The Daintree is situated 110km north of Cairns, far north Queensland. The Daintree rainforest is the oldest, continuously surviving rainforest on the planet, dating 100-135 million years old. It is home to 122 rare and threatened species and at least 9 of the worlds primitive plants. They record eight major stages of evolution of land plants and in particular primitive flowering plants. The World Heritage Area of the Wet Tropics declared in 1988 is home to 30% of Australia’s marsupials, 60% of it’s bats, 18% of its birds and 60% of its butterflies.
In 1988, the Hawke Federal Government listed the Wet Tropics rainforests as a World Heritage Area. While the World Heritage Area included the majority of the Daintree Rainforest uplands, it excluded most of the hill slopes and coastal lowlands, which were mainly privately owned.
Ten years prior to World Heritage listing, large sections of the lowland rainforest were subdivided for residential development by Cairns property developer, Mr George Quaid and as result, developers have left a legacy of freehold properties in the heart of the Daintree lowlands surrounded by National Park and World Heritage Area. These properties share many of the same natural attributes of the protected areas, however they are now being steadily developed, adding to the fragmentation of the rainforest.
It is essential that development in the Daintree is limited to ensure the ecological integrity of this unique rainforest is maintained.
Organisations such as Rainforest Rescue have been fundraising for the purchase and protection of critical habitat blocks within the Daintree for over 10 years now. So far they have purchased 13 properties (averaging one property per year). However, there remain 185 properties zoned for development that still need protecting.
In 1994 the Australian and State Governments funded the $23 million Daintree Rescue Program to be implemented over four years. This was successful in purchasing a number of significant blocks of land for inclusion within the Daintree National Park, as well as developing eco-tourism infrastructure. However large amounts of critical conservation land were still not protected.
Prior to the 2004 election the Australian Government committed $5M, through the Australian Rainforest Foundation, to the Daintree; however, this has now been largely diverted to landholder education rather than the much-needed buy back. The Douglas Shire Council also pledged $5M for conservation of the Daintree, which it subsequently withdrew.
In June 2004 the Douglas Shire Council implemented a 12-month moratorium on approval for development in the Daintree while it prepared a Douglas Shire Draft Planning Scheme for the area.
Fortunately the Queensland State Government (again immediately prior to the 2005 State election) also committed $5M and following adoption of the Douglas Shire Council Planning Scheme in 2006 committed another $5M.
There are approximately 185 freehold properties left in the heart of the Daintree that are zoned for development. This means that private owners can clear up to 700 m2 for a house site on each of these blocks under the current zoning.
Residential development in the Daintree causes a number of problems for the rainforest and the endangered species within it. These include pests and weeds, feral pigs, forest edge drying effect, habitat fragmentation by clearing and construction of roads and driveways, increased traffic and the introduction of domestic animals such as cats and dogs.
A few of these properties are being bought and developed each year and slowly the integrity of the surrounding protected rainforest becomes degraded and devalued. Species such as the Southern Cassowary suffer severly from habitat fragmentation and human disturbance.
These remaining 185 blocks are estimated to cost $30million. If these blocks were bought back and protected, the immediate threats of development will disappear and efforts can be concentrated towards regeneration of degraded corridors, consolidating the highest priority conservation precincts, maintenance of infrastructure and community education for both locals and tourists. With continued funding and a long term community led managment plan, the Daintree will remain an internationally significant living example of evolution for the rest of the world to see.
The Save the Cassowary campaign is urging the Australian Government to commit these funds for voluntary acquisition and protection of the remaining 185 blocks, to secure the remaining cassowary habitat and the overall integrity of the Wet Tropics. Take action by sending Minister Burke a message today.
Davies, K., Rainforest Rescue, 2009 pers comm.
Cook, D., 2009 ‘Daintree Development Continues- The Need For a Final Buyback’ unpub. report.
Cummings, T., 2009 ‘ Land Assessment in the Daintree: Priositizing Land for Buyback and Protection’ unpub. report. Cow Bay, Australia.