DU Wiki > Ă„mnen - Subjects > Tourism studies > KG3018 Managing and Interpreting Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites > Own seminar 29 October > Fraser Island: Managing a Natural World Heritage Site

Fraser Island: Managing a Natural World Heritage Site

    Group ANataliya Nebrat, Casandra Amores Lorenzo, Eduardo Guzman Michua, Reiko Fukushima              


    satelite view.pngIntroduction

    Fraser Island, located just off the east coast of Australia, is the only sand island in the world. It stretches for 123 km and spans 166,000 hectares according to Most tourists come to Fraser Island to experience its natural beauty and uniqueness. On the island one can roam in the rainforest growing out of only sand, explore the freshwater lakes, sand formations, or rent a four wheel drive (4WD) vehicle and embark on a journey along the island’s 120 km beach highway, which is also used as a landing pad for small planes. In addition, there is a shipwreck to discover, meet a dingo or two, and go fishing or whale watching. One can also decide to camp on one of island’s many designated camp sites.  In 1992 the island’s natural treasures have been recognized to be of universal value when it was listed as a World Heritage Site (WHS).  


    Figure 1.JPGFraser Island, also known by its aboriginal name of K’gari, is easily accessible by any of the modes of transportation: air, rail, road, or bus. Brisbane is probably the closest city to the island, and one can reach Fraser Island’s 75 mile beach from Brisbane in about 5 hrs via the Bruce Highway. Despite being surrounded by wilderness and nature, the island offers a variety of accommodations.










    Management Issues

    Fraser Island, akin to many other natural heritage sites, is faced with issues of how to protect and preserve its natural treasures for the generations to come. In this article we discuss some of the major managerial issues facing the Fraser Island, and provide a few suggestions on how to address them. In addition, we will present a less advertised side of the Fraser Island, and reveal the existing conflicts present on the site.

    Figure 2.JPGSince 1992, when Fraser Island was listed as a World Heritage Site, it has become a major tourist destination with about 360,000 annual visitors (DERM, 2008). The island’s tourist website ( clearly markets the destination as a natural world heritage site by listing the following as its main tourist attractions: Lake Wabby, Great Sandy National Park, Eli Creek, Central Station (rainforest), Maheno Shipwreck, Lake McKenzie, 75 Mile Beach, and The Cathedrals (coloured sand cliffs). This is not surprising, as natural attractions typically draw big crowds and revenues to a site, and it is convenient to use the World Heritage designation as a marketing tool (mentioned a number of times on the website).

    Figure 3.JPGBased on the reviews available on Trip Advisor many visitors seem to agree that the sites advertised are indeed worth visiting and are as awe-inspiring as they are being advertised ( reviews). For example, 94 % of visitors to Lake McKenzie claim high satisfaction (stating Excellent or Very good) describing its fabulous natural environment as “stunningly beautiful”, and “crystal clear water”.

    However, what is not being emphasised by the management of the island is the cultural importance of this site, i.e. the indigenous connection that has been there for centuries. According to  evidence suggests that aboriginal people (Butchulla) have occupied the island for more than 5,500 years, until it was colonized by Europeans. Subsequently, the traditional owners of the island have been marginalized and displaced from it. The relationship of aboriginals and Europeans has been politically sensitive for decades (if not centuries) and is not unique to Australia. For this reason one is not surprised to find virtually no reference to the indigenous culture in the promotional materials of the island, and even those that do, do not necessarily depict actual reality and rich history of indigenous people (Brown et al., 2015). As Brown et al. (2015) states “[t]he lack of representation of appropriate indigenous images and textual information acts to marginalise indigenous values and misses the opportunities to share a rich history and provide a more authentic experience of this international tourism destination.”

    Figure 4.JPGFigure 4a.pngDingo-human relationship has also been difficult, and depending on who you ask, they are viewed as either as a tourist attraction, threat or as a cultural heritage. Not surprising then that their importance to local heritage is not well explained to visitors. It is undeniable that the safety of visitors is of utmost importance, and the cases of dingoes attacking humans cannot be ignored. However, at the same time one cannot disregard that these animals are among the purest genetic populations in Australia and as such should be regarded as national heritage and of conservation significance (Woodall et al., 1996; Thompson et al., 2003). Furthermore, as Burns and Howard (2003) suggest “while strategies for managing Dingoes are essential, if such attacks are a consequence of humans feeding wildlife and resultant wildlife habituation, then strategies for managing people are also necessary...”. As Figure 2a illustrates one should expect to find poster warning them of dingoes. Nevertheless, despite seeing these posters some tourists rather than being afraid were in awe when encountered one (TripAdvisor, 2015). For example, Hannah S wrote in her TripAdvisor review of Lake McKenzie: “We even saw a dingo down on the beach while swimming! Unique experience” (March 7, 2015). However, it is not clear what management’s position on dingoes is and whether the practice of feeding continues on the island (despite being prohibited on the beach of Lake McKenzie). Dingo-human relationship remains to be difficult and so far the only action management took is fencing some facilities, culling and widespread warnings in interpretation material, which are designed to prevent human casualties (Weston et al., 2015).


    Figure 2a: Contemporary interpretation material concerning interactions between people and dingoes on K’gari-Fraser Island. (Weston et al., 2015)


    Figure 5.JPGLastly, one cannot overlook the negative impacts of humans on the island and the importance of visitor education to make people aware of the potentially negative consequences of their actions. For example, the use of the 4WD/off-road vehicles, which is advertised as one of the main activities on the island (it is the main mode of transportation on this sandy island) comes with the expense to the environment that visitors should aware of. 4WD vehicle use not only assists weed and pest dispersal on the island, but also has a direct (e.g. crushing by vehicles) as well as indirect (disturbance) threat to the island’s biodiversity (Weston et al., 2015).  For example, Fisher et al. (1998) found that there are less beach birds on parts of the island where there are more vehicles and camping occurs. And as Weston et al. (2015) points it has been necessary to police the speed limits of drivers as some driving practices can be dangerous to other beach users.

    To address these issues one can limit vehicle use and access to certain areas of the island.  Moreover, Fleming’s research (2011) found that visitors are willing to sacrifice access rights to help preserve the environment from human activity. His research also found that “visitor caps and restrictions to fourwheel drive access were favoured ahead of increased pricing during peak visitor times” (as sited in Weston et at., 2015). Therefore, what seems to be necessary is action by the management to implement these restrictions, i.e. what Kuo (2002) calls ‘hard’ approach to natural resource management, but of course the monetary aspect of such actions could be a deterrent to their action.

    Figure 6.JPGVisitors should also be aware that vacationing around the lakes can potentially damage those ecosystems if not done properly. For example, the research done by Hadwen, Arthington, and Mosisch (2003) found that the two most popular lakes on the island (Lake McKenzie and Lake Birrabeen) are most threatened by tourist activities, which would not be surprising given that these are the most advertised lakes. Furthermore, in 2011 aricle published in The Courier-Mail drew people’s attention to Fraser Island’s Lake McKenzie with the following caption: “Conservationists say Fraser Island’s Lake McKenzie has been ruined and turned into garden by rangers” (Williams, 2011). DERM 2008 have made suggestions to shift tourist to other lakes of similar quality, which are present on the island, but it does not seem to have occurred as Lake McKenzie is still the most visited lake on the island. It is not clear whether any improvements have been made as recommended by DERM 2008 with respect to the recommended improvements of the toilet facilities and the waste treatment.  


    Figure 7.JPGSimilarly, the advertised camping sites need to be properly managed. For example, Sullivan, Tindale, (Bill) Carter and Brooks (2015) found that nutrient levels were enriched in the camping zones and that “in some areas, faecal coliforms persist in in beach flows”. They further state that “[t]he link to a human cause is supported by the presence of strong faecal sterol signals in soil samples from the watertable interface. The risk implications for human health are significant although the biological impact implications remain unexplored.” (Sullivan et al., 2015)


    To conclude, Fraser Island’s natural beauty is undisputed and visitors agree that many areas are as beautiful as they are advertised. However, the island’s cultural heritage cannot be overlooked and should be respected and cared for as much as the natural treasures that are being marketed to the tourists.  It is also important to remind that while the island has been a major tourist attraction for less than 25 years, the negative effects of human activity might not be visible yet, and as such active management of the site is important. Fraser Island is of a significant universal value to humanity (as its WHS status suggests) and as such all efforts should be made for its preservation for future generations. 




    Baldwin, C., Brown, S., & Chandler, L. (2015). Representation of butchulla cultural heritage values in communication of K'gari (fraser island) as a tourism destination. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 22(2), 163-180.

    Burns, G. L., & Howard, P. (2003). When wildlife tourism goes wrong: A case study of stakeholder and management issues regarding dingoes on fraser island, australia. Tourism Management, 24(6), 699-712.

    Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM), Queensland Government, Austlaria (2008).  Fraser         Island Sustainable Visitor Capacity Study. Retrieved on Oct. 27 from

    Fisher, F., Hockings, M., & Hobson, R. (1998). Recreation impacts on waders on Fraser Island. Sunbird, 28, 1–11.

    Fleming, C. (2011). Rationing access to protected natural areas: a case study. Griffith University, 2011(4), 1-34.

    Hadwen, W. L., Arthington, A. H., & Mosisch, T. D. (2003). The impact of tourism on dune lakes on fraser island, australia. Lakes & Reservoirs: Research & Management, 8(1), 15-26.

    Ling Kuo, I. (2002). The effectiveness of environmental interpretation at resource-sensitive tourism destinations. International Journal of Tourism Research 4 (2), 87–101.

    Sullivan, D., Tindale, N., (Bill) Carter, R. W., & Brooks, P. (2015). Impact of camping on ground and beach flow water quality on the eastern beach of K'gari-fraser island: A preliminary study. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 22(2), 216-232. 

    Shirreffs, L., McPhail, I., & Thompson, J. (2003). Dingoes on fraser island-tourism dream or management nightmare.Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 8(1), 37-47. 

    TripAdvisor (2015). Retrieved on October 27, 2015 from     g255078-d596653-Reviews-Lake_McKenzie-Fraser_Island_Queensland.html#REVIEWS

    VisitFraserCoast (2015). Retrieved on October 27, 2015 from

    Weston, M. A., Schlacher, T., Schoeman, D., Conroy, G., Wardell-Johnson, A., Shimizu, Y., & Wardell-Johnson, G. (2015). Re-framing values for a world heritage future: What type of icon will K'gari-fraser island become? Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 22(2), 124-148.

    Williams, B. (2011, September 29). Conservationists say Fraser Island's Lake McKenzie has been ruined and turned into garden by rangers. The Courier-Mail. Retrieved from

    Woodall, P., Pavlov, P., & Twyford, K. (1996). Dingoes in Queensland, Australia: skull dimensions and the identity of wild canids. Wildlife Research, 23 (5), 581–587.


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