A coalition of organisations made up of Douglas Shire Sustainability Group, the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, the Queensland Conservation Council, The Wilderness Society and the Australian Conservation Foundation have collectively written to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to raise concerns about development threats to the Daintree Lowland Rainforest.

Responsible for World Heritage areas across the globe, UNESCO examines reports on the state of conservation of World Heritage Areas, and asks governments to take action when properties are not being properly managed.

The coalition has raised concern that, if the proposed infrastructure projects come to fruition, they will jeopardise the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the Daintree Lowland Rainforest, considered to be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the Wet Tropics.

The Daintree Lowland Rainforest lies both within, and adjacent to, the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA), and meets the shores of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, playing an essential role to both these internationally recognised environments.

“At the time of listing the Daintree lowlands was already understood to be one of the key centres of endemism within the Wet Tropics region. Although only a few square kilometres in area, it contains some of the most significant ecosystems and endemic species in Australia. The Daintree catchments have almost double the number of rare and threatened species of any of the other catchments in the Wet Tropics.”

Nigel Stork, CEO, Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre

Now, these environments are under threat from development projects being pushed by our own government representatives. Between the newly-elected Douglas Shire representative, Mayor Michael Kerr, and Federal representative, Hon Warren Entsch MP, three significant infrastructure projects are being pushed in the Daintree Rainforest:

+ A bridge across the Daintree River

+ The narrow road and 4WD track through the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA) becoming a major coastal thoroughfare to Cooktown

+ Grid power supply through the entire Daintree Coast lowland forest

Douglas Shire Sustainability Group President, Didge McDonald, said that government investment should prioritise conservation over development,

“Spending hundreds of millions on development but nothing on its conservation is an outrage….the Australian Government has signed an international convention to conserve and present it’s World Heritage areas, not to develop them or degrade their natural values. While our primary concern is the environment, the direct and indirect environmental impacts of a major thoroughfare and urbanisation will damage tourism irreversibly by changing the face of Daintree forever.

Didge McDonald, President, Douglas Shire Sustainability Group

Leading academic, Professor Steve Turton, previously Director of Research for the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre, has warned that the proposed major infrastructure developments may lead to an ‘In-Danger’ listing of the entire WTWHA.

“Research shows that bridges, road construction and road upgrades always result in adverse impacts in tropical forests around the world…A bridge over the Daintree River will be the beginning of ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for the Daintree rainforest, and a catalyst for UNESCO to place the entire Wet Tropics of Queensland on the in-Danger List.”

Steve Turton, previous Director of the Research for the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre in a recent article printed in DouglasNews.Network

The letter to UNESCO follows correspondence to the Hon Sussan Ley MP, Federal Minister for the Environment, asking the Federal Government to urgently begin work with key stakeholders to develop and implement a Conservation Management Plan for the Daintree.

The plan would guide government investment to ensure the protection of cultural and conservation values, while prioritising appropriate infrastructure development and ensuring Traditional Owner-led management.

We are disappointed that the Federal Government has failed to respond to the concerns our coalition has raised. We have a responsibility to the global community to act as stewards for World Heritage Areas, and our Federal representatives are actively promoting these development threats, whilst ignoring community concern.

Lucy Graham, Cairns and Far North Environment Centre

The coalition is now awaiting a response from UNESCO and will be working with the community to ensure that the Wet Tropics World Heritage and Daintree Lowland Rainforests are protected.

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