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Frogs – The Eco-Canaries

The other morning I was talking to a friend about frogs. I am fascinated by frogs, how they turn from tadpoles into these shiny big eyed leggy creatures. This friend was telling me how on their parents farm up the coast there were lots of them and how her eldest daughter at first was scared to touch them, but by the end of the trip was holding them and enjoying playing with them.

Frogs have been liked to the “Eco-Canaries”, an image from the early warning canaries used in coal mines for centuries around the world. You see canaries have a lower tolerance of gas polutants such as carbon monoxide, and would be taken down the mine shafts with the miners in cages, hung up on a peg nearby to where they were working and if they died, it was a sign to the miners that they needed to get out of there quickly, or die.

Frogs are one of the obvious species that act as an indicator of the local ecosystem’s health. They, or the insects they feed on are easily affected by the introduction of pollutants into streams or waterbodies and when the frogs are no longer heard, the whole eco system is failing or even dying. Apparently there are whole species of frogs that have been wiped out by mankind’s selfish polluting, at some level, we’re all responsible for that.

But it makes me wonder how do we decide which eco systems are worth protecting, do we base it entirely on whether a particular threated species is found there? Or do we have a smarter system than that?

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Unfortunately, in Australia, the instrument appears to be rather blunt and unsophisticated. Reports are rarely independent from the development, political power is derived from developers with money, developers are motivated almost entirely by profit. Is there room for eco-systems and humble frogs in this maze of legislation? Everyone will tell you there is. But the reality of the Part 3A development process in NSW, trading trees for development and other such processes is that the eco-systems are far down on the requirements to be ticked off for a development. It’s pretty easy to write a report justifying a development. And there seems to be little recourse in the industry for incorrect or misleading information.

Maybe a simple question would be, “Will the Frogs Survive?” If the answer is no, an alternative proposal should be examined.

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.