Tourists behind online trend vandalising Australia's national parks

·Environment Editor
·3-min read

Tourists visiting Australia’s national parks have been labelled “vandals” after creating dozens of stacks known as “rock cairns”.

While the worldwide craze has grown in popularity on social media platforms like Instagram, the displays are increasingly infuriating conservationists.

Queensland authorities have posted images online showing over a hundred structures that have ruined a dry creek bed at Cania Gorge National Park, 140km west of Bundaberg.

"Look beyond what may be visually pleasing to some, notice how the dry creek bed is now bare of its rock cover," the department of environment (DES) wrote on Facebook.

Over 100 rock cairns were discovered by rangers at Cania Gorge National Park. Source: Cathy Gatley / DES
Over 100 rock cairns were discovered by rangers at Cania Gorge National Park. Source: Cathy Gatley / DES

Photographed by ranger Cathy Gatley two weeks ago, the rock cairns are “certainly the worst” she’s seen in the park.

“What once was a rocky creek bed is now bare due to all the rocks being stacked,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“So what may seem like, you know, a harmless activity actually does have quite a flow-on effect.”

Rangers believe the rock cairns were created by multiple perpetrators over a period of time. Source:  Cathy Gatley / DES
Rangers believe the rock cairns were created by multiple perpetrators over a period of time. Source: Cathy Gatley / DES

Describing the practice as a growing “trend”, Ms Gatley believes clusters of rock cairns are created by multiple people over a period of time.

“Someone sees one and then thinks: Oh, I'll do one as well,” she said.

Department of environment (DES) officers will begin the task of breaking apart the structures and rehabilitating the area in the coming weeks.

What’s so bad about rock cairns?

Bushwalking Australia’s Helen Donovan said while rock cairns were historically used in Scotland as navigational tools for hikers, the practice has little history in Australia.

Evidence of people creating rock stacks is rife on social media platforms. Source: Instagram
Evidence of people creating rock stacks is rife on social media platforms. Source: Instagram

“In Australia, rock cairns have been more something that has carried forward from other traditions,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“What's been seen recently is the explosion of using rock cairns as a feature in social media posts.

“People have been doing these without realising the impact they have.”

While rock cairns may seem innocuous, their creation can actually result in serious environmental harm.

Insects, lizards and other small creatures rely on the environment sustained between the rock and the earth to survive.

“When rocks are moved to create these rock cairns, it can potentially disrupt or destroy that habitat for the animals and other critters that are living under them,” Ms Donovan said.

“It’s problematic when it occurs at such a large scale.

“We don't often see what is resident under these rocks… but because it’s now exploded as an artistic demonstration, it means that it’s now impacting at scale.”

Anyone who creates an unauthorised structure in a Queensland national park could face a fine of $689.

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