation in Australia
- County Fire Authority in Victoria
- Salvation Army Australia accepts donations of money and goods
- St. Vincent de Paul Society is an organization of over 60 thousand members, which accepts monetary donations or volunteers to help in Australia
- Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has a GoFundMe page where you can donate to help them in rescuing injured koalas and setting up water stations around Australia
- RSPCA New South Wales accepts donations to support evacuation centres
- NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (WIRES) is Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization, which accepts monetary donations online, by telephone, and through Facebook or PayPal
Of course, the list goes beyond what I have above, however they are only some of what you can donate to, to help Australia, in this time of crisis.