Dambimangari Ranger Co-ordinator Josh Vartto is settling into life in the Kimberley after working for 12 months in one of the most challenging places in the world.
Josh arrived at Derby for his new environmental management role at Dambi country in April this year after working on Raoul Island, 1500 kilometres north east of Auckland, New Zealand. The island covers a similar land area to Rottnest in Western Australia but – unlike Rottnest – Raoul Island is covered in dense vegetation and rises more than 500 metres above the Pacific Ocean.
Josh was working in central Australia at Ormiston Gorge, 130 kilometres west of Alice Springs when he saw an advertisement for an environmental management post at the remote island.
Officially, the island is unpopulated but the New Zealand Government maintains an office of 5-10 people to run environmental programs and monitor shipping and weather conditions.
The task calls for extraordinary self-reliance and a high degree of tolerance for the operations team who work on the island without any regular contact with the outside world.
The isolation also demands an ability to adapt and acquire new skills.
“When there are only five people on the island, everyone has to have special skills and training,” said Josh
“I was told I would be the medic even though I have never done anything like that before.
“So I had three months of training in Auckland to learn how to treat people when they have been injured.
“I had to know how to set bones, stitch people, take blood and deal with a whole range of injuries and illness.
“When I got to the island, I had a number of incidents including stitching up someone who was injured with a machete. I had to do a quick refresher on you Tube.
“It was a success. They healed up nicely and there was no infection.
“I am now glad that I learned those skills. I have a great respect for people who do it for a living.”
Raoul Island has a dark and mysterious history.
Two active volcanoes erupt from time to time and two of these eruptions are thought to have claimed the lives of research staff. In the most recent case in 2004, a field worker was collecting water samples from one of the island lakes and a Romanian volunteer was taking ocean temperatures and was swept in by a wave when a volcano erupted. Neither man has been seen again.
One of the main tasks for the Raoul Island team was to manage a serious weed infestation which has been overwhelming the natural habitat.
The staff worked well together, although Josh admits there were times when the group’s good nature was tested by a difficult environment and isolation.
Back in Australia, he is relishing the challenges of Dambimangari’s custodianship of a region famous naturalist Richard Attenborough described as the “seventh natural wonder of the world.”
For anyone involved in the environmental sciences, the Kimberley is a remarkable place – with magnificent scenery, unique wildlife and (so far) a record of no extinctions of native species since European settlement.
The Dambimangari program is aiming to make more local rangers proficient in environmental management.
The group has established a partnership with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, managing the largely untouched Yampi Training Area.
“As part of this program, we want to build the skills and qualifications of our group,” Josh said during a break from management programs.
“One of our priorities will be to help the Rangers to secure Cert 2 and 3 qualifications in conservation and land management.
“Tourism will be part of our future, and getting the rangers out on country as much as possible will be part of our management strategy.
“We know that our biggest threat will be cane toads, so we’re working with the government and other Kimberley communities to develop the best control programs we can.”
Looking ahead, Josh Vartto sees plenty of challenges – and plenty of opportunities – to secure the future of one of the world’s great ecosystems.