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Tasmania is burning. Raging fires threaten thousand-year-old forests

Le antiche foreste pluviali del Gondwana sono minacciate dagli incendi che da giorni devastano la Tasmania.

Tasmania is home to some of the world’s tallest and most ancient trees, the Mountain Ashes (Eucalyptus regnans), which are part of UNESCO‘s World Heritage List. These wooden giants, along with many other animal and plant species, are in grave danger, threatened by bushfires that are devastating the countries.

 

Foresta di eucalipti in Tasmania
Ancient forest of giant eucalyptuses (Eucalyptus regnans) in Tasmania. These trees, after sequoias, are the world’s tallest

 

Over the past two weeks, more than 70 fires have been registered in Tasmania, which are spreading also due to hot, dry weather. This is considered to be Tasmania’s worst forest fire crisis in decades, with over 42,000 hectares of land and forest already burnt.

 

The catastrophe is global. These trees are in fact the plants that capture the largest amount of carbon, making air more breathable. Contrary to Australia’s eucalyptus forests, evolved to “coexist” with fires and able to rapidly recover after fires, ancient Tasmania’s trees if burn they die.

 

Therefore, these trees grow at high altitudes in the central plateau, which is an area too wet to be reached by flames. However, the extraordinary adaptation capacity of these creatures didn’t cope with changes in climate that made even rainforests and peat bogs arid.

 

Foresta bruciata
A forest after a fire, Tasmania© Rob Blakers

 

According to experts, fires are caused by the extremely warm weather and by the effects of the El Niño pattern. Similar events used to be very rare and occurred once in a thousand year, according to David Bowman, environmental change biology professor at the University of Tasmania.

 

“I think climate change is to be blamed. The fires were preceded and aggravated by the coincidence of two natural climate events – the Indian Ocean dipole and the Pacific El Niño,” said Bowman. “We are in a new place. We just have to accept that we’ve crossed a threshold, I suspect. This is what climate change looks like.”

 

Last spring was the most arid ever registered in Tasmania, whilst during the month of December warm weather hit another record, followed by the lack of rainfalls across January. Scientists don’t expect a rosy future. In fact, no significant rainfalls are foreseen until next autumn at least.

 

Foresta pluviale

 

Unique, fragile and ancient ecosystems could be wiped out. These ecosystems moulded across centuries, and their recovery could take, according to representatives of the Wilderness Society, hundreds if not thousands of years.

Translated by

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