University Of Tasmania
Sharples1999_DismalSwamp_ACKMA_Conference.pdf (535.6 kB)

The Dismal Swamp Polje of North-western Tasmania - a case study in geoconservation

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-26, 08:44 authored by Christopher SharplesChristopher Sharples
Geoconservation is a unifying term which is increasingly being used to describe the management of geological, landform and soil features and systems for their nature conservation values. In Australia, the management of karst landform systems has to a large extent been the catalyst for the development of the concept of geoconservation generally. The practical on-the-ground management aspects of geoconservation involve little that is radically new or unprecedented; for example, many of Australia's cave reserves, some dating from the last century, were reserved for reasons which would today be described as geoconservation-oriented. However, the philosophical impact of the idea of geoconservation as a new unifying conceptual framework has provoked a strong adverse reaction from some sections of the bedrock geology community, and in particular the mining industry. The Dismal Swamp polje of northwest Tasmania has recently been a focus for mining industry opposition to the concept of geoconservation, and this paper examines both the scientific and some of the political and ethical aspects of this test case. The Tasmanian Forestry Commission previously accepted that Dismal Swamp is a polje - a rare karst landform in Tasmania and one of the best examples of its type in Australia - and thus accepted the need for appropriate management prescriptions for the landform and associated natural processes. In contrast, an element within the mining industry has recently attempted to discredit Tasmanian practitioners of geoconservation by attempting to disprove the assertion that Dismal Swamp is a polje, and to thereby show that geoconservation is based on poor science and that conservation management prescriptions for the feature are unwarranted. This paper reviews the arguments that were presented and also - relevantly - the manner in which they were presented. The elements defining a polje are reviewed, and field studies at Dismal Swamp are described which show that it is difficult to explain the landforms and hydrology of Dismal Swamp as anything other than those defining a polje. The experience of the Dismal Swamp controversy is drawn upon to identify possible reasons for the strident opposition to the concept of geoconservation by certain elements of the mining industry and the bedrock geology community. It is suggested that some factors in this opposition may include fears of resource alienation based on an ignorance of the realities of geoconservation management, an unprofessional reluctance to admit uncertainty about anything prefixed "geo" and seek information on what geoconservation actually involves, a resistance among some geological practitioners to acknowledging the validity of non-utilitarian nature conservation values, and an unwarranted sense of exclusive intellectual ownership of anything associated with the prefix "geo". Concluding on a more positive note, it is suggested that the concept of geoconservation has nonetheless achieved a considerable degree of recognition and acceptance amongst some relevant agencies, notably including Mineral Resources Tasmania.


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  • Published

Event title

Proceedings of the Thirteenth Australasian Conference on Cave And Karst Management, Mt Gambier

Event Venue

Mt Gambier, SA

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  • Open

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