Twenty five years ago the Wet Tropics of Queensland was considered to be of such exceptional significance to the entire world for its natural values, that its permanent protection was of the highest importance to the international community.
Learn more from Dr Aila Keto's blog, a short detailed account of the early politics and efforts to protect the Wet Tropics.
A precious place for the entire world
After over a decade of campaigning by passionate environment groups and scientists, the Australian Government nominated the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area for World Heritage listing on 9 December 1988. This year marks the 25th anniversary of its listing as a World Heritage Area.
Spanning 450 kilometres along the northeast coast of tropical north Queensland, and encompassing almost 900,000 hectares, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is a treasure trove of natural wonders, spectacular scenery and the birthplace of one of the world’s oldest cultures.
Outstanding Universal Value
World Heritage sites are listed because their conservation and preservation is considered important for the whole world.
Places that are nominated for inscription on the World Heritage list have to be formally assessed for their outstanding universal value under the World Heritage Convention.
Places of outstanding universal value have such exceptional cultural or natural significance that they surpass national boundaries and are important to people now and in the future.
In tropical north Queensland we are lucky enough to have two World Heritage areas side by side, The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
To be awarded World Heritage listing an area must satisfy at least one of the following:
It must represent
a major evolutionary stage of the earth
a continuing process of geology, evolution or man and environment
superlative natural beauty or
a habitat that shelters threatened plants and animals.
The Wet Tropics of Queensland satisfies all four of these natural criteria.
Millions of years in the making
Wet Tropics rainforests are directly descended from the forests of the supercontinent of Pangaea and the land mass of Gondwana formed about 300 million years ago.
Australia split from Gondwana that comprised the southern continents including India and parts of southern Asia. The northern continents were joined in a similar landmass called Laurasia.
At times, large areas of Gondwana were covered by rainforest. Millions of years passed and life evolved across these supercontinents. Dinosaurs came and went and flowering plants developed.
About 180 million years ago Gondwana started to break up into the continents we know today which then drifted slowly apart. Australia was the last continent to break away and drift north to a warmer climate, about 45 million years ago.
Australia’s plants and animals evolved in isolation for 30 million years. As the climate became drier, many species died while others adapted to drier conditions. Only the mountainous regions of the east coast remained constantly moist.
It was in these mountainous regions that pockets of ancient tropical rainforest continued to survive, making the Wet Tropics rainforests the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforests on earth. Our rainforests are a living museum of how land plants have evolved since the break up of Gondwana.
A living museum
Enter the ancient realm of our Wet Tropics rainforests and you are transported into a time of how the world once was.
The Wet Tropics rainforests are a window to the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia. Many species found here occur nowhere else in the world.
The rainforest clad mountains that are a backdrop to our tropical north Queensland lifestyle show us an almost complete record of the major stages of the evolution of plant life on earth. They contain evidence of some of the major leaps in the earth’s evolutionary process – the origin, evolution and dispersal of flowering plants.
Ribbonwood (Idiospermum austgraliense) is a rare and primitive flowering plant that lived when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Wet Tropics has thirteen of the nineteen families of primitive flowering plants .
Many primitive species of plants and animals are still found in the Wet Tropics, from the ancient king fern with the largest fronds in the plant kingdom measuring up to 7 metres, to the most primitive species of macropod in the world, the musky rat-kangaroo.
Uninterrupted vistas of lush green forests, fast flowing rivers carved through rugged rainforest gorges and cascading waterfalls all add to the spectacular beauty that the Wet Tropics is renowned for.
Although the Wet Tropics is mostly rainforest, many other vegetation types abound here. Mangrove forests account for 13, 600 hectares of the World Heritage Area while open woodlands, wetlands and rocky coastal headlands add to the majesty of the area. In some areas, tropical rainforests surrender to white sandy beaches and the turquoise waters of the Coral Sea - a rare phenomenon that is a paradise on earth.
Rainforest Aboriginal Country
There are 18 Rainforest Aboriginal tribal groups comprising around 20,000 people that identify with the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. Their lives are deeply intertwined culturally and spiritually to the lands and waters that surround us.
Six languages are spoken by these different tribal groups who relate to different areas according to their family, clan or tribal group.
As one of the world’s most ancient cultures, Rainforest Aboriginal people care for the Wet Tropics rainforests as a communal resource and as the core of their spiritual, social and cultural beliefs. Being on country, eating bush tucker, using plants and animals for curing sickness and disease, passing on creation stories and practicing traditional and contemporary ways of looking after country are critical to enriching the livelihoods and identity of Rainforest Aboriginal people.
Rainforest Aboriginal people want the importance of their cultures recognised, respected and protected. In the Wet Tropics region Rainforest Aboriginal people continue to seek recognition as the traditional land owners of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area with distinct cultures and individual needs.
To ensure the ongoing survival of their cultures, Rainforest Aboriginal people negotiate for shared management of their traditional country with government agencies. They have been negotiating arrangements for their traditional lands and waters and have consistently lobbied to be involved in all aspects of land management, particularly in terms of decision making and on-ground activities.
The struggle for listing
The importance of the Wet Tropics rainforests was first recognised back in 1966 when Dr Lenn Webb, a scientist from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) highlighted the need to conserve habitat types in the Wet Tropics lowlands.
In 1978 conservation groups nominated particular areas within the Wet Tropics region for listing on the National Heritage Register.
Over the next decade environmentalists campaigned passionately to halt logging in the Wet Tropics rainforests.
In 1982 the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Cape Tribulation Community Council proposed permanent protection of the Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield area. When bulldozers began clearing Daintree rainforest to connect Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield River in 1983, conservationists started a blockade which gained national media attention.
As an election promise, the Commonwealth Government vowed to nominate the Wet Tropics as a World Heritage site and cease logging in the area. This created great controversy in north Queensland – logging was a thriving industry in the region at the time and was the livelihood of many families.
By December 1988 inscription on the World Heritage list was approved and the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area was finally realised. The Commonwealth Government funds job creation and business compensation to the tune of $75.3 million.
After election of a new Queensland Government in 1989, the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments signed an agreement in 1990 to jointly fund and manage the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area through the establishment of a small agency based in Cairns, the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Managing the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area
The Wet Tropics Management Authority provides leadership and guidance in the protection and rehabilitation of this internationally significant part of the world.
Through strong community networks and collaboration with land managers and Traditional Owners, we promote discovery, understanding and connection to the rich natural and cultural values of our Wet Tropics World Heritage Area to ensure this ancient and irreplaceable landscape is treasured and celebrated.
Through our partnerships with the conservation, research, tourism and community sectors, we promote enjoyment and appreciation of the Wet Tropics – connecting and creating outstanding opportunities to enrich the lives of people everywhere.