UNESCO: Outstanding Universal Value of the Wet Tropics of Queensland

Date:

A slightly more formal piece than most throughout the site but we felt it was useful to provide summary of the criteria that UNESCO, the international body in-charge of determinizing World Heritage Status, took into consideration when granting the Wet Tropics of Queensland that loft recognition. Living in Australia we tend to forget how extraordinary our environment and biodiversity is, somewhat taking it for granted. It is useful to remind ourselves how very special regions such as the Wet Tropics are and continue to be pro-active in conserving and protecting them.

(See also The Wet Tropics of Queensland: A World Heritage Conservation Priority)

Threats to World Heritage Wet Tropics of Queensland

First, however, we wanted to list some of the threats that continue to need strident management to protect the integrity of the Wet Tropics which is administered by the Wet Tropics Management Authority.

In our view there are several threats to the integrity of the World Heritage Wet Tropic Forests of Queensland.

These threats include:

Climate Change: Climate change poses a particular threat to montane species restricted to the upland forests within the area. The changing climate can have negative impacts on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the forests.

Fragmentation: Fragmentation is another threat to the integrity of the Wet Tropic Forests. The Wet Tropics Management Authority works closely with the state government and infrastructure agencies to ensure that the integrity of the World Heritage Area is maintained.

wet-tropics-forest-sea
A unique environment where the forest meets the surrounding the Great Barrier Reef

Weeds: Invasive weeds are a significant threat to the Wet Tropic Forests. These weeds can outcompete native plant species and disrupt the natural balance of the ecosystem.

Feral Animals: Feral animals, such as pigs and cats, can have detrimental effects on the native wildlife of the Wet Tropic Forests. They can prey on native species, compete for resources, and disrupt the natural ecosystem dynamics.

Diseases: Diseases, both in plants and animals, can pose a threat to the integrity of the forests. Outbreaks of diseases can lead to the decline or extinction of vulnerable species within the area.

It is important to address these threats and implement conservation measures to protect the World Heritage Wet Tropic Forests of Queensland and preserve their unique biodiversity.

Environmental Groups Working for Wet Tropics of Queensland Conservation

Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC): CAFNEC is a nation-wide campaign that draws together the support of conservation groups and concerned individuals throughout the country. They work towards preserving the Wet Tropics and addressing environmental issues in the region.

Wet Tropics Management Authority: The Wet Tropics Management Authority’s mission is to lead, inspire, advise, and support the Australian and global community to protect and share the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in perpetuity. They play a crucial role in managing and conserving the Wet Tropics.

Rainforest Trust Australia: Rainforest Trust Australia is a non-profit organization working to protect threatened tropical forests and endangered wildlife in Australia and around the world. They actively work towards preserving the Wet Tropics and its unique biodiversity.

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF): ACF campaigned for many years in the 1970s and 1980s to protect the Daintree Rainforests and achieve World Heritage status for the Wet Tropics area. They continue to advocate for the preservation of the Wet Tropics and other important environmental areas in Australia.

These organizations, among others, are dedicated to preserving the Wet Tropics and ensuring the long-term conservation of this unique and ecologically significant region.

Summary of UNESCO Reasons for Wet Tropics World Heritage Listing

You can find the original text on the UNESCO site

Overview:
The Wet Tropics of Queensland is a 450-km stretch on Australia’s northeast coast, covering about 894,420 hectares of primarily tropical rainforest. This area is renowned for its rich biodiversity and offers a comprehensive record of Australia’s ecological and evolutionary history, tracing back to the Gondwanan era.

Wet Tropics Rainforest
Wet Tropics Rainforest. Credit Destination Queensland

Key Features:

  • The region contains remains from the great Gondwanan forest, which existed 50 to 100 million years ago.
  • The Wet Tropics harbor Australia’s unique marsupials and their closest existing relatives.
  • The area provides valuable insights into the evolutionary process and offers clues about Australia’s flora, fauna, and fossils.

Special Criteria:

  • Criterion (vii): The Wet Tropics showcase natural beauty, offering expansive views of forests, wild rivers, waterfalls, gorges, and coastal scenes, particularly between the Daintree River and Cedar Bay.
  • Criterion (viii): This area represents one of the most intact records of land plant evolution, from pteridophytes to angiosperms. It serves as a living representation of Gondwanan forests.
  • Criterion (ix): The Wet Tropics offer unparalleled examples of ongoing ecological processes and biological evolution. It’s a hotspot for endemism and shows an evolutionary bridge between rainforests and sclerophyll forests.
  • Criterion (x): The region retains a largely intact ecosystem, with many endemic and threatened species. It stands out both nationally and globally for its biodiversity.

Diversity Metrics:
The Wet Tropics cover a small percentage of Australia but support a significant portion of its marsupial, bat, bird, butterfly, fern, and plant species, making it crucial for scientific research and conservation. (See article Birds and Frogs of The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area)

Integrity:
When inscribed, the Wet Tropics was largely intact, with only minimal human interference compared to other tropical regions. However, some disturbances like infrastructure development and logging had affected its natural integrity. Since its inscription, measures have been taken to manage and protect the region, including a ban on logging since 1987.

Threats:
Despite protective measures, the Wet Tropics still face challenges like invasive species, habitat fragmentation, and altered natural regimes. Climate change poses a significant risk, as even slight temperature increases could drastically affect the region’s endemic species.

Protection and Management Requirements for the Wet Tropics of Queensland

Framework Establishment:

  • In 1990, the Australian and Queensland Governments jointly decided to fund and coordinate the management of the Wet Tropics. They initiated the Wet Tropics Management Scheme.
  • The scheme led to the creation of the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
  • A scientific advisory committee and a community consultative committee were also established to provide insights to the Authority.

Legislative Supports:

  • The Queensland Wet Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 and the Commonwealth Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Conservation Act 1994 implement the agreement’s operational aspects and ensure Australia meets the World Heritage convention’s obligations.
  • The Authority is mandated to produce an annual report on the state of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area for both Queensland and Commonwealth parliaments.

Wet Tropics Management Plan (WT Plan) 1998:

  • Developed under the Wet Tropics Act.
  • Aims to regulate activities that could harm the property, featuring a zoning system, permit applications, and penalties for violations.
  • The main focus is on assessing the impact of any proposed activity on the property’s integrity.

Land Tenure and Management:

  • The Wet Tropics consists of various land tenures managed by different agencies and private landowners under distinct legislation.
  • Since listing, the majority of previous forestry lands were transitioned to protected areas, increasing the protected areas from 14% to over 65%.

Additional Protection Mechanisms:

  • The Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 offers more protection layers to all Australian World Heritage properties.
  • Actions impacting World Heritage values need Ministerial consideration, with penalties for non-compliance.
  • In 2007, the Wet Tropics achieved a spot on the National Heritage List, further emphasizing its significance.

Strategies and Partnerships:

  • The Authority developed several strategies for the property’s management, including the Wet Tropics Nature Based Tourism Strategy (2000), the Wet Tropics Conservation Strategy (2004), and the WTMA Research Strategy 2010 – 2014. [since renewed as the Wet Tropics Management Plan 2021-2031 Ed]
  • Emphasizing partnerships, the Authority seeks collaborations with stakeholders associated with the Wet Tropics.
  • The Wet Tropics Act acknowledges the valuable role of Aboriginal people in preserving the area’s natural and cultural heritage.
  • The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area Regional Agreement 2005 solidifies cooperative management between 18 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups, the Authority, and the Australian and Queensland governments.
  • Efforts also include establishing liaison groups with the conservation sector and tourism industry to foster better communication and collaboration.

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