Tourist fined for Instagram post at iconic Aussie spot: 'Hard to believe'

The man was tracked down by authorities who recognised details in the background of the photo posted to social media.

Scrolling on Instagram, travellers looking to visit the picturesque Rottnest Island will be greeted with an abundance of smiling selfies taken by tourists cuddling up to the island's famous quokkas.

While it's a right of passage for people visiting the popular nature reserve off the coast of Western Australia — and even encouraged — some are flouting rules just to get the perfect photo.

A holidaymaker visiting the tourist hotspot — which is accessible from Perth — was recently tracked down by authorities after posting an incriminating photo to social media which showed the unnamed man holding one of the tiny, and famous, marsupials. Signs erected around the island clearly indicate visitors can look but not touch the furry animals, a vulnerable species.

Tourists taking selfies with quokkas at Rottnest Island.
Tourists are encouraged to take selfies with the famous quokkas at Rottnest Island in Western Australia, however touching or feeding them is not allowed. Source: Instagram

"The signs are everywhere," Samuel Cornell, a research fellow from UNSW, told Yahoo News Australia. "I went there myself a few weeks ago, it's quite obvious that you're not supposed to do things like that."

"I do find it hard to believe that they didn't know that you weren't supposed to do that," Cornell, whose research looks at the environmental impacts of tourism and social media, added.

Tourist fined $200 for ignoring rules

Rottnest Island rangers reportedly spotted the Instagram post and tracked down the defiant tourist who later copped a $200 fine. A Rottnest Island Authority spokesperson confirmed to Perth Now an infringement had been issued over the weekend but said the offender was not evicted from the island.

"Feeding and touching quokkas is not permitted for the safety of visitors and the welfare of the animals," the spokesperson said.

The message is also clear on the Rottnest Island website."It’s important, for their safety and yours, that you don’t touch the quokkas," it reads. Tourists are warned that touching the animals can make them sick, spread disease and cause mothers to abandon their young if they carry an unfamiliar scent. Tourists themselves are also at risk.

Man holding quokka at Rottnest Island in Western Australia.
The man visiting the area posted a photo to social media showing him holding a quokka, which isn't allowed. Source: Perth Now

"The rules are there usually to protect people's own safety, first and foremost. And then secondly, of course, we enact rules to protect the environment," Cornell said. "They are still wild animals, but because they're plastered all over social media and people are used to seeing pretty pictures with them, I think people then have this interpretation of them that they're just some fluffy, safe creature that you can just go up to and pick up."

'A problem across Australia'

But it's not just Rottnest Island falling victim to bad behaviour. "It's a problem across Australia," said Cornell. "People go to national parks in particular and disobey the rules. They ignore warning signs, they traverse barriers, they just sort of do what they want. And I think a massive part of that is social media driven," he explained.

Tourists visiting K'gari, formally Fraser Island, have long been criticised for ignoring signage warning visitors against interacting with the native animals, which can be dangerous, rangers on the island warn – yet there's still been a surge in reports of people flouting the rules.

Toourists overlooking the water at Babinda Boulders in Queensland.
Visitors to Babinda Boulders are ignoring safety advice warning them of significant risk in some areas. Source: Instagram

Babinda Boulders, near Cairns in Queensland, is another example where flouting strict rules can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences. So far, there have been 21 deaths at the Far North Queensland site, three since April 2020. And the reason, according to Cairns councillor Brett Moller, is people disregarding warning signs at the dangerous waterway..

Wedding Cake Rock in Sydney's south has also been made famous by social media. The popular cliff edge has long been a highlight on the coastal path of the Royal National Park, however safety warnings are regularly ignored by those seeking new social media content.

"Some people do just ignore rules or signs because they think they know better or they really want a photo in a certain place," Cornell explained. "But there are a subset of people that will claim 'oh, I didn't actually see the sign or I wasn't really aware'".

The solution isn't easy though, said Conell who noted most of these iconic places rely on tourism. He said "trying to communicate risk better" could go a long way in stamping out defiant behaviour, and tougher fines could also help deter peopleo.

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