Thousands of rare and endangered animals have been destroyed on Kooragang Island, Hexham in recent months as a result of stolen cars that have been torched on the nature reserve.
At least 10 car fires, including eight since August, have wiped out rehabilitated habitat for several rare species of frogs, turtles and lizards.
“These fires are having a devastating impact on a vulnerable ecosystem,” PhD student Chad Beranek said.
“I don’t want to spend any more of my time wandering wastelands looking for corpses of the animals I love and have studied a few days earlier when they were alive.”
Mr Beranek, who is studying the effect of habitat restoration on the Green and Golden Bell Frog population, was doing survey work in the early hours of last Saturday when the most recent stolen vehicle went up a short distance from where he was working.
Firefighters arrived on the scene quickly, but not before the fire had torn through several hectares of valuable habitat on the eastern end of the island.
It is believed embers from the blaze were blown across a creek and smouldered in salt marsh before they were reignited by hot westerly winds on Saturday afternoon resulting in the destruction of more than 100 hectares of wetland containing bell frogs, turtles, nesting birds and bitterns.
No one has been charged with lighting the fire or the other fires on the island in recent times.
Mr Beranek estimated the recent fires had cost about $100,000 in damage to property and lost research opportunities.
Rehabilitation works on the island have resulted in a a steady increase in the Green and Golden Bell Frog population over the past 15 years.
But Mr Beranek said thousands of hours of work to restore and research the habitat would be lost if fires did not stop.
“The amount of research and effort that has been put in to restore the wetlands and to restore the bell frog populations, to have some of these areas lost just because of some idiots lighting up a car is depressing,” Mr Beranek said.
“These persistent perpetrators need to be caught or at least educated.”
Despite police patrols, the island’s remote and camouflaged location makes it ideal for car thieves wanting to destroy evidence.
“Anyone who driving around over there at night and who not doing research is basically up to no good," Mr Beranek said.