This section gives you an understanding of why the Wet Tropics of Queensland is recognised as a World Heritage Area. It also provides an insight into the many other reasons why people value the Area.
A place has to be formally assessed and recognised for its outstanding universal value under the World Heritage Convention before it can be listed as a World Heritage Area. The term ‘outstanding universal value’ is not well known or very often used in general discussion, so we often say World Heritage values, just to keep it simple.
The Wet Tropics rainforests are recognised internationally for their ancient ancestry and many unique plants and animals. The Wet Tropics World Heritage Area has Australia’s greatest diversity of animals and plants within an area of just 0.26% of the continent. Many plant and animal species in the Wet Tropics are found nowhere else in the world. The diverse range of vegetation communities are habitat to numerous rare and threatened species.
The Wet Tropics has the oldest continuously surviving tropical rainforests on Earth. They are a living museum of how land plants have evolved since the break up of Gondwana 40 million years ago – from ancient ferns, conifers and cycads to the more highly evolved flowering plants. The Wet Tropics is a living record of the evolutionary history of animals – being home to animals like the musky rat-kangaroo and the chowchilla that represent ancient lineages and significant stages in evolution.
The Wet Tropics is also recognised on the World Heritage list for its exceptional natural beauty, with superlative scenic features highlighted by extensive sweeping forest vistas, wild rivers, waterfalls, rugged gorges and coastal scenery. The Wet Tropics is unique in having two World Heritage Areas side by side - where the rainforest meets the reef. In particular, between the Daintree River and Cedar Bay, exceptional coastal scenery combines tropical rainforest and white sandy beaches with fringing offshore coral reefs.
The diversity of plants and animals found in this unique environment is a treasure trove of curiosities that attracts visitors from around the world. First class recreational facilities for bushwalking, water sports and camping are all within easy reach. There are 600km of scenic roads throughout the Wet Tropics, including 40 scenic routes and over 100 scenic places to visit. These include features like Australia’s longest single-drop waterfall, the 305m Wallaman Falls, and the beaches of the Daintree where the rainforest meets the reef. There are about 150 managed walks ranging from short, popular boardwalks with visitor facilities to long distance treks with overnight camping. Visitors can experience a wide range of environments – from mangroves and beaches to mountain rainforest and tall, open eucalypt forests. They can learn about the plants and animals and Rainforest Aboriginal culture.
The World Heritage Area s central to the community's identity and sense of place and offers a wide range of benefits. About 300,000 people live in or within 50km of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The benefits of the Area range from the environmental to the economic, cultural, spiritual, educational, and medicinal.
For example, about 2.5 million locals and tourists use and enjoy the Area every year. Its natural processes such water supply and soil fertility provide economic benefits and quality of life. The Area offers a treasure trove of genetic diversity and a wonderful resource for research, education and art.
Rainforest Aboriginal people have occupied, used and enjoyed their lands in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area since time immemorial. There are at least 20 Aboriginal tribal groups with ongoing traditional connections to land in and around the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. To Rainforest Aboriginal people the Area is a series of complex living cultural landscapes.