While tempted to wish my “local” park to be spared the extra visitor pressure that World Heritage listing will bring, I hope that the increased focus on its sustainable management will support the sharing of Royal National Park’s treasures by visitors from around the world. But it won’t be easy.
Already, walking tracks wear deeply into soft sandstone. Weeds and fungal diseases creep into the fragile plant communities from disturbed edges. Large areas are sacrificially burned to protect the poorly planned suburban fringe from bushfire. Urban and mine drainage pollutes the Hacking River. Feral animals distort the balance of vegetation and native fauna. Developed areas are subjected to litter and compaction by visitors drawn by boating, kicking a football on a grassy flat or driving or riding through, without appreciating the significance and fragility of their surroundings. I confess to enjoying such a superficial view myself from time to time, swimming at a beach or flying over the coast in a hang glider.
It would take more than a lifetime to learn what a diversity of plants, birds and animals live in Royal National Park, let alone how they interact. But the beauty of its sparkling beaches and pools, its coastline, wildflowers and forests brings even naïve visitors back again and again to continue the learning process.
I trust that Heritage listing will be accompanied by an expansion of NP&WS resources for research, rehabilitation and a strong Ranger presence for interpretation, education and a watchful eye for careless damage or vandalism. We cannot afford to show future visitors the worn out shell of what was once a magnificent environment, maintained for millenia by its Dharawal custodians.