Shortly after Jane and I arrived at peaceful Geoffrey Bay at Arcadia on Magnetic Island, I headed down to the beach to enjoy a swim in the calm, crystal clear sea in front of our old family holiday cottage. It was a hot afternoon, about 30 degrees celsius in the shade, and the water was cool, but not cold, and very refreshing. Jane sat on the beach while I waded into the water and lay back in the shallows, escaping the heat and enjoying a relaxing dip.
I was just starting to think how great life really is, when a marine park ranger rushed down the beach and told me I must get out of the water as a crocodile had been seen in the bay. Now I had hardly been in the water five minutes and I was not keen to be disturbed, but I moved pretty quickly for an old bloke and was out of the water in a flash. I did ask the ranger if the sighting had been verified or if it might be a hoax. He said they were taking it very seriously, and, obviously they were, as the bay was patrolled by rangers until well into the night and again the next day. No further sightings were made.
Now members of my family have been holidaying at Magnetic Island for over 80 years and, during that time, no crocodile had been sighted around the Island until one was sighted just a couple of months prior to our recent visit. It was given the name 'Whitey' by the local press and it managed to avoid capture for some weeks before it was eventually trapped and caught. Whitey died in captivity shortly after and a post-mortem indicated that the creature was starving. Wouldn't it be nice to meet a starving crocodile while you are enjoying your morning swim?
Whitey's appearence at Magnetic Island, where no crocodile had ever been sighted before, caused more than a stir in the ocean. Contrary to the Queensland Minister of Tourism's assertion that tourists loved to see crocodiles and more tourists would be attracted to Magnetic Island because of it, it turned out that holidaymakers cancelled bookings and avoided the Island leaving small businesses on the Island to suffer a serious loss of trade as a result. The Minister went quiet about that.
The inquiries that followed Whitey's appearence and subsequent death drew light on a secretive experiment that was being carried out by Queensland's Environmental Protection Agency. They had been quietly relocating crocodiles from areas where they are plentiful to other areas around the states coastline. It was revealed that Whitey had been fitted with a tracking device and transported over 1000 k's from Cape York to mangroves near the town of Ayr at the mouth of the Burdekin River, south of Townsville. One can't help wondering if the EPA held some grudge against the people of the Burdeken region, as they chose to dump a large croc in one of their favourite fishing spots, or if they wanted to eliminate some of the marine scientists working for the Aust. Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) or the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (Grumpa) which both have their headquarters near there. We will never know.
It was further revealed, in one of the southern newspapers, that 30 large crocodiles had been fitted with tracking devices and relocated, but that the EPA could locate only seven (7) of them. And the other 23? Who knows, but it seems that the crocs did their best to return home after they were relocated, and thats what Whitey was doing. He was heading back to his old home on Cape York. Now this weird experiment, called 'Crocs in Space',(truely) had been quietly going on for some years. The EPA tried to share the limelight on the experiment with the University of Queensland and Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, but although both had had some involvement they quickly shied away from all the adverse publicity that was being generated. Isn't it always true that your friends desert you when things are looking bleak?
If things were looking a bit bleak for the EPA, they suddenly turned a lot worse when on Thursday, November 13, 2008, the Townsville Bulletin boldly announced, "Deaths, cover-ups and a culture of secrecy: EPA under fire in Parliament", and even more boldly, " 'An act of stupidity' Victim's family says EPA went too far with 'goofy' croc program". The paper went on to reveal that an un-named whistleblower in the EPA had linked the 'Crocs in Space' research program to two deaths of holidaymakers in the Cape York region. Both men, one in 2005 and one in 2008, were taken by crocodiles that it was claimed were part of the relocation experiment.
The Bulletin's editor covered the story with this comment: "Any blunder must be investigated. If the whistleblower's assertions are true, this is a bureaucratic blunder of the worst type, and heads should roll. If these claims are correct, how can a government department justify this in the name of science, when they have contributed to the deaths of two men? The whole sorry saga borders on criminal negligence and that's why the State Government must act quickly to set up some sort of inquiry to establish whether or not the claims are true. They need to clear the air, particularly for the families of these two men."
Time will tell if there is going to be another inquiry or another cover-up, but the head of the EPA will probably still get a fat bonus for a job well done, especially if the whole matter is swept under the carpet. But what about the 23 missing 'Crocs in Space'? I suggest you keep a sharp look out. You might see one passing your place anytime now. Unlikely? Well, maybe not. You see just a few days before Christmas, Aussie TV showed footage of a large 'croc' that was captured by an overly enthusiastic group of NSW campers, who had watched too much Steve Irwin on TV. They found the creature making its way through their campsite and jumped on it in true Steve style, managing to capture it without loosing any arms or legs. It turned out it was not a crocodile from Queensland, but an alligator from Florida, that had seemingly grown too large for it's owners bath-tub and had escaped. Maybe, like the homeward bound Queensland Crocs, it was just trying to find it's way back home to Florida!!?