Littering, Foot Traffic and Social Media

By Craig Doumoruas

Published on 12 May 2018

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General News

In an article I wrote a while ago regarding waterfalls on private property, I tried to explain why it was necessary for many hikers to know the boundaries of accessible land in an effort not to trespass. We live in a generation where information is readily available, and often the information that is available ranges from being incomplete and biased, right down to being inaccurate or completely false. I believe for the most part authors of blogs and websites across Tasmania are diligent and well meaning. However, one person's opinion will always be skewed and biased. In essence their articles will always be opinion pieces. Just because their opinion might be popular, it does not mean it's accurate.

At Waterfalls of Tasmania, one of our missions is to document waterfalls as accurately as possible. Over the years we've rewritten and redocumented information, double checking the accuracy. We've implemented better standards to improve consistency, such as the 'Grade Of Hike', a set of standards developed by government bodies across Australia to standardise a hiking grading system. We have also fostered very good relationships with some Government agencies within Tasmania, sharing information to impove accuracy for everyone.

But where Waterfalls of Tasmania excels is with its community. We have seen a growing number of people helping each other with information and educating each other so they can stay safe when hiking. We've also seen an improvement in people's diligence when hiking. Increasingly, members within our community will perform clean up works when they visit a waterfall. The community has also been very good at correcting information that is incorrect on our website. If it wasn't for people actively visiting waterfalls and reporting what they have seen we would never know of any problems out there in the wild, nor would we be able to keep hiking information relatively current.

Littering and Vandalism, a long term problem

Before the internet, and before Social Media, there were litterers. Some areas were dumping grounds for all sorts of things. Here's a few waterfalls that have a long history of being abused with anti-social behavior: 

  • In north west Tasmania near Ridgley, one of the waterfalls has a pile of rusted car bodies resting unceremoniously near the base of the waterfall.
  • Again in the north west, a waterfall known as Upper Cam Falls has been victim of dumping and anti-social behaviour for years.
  • In Glenorchy, a suburb in Hobart, a small waterfall known as Glenorchy Falls has been victim of all sorts of rubbish being dumped, polluting the waterway.
  • In southern Tasmania, near Geeveston, another small waterfall was popular for some locals as a party-ground.. Alcohol bottles, cans, plastics, and other rubbish could easily be seen from the moment you parked your car all the way to the waterfall itself.

These are just a few waterfalls that have suffered years of abuse, and still do. There are many other places across Tasmania that have been affected by anti-social behavior. The four watrefalls mentioned above have been degrading for years, decades even.

The Social Media Revolution

We all know about Facebook and Instagram.  Social Media has proven to be an excellent tool for motivating people to explore the great outdoors. Our statistics and analytics have shown a very steady increase of people between the age of 25 and 35 opting to explore waterfalls. It has resulted in increased foot traffic in some places. One waterfall in particular, Secret Falls, is suffering from the erosion caused by the foot traffic. The erosion issues at Secret Falls has been a catalyst for some people to suggest that information should be hidden, removed and deleted, in an effort to stop people from visiting it. That ideology has since grown some legs, and increasingly people are suggesting other waterfalls should be hidden from the public to prevent people visiting it. Over the last few years I have seen the ideology grow more and more, to the point that someone suggested that a waterfall deep in Tasmania's wilderness should be hidden because it was 'sensitive'. In other words, it would be overrun in much the same way Secret Falls has been, even though it requires a multi-day hike to visit it. 

At the same time, social media has highlighted the problems that some waterfalls have suffered. For one waterfall in particular, Glenorchy Falls, it took one photo of a platypus swimming around rubbish to motivate two women to organise a very big cleanup of the Rivulet. At first they tried to get the local council to perform the cleanup work, and when the Glenorchy City Council failed in their due diligence to clean up its waterway, the 2 ladies took it upon themeselves and organised sponsorship and a group of volunteers to clean up Glenorchy Falls. The effort took a few days in total to remove decades of dumping. And what was removed from the rivulet was staggering... Rusting petrol tins, old bicycles, tarpaulins, rusting bed frames to name just a few. Some items were embedded so deeply into the creek bed it took a team of 6 men to remove it. For Glenorchy Falls, years of abuse was swiftly undone thanks to the motivation of a few people and the use of Social Media.

For other waterfalls, including those unnamed falls near Geeveston, the areas are becoming cleaner thanks to the the many diligent people who perform some cleanup work when they visit waterfalls. For me personally, I didn't do any clean up work at first, but the more I visited waterfalls and the pleasure I received from seeing our beautiful land, the more natural it felt to give back, by picking up some litter when I was able to. It wasn't a big deal, certainly not something to brag about. It just felt natural to clean up rubbish when there was a need to do so. I learned that my evolution in picking up litter when I hiked was something many other waterfall enthusiasts were doing as well. For most people who truly love visiting our wilderness It's not a huge effort to pick up some rubbish. Some members in our community carry plastic bags with them to pick up rubbish if they find any when they hike.

But we should hide information about those waterfalls, shouldn't we?

The theory is waterfalls wouldn't become dumping grounds if no one knew they existed. I have yet to see evidence that conclusively proves that any waterfall has suffered dumping of rubbish due to it being on websites like Waterfalls of Tasmania, or promoted on Instagram. In fact, it is simply false to say that areas like the waterfalls mentioned in the list above have become victim due to Social Media. These waterfalls were victim of these problems long before the rise of Facebook and Instagram. The only thing that has really changed for those waterfalls is the awareness of the problems they suffer. Social Media is like a spotlight that shines on things that need attention. Social Media has also identified how some areas need infrastructure to preserve the habitat surrounding them.

The mistake many people unfortunately make is using the problems found at one waterfall and declaring the same fate will occur at every other waterfall. For example, not every waterfall suffers erosion issues that Secret Falls suffers. Some waterfalls can easily support multitudes more foot traffic. Unlike Secret Falls, very few waterfalls are within walking distance of Tasmania's largest city. Unlike Secret Falls, very few waterfalls are right next to a popular walking track. In fact, most waterfalls across Tasmania require a dedicated hike that usually takes hours. Unlike Secret Falls, most waterfalls can be viewed without having to climb down into a gully, and unlike Secret Falls, most waterfalls will never see the same level of people that Secret Falls sees.

It would be completely ludicrous for me to suggest that every waterfall will end up a dumping ground of car bodies because one waterfall in north-west Tasmania has several car bodies at the base of the waterfall. It would also be ridiculously stupid for me to suggest that every waterfall will end up with massive amounts of litter being dumped simply because several other waterfalls have been littered.  Each waterfall needs to be looked at individually.  In the same way, it is just as ridiculous to suggest every waterfall will suffer erosion issues because erosion is occuring at Secret Falls. 

So, when people actively try to hide information about locations that people would otherwise visit, and when people actively withold information about waterfalls that are on public property, I cannot help but get a little angry. Why?  Because the ideology behind why they are witholding the information is flawed. There is absolutely no concrete proof those places will be destroyed if people visit those areas. It's only a possibility, and a very small one at that. Another reason is that dedicated wilderness lovers are visiting these places and improving these areas. We have seen with our own eyes waterfalls that were once dumping grounds, but once documented on social media and websites, slowly begain to be rehabilitated.

Accepting some foot traffic in our wilderness is a small price to pay to have real nature loving people freely exploring and loving our land. By denying information to people, you are effectively denying people the ability to love areas of Tasmania that may badly need it. 

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