The ACT’s Conservator of Flora and Fauna has admitted “all cards are on the table” as the Territory considers how to make Gibraltar Falls safer.
Parks and Conservation rangers were on site this morning (15 February) examining the area where a teenager died after falling off a cliff at the site on Sunday.
Conservator Bren Burkevics said today’s assessment was part of a safety review into the site, which included examining signage, fencing, handrails and areas that have been trampled by people ignoring warnings and heading off the marked trails.
“The challenge with Gibraltar is it’s such a wonder of nature and it’s been promoted on social media as a swimming hole,” he said.
“We never recommend that because of the dangers of the cliffs and waterfall, and also because of changes that can occur due to flooding.”
While Gibraltar Falls has a viewing platform, the water hole has become popular with locals and tourists alike.
“We do not recommend people venture off the track as it can put yourself at risk, as we’ve sadly seen from this incident,” Mr Burkevics said.
“Unfortunately, it does appear over the weekend people accessed a high-risk area that we don’t recommend people go to.”
Mr Burkevics and his team will use the information gathered to identify any new areas people have decided to explore away from marked trails, as well as ways to deter them.
The ACT’s rescue agencies are routinely trained in retrieving people who get into trouble in our national parks, and Mr Burkevics said it wasn’t uncommon for people to get into difficulties or have an accident.
However, that risk was heightened if people chose to ignore warnings set up for their own safety.
Our wet spring and start to summer have also changed the landscape.
“Today, we did notice some areas of the falls that have been degraded because of people heading off the track, including the cliffs and waterfall where the incident occurred,” Mr Burkevics said.
If it appears signage and fences aren’t enough to stop people from walking where they shouldn’t, other powers are available to the Conservator of Flora and Fauna.
“I have powers under the Nature Conservation Act 2014 to apply closures,” Mr Burkevics said.
“It’s a last resort option because it’s such a wonderful location … [but] people need to stop swimming there.”
If the site was permanently closed under this law, entering the area would be a punishable offence.
While the safety review is expected to be completed in the coming weeks, the site could remain closed for months if it’s decided extra safety measures need to be installed.
In the meantime, Mr Burkevics said there were plenty of other parks and reserves around the ACT that people could enjoy.
He had this advice to anyone exploring the Territory’s natural wonders: “Follow the signage, stay on the appointed tracks and trails, prepare accordingly, follow the advice of rangers and you’ll have a good day.”