The term “Noah’s Ark” can conjure up many images. For some, it’s a biblical reference set in modern-day Turkey. For others, it’s traveling through the lush landscapes of southern Africa while on safari. For Australians though, the term invokes a call to action to protect the endangered species that call Tasmania home.
Tasmania’s strikingly picturesque land – with its nature reserves, beaches, clear waters, glacial remnants and World Heritage Sites – provides the perfect ecosystem for migrating blue and humpback whales, kangaroos, southern elephant seals, wedge-tailed eagles, albatrosses, petrels, skinks, wombats, the threatened subarctic fur seal, and, of course, the famed Tasmanian devil.
So, where exactly is Tasmania’s Noah’s Ark?
Tasmania’s east coast is one of the most photographed stretches of the coastline of Australia. Its mild climate and pristine secluded bays make for memorable vacation experiences by foot, bicycle, kayak and boat.
But, if you want to get the full and rare wildlife experience, you have to take a boat ride just off the east coast to Maria Island, as that island plays host to many endangered mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and plants.
Three reasons to go to Maria Island
Its mysterious history: Prior to discovery by the Dutch in 1642 and later settlement by the French and British in the late 1700s to early 1800s, Maria Island had 30,000 years of Aboriginal people calling this 45 square mile area home.
Maria Island was inhabited by the Tyreddeme people who were among the most southernmost people in the world after the last Ice Age. They called the island Toarra Marra Monah and lived there up to the time of colonization. The Tyreddeme built huts, hunted and gathered food and buried their dead in a very unusual way.
Through the 1800s, the primary purpose of Maria Island was as a convict settlement. Then, in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Maria Island experienced two industrial eras producing silk, wines, agricultural crops as well as companies that sold limestone and cement.
Check out the Tasmania Walking & Wildlife Expedition
Conservation education: Given its separation from Tasmania’s mainland, Maria Island was identified as the perfect refuge for many threatened species as early as the 1970s. Since, then, a number of threatened species have been introduced on Maria Island in a bid to build their numbers. The characteristics that first made the island a convict settlement now make it an ideal refuge for plant and animal species that are under threat elsewhere, including Forester kangaroos and Bennett’s wallabies, Cape Barren geese and swamp-hens.
The rare forty-spotted pardalote is a famous local bird along with plentiful white gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) that is essential to its survival. The most recent and notable species introduction has been of Tasmanian Devils. As the mainland population was being decimated by a facial tumor disease that was being spread when the Devils were fighting and injuring one another, captive Tasmanian Devils were introduced and are cared for by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service staff that live on the island. These devils form part of the “insurance population” of devils unaffected by the disease, and the good news is that in the one and a half years since the program’s inception, the healthy population of Tasmanian Devils is increasing.
The Experience: Professionally trained guides explain Tasmania’s Gondwanan elements through plants and animals only otherwise found in certain parts of South America and South Africa as well as the significance of the Painted Cliffs and the Fossil cliffs (with its fossils from the last Ice Age). You’ll learn about the symbiotic ecosystem of native and introduced species that exist on the island, stay at Diego Bernacchi’s (the Italian silk merchant) home (exclusive only to the Tasmania Walking & Wildlife Expedition) and taste locally sourced ingredients as well as new foods – and wine – with friendly company.