Cane toad book warns of unintended consequences

A book detailing the devastating impact of one of Australia’s most successful invasive species and the lessons that can be learned from the “unintended consequences” of species’ introduction will be launched this week (Friday, 15 November).

The untold story of how good intentions can have catastrophic outcomes, Charles Darwin University Adjunct Professorial Fellow Nigel Turvey’s book “Cane toads: a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science” is the collation of historical records spanning 500 years.

“Tracing the history of where the toads came from led me to take a more in-depth look at the reasons behind the human-induced spread of the species that originated in and was adopted by sugar growers in northern South America in the 16th and 17th centuries,” Dr Turvey said.

“The real ‘pot of gold’ was the documents I found in Brisbane that allowed me to understand the historical context and delve inside the minds and thought processes of the public servants and scientists in the 1930s.”

Unveiling forgotten factual historical documents, Dr Turvey said that blaming those who introduced the species was “too easy” and that even the best well-laid plans could have the most “unintended consequences”.

“Back in 1935 the decision-makers and facilitators were simply doing the jobs they were qualified for by trying to help the sugar industry,” he said.

“At the time these researchers were the best at what they did and they thought they were doing the right thing backed by cane growers, leading scientists, politicians, the premier of Queensland and the prime minister of Australia.”

For Dr Turvey, the book has been a continuation of a deep fascination with unintended consequences and environmental conflict. As an environmental scientist and professional forester he knows only too well the conflicts that arise between government and state-sanctioned environmental management and the opinions of environmentalists.

“It’s a scary thought for the future,” Dr Turvey said. “Rather than assign blame to the researchers of the past, there is a real message here for today’s scientists to learn from them. And as the toad tale tells, we come perilously close to repeating the mistakes of the past.”

“Cane toads; a tale of sugar, politics and flawed science” will be launched in Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin in November. The Darwin launch will take place at 5:15 pm on Friday, 15 November at Northern Territory Library, Parliament House.

Source: CDU Newsroom