Saturday, November 15, 2014



A cableway? Again? How many times will this come up? How many times does a community have to say NO? How many times do the reasons why a cableway to Springbrook in Queensland, Australia should never be constructed have to be explained? It is not as though the sensitive environmental circumstances have changed with time. Indeed, it might be that matters have all become much more critical than some years ago. The great danger with the nagging recurrence of this development proposal is that the cries of protest become too familiar because of the same circumstances, allowing developers and governments to find it easier to consider the repeated remonstrations more contemptuously. Objections come to be treated like fake ‘wolf’ cries and are readily given the ‘greenie,’ read ‘idiot,’ ‘extremist’ label, with the suggestion that yet again fools are bleating on about the cliché rare brown spotted frog, or the endangered blue winged tit, and similar strange ‘inventions.’ It is a circumstance that has become the typical disparaging environmental joke that gets hearty laughs from climate deniers, developers and ‘drongo’ governments: apologies to the lovely spangled drongo.

This situation gives the whole protest a mock solemnity that is easily disparaged. Yet things are extremely serious. The repetitive cries are clearly stating the same thing not because of any cliché call or some limited, preferential understanding, but because the core concerns have not altered. The region remains World Heritage listed. The thing that has upset the equilibrium is that yet again there appears to be a proposal to build a cableway to Springbrook, and that this time it reportedly involves a senior politician at the heart of a government that has the power to approve the scheme. What has been going on?

The broad and specific impacts of a cableway on Springbrook have all been spelt out previously, in copious and complete detail. It should be noted that any such commercial tourist proposal should never be spoken about using the suave brand names like ‘Natureride’ or ‘Skylink’ and the like that these schemes seem to attract, because these names are specially formulated as catchy advertisements to distract and attract; to make the whole appear innocuous, friendly and desirable when it is not. The facts need to be itemised clearly and objectively. Cableways offer a rumbling, bumpy, intrusive, mechanical ride on a steel rope supported by numerous towers, complete with long catenaries, whirling wheels, claustrophobic cable cars and various shopping stations spaced along the route, with a large storage facility at one terminus.

It has been reported that in the latest proposal for a cableway to Springbrook, this invasive infrastructure proposes to deliver 2000 people a day to a World Heritage region that has no communal water supply, no communal sewage system and no waste management service other than a couple of skips. Is it really 2000? Do the proponents claim that this development will have minimal impact on important environmental sensitivities? One feels like crying out “HUMBUG!” Only romantic, carefully framed illustrations and the accompanying hype might have a minimal impact, but this is on the critical eye. These images placate, ease the mind into a dreamy, wistful state. They are illustrations designed to cajole, to pacify; to promote hopes of experiences that will generally be otherwise much more complicated than ever envisaged. The reality is usually severely different to the promotion of riding, gliding through the sky. Cableways encroach into the picturesque. They hack into landscape, vistas and place, dominating these with their tall, bold, linear presence, their structural necessities, there just to transport tourists for the apparent joy of the costly ride that usually has more unpleasant noisy jerks, rumbles, sways and smells than ever expected.#

A cableway to Springbrook should never be built. Springbrook is a fragile, World Heritage listed region. It is a surprisingly tiny area, a very special island surrounded by a region with some of the most crass developments in the state, with a core pocket by the sea that looks like Queensland’s Dubai. This centre marks the brazenly random high-rise identity of a sprawling Gold Coast City in the southeast corner of the state. It promotes an attitude that threatens everything that the Springbrook region is listed for.

Springbrook’s significance is underscored by its size. There are few other places in the world that are listed for their unparalleled biodiversity with such a small footprint, let alone such a jagged and irregular perimeter that steps around and between private properties that are all available for development. These places only add to the pressure put on this listed place. It is ‘kettled.’ Private place and World Heritage property intertwine, intermingle, and share subtle, sensitive ecosystems in a manner that demands much caution and care. In spite of this, planning rules have been broadened to allow any submission anywhere to be judged on its merits alone. It is a situation that allows smart words, planners, barristers and judges to define outcomes careless of any World Heritage requirement. Governments do not complain about this situation.

Some see a cableway as a value-adding exercise that will provide yet another startling ride to the milieu of the locally available tourist experiences. Something more and something different is always needed to maintain the interest of tourists and their numbers: see -  This region of the state has promoted itself as the holiday centre of sunny, beachside Australia, that is beautiful one day, and like the rest of Queensland, perfect the next. It comes complete with a scattering of scantily clad, golden bikini ladies and a casino where gold can be lost! It is the ‘gold’ coast. No one really knows why it has this name, but it has stuck. Is it the golden beaches, or some recognition that this is a place where gold can be made in property deals by stylish developers in slick ‘white shoes’?

The southeast corner of this bright and sunny ‘smart’ state comes with rides and fun fair parks featuring water, whiz and whales of fun; and porpoises, sea lions, tigers, and polar bears too, at Dreamworld; Water World; and Sea World. These attractions are all seen as one wonderful complexity for a grand, unparalleled experience, for the distracting enjoyment of all; a diversion full of a diversity of different, pleasurably extreme, entertaining, exciting ‘attractions.’ The cableway will become yet another fun ride to experience, just like the waterslide proposed to spiral around the art gallery – see: only here in cars on cables, with ‘World Heritage’ used as the drawcard for the attraction that is likely to care little for the area other than its image, name and branding possibilities. This circumstance has been the norm for years. That World Heritage might mean anything at all, let alone restrictions, is rarely given a thought; not a care in the world. It seems that in Queensland, unique qualities of place are there to be used, never to be left alone or managed under any restrictions. This is Ozstraya!

The figures are astonishing - over 2000 people a day? Really? The number slips off the tongue and around any serious contemplation and consideration just too easily: 2000: try 3000! The only way to really understand the impact of a cableway with such capacity is to talk in numbers of jumbo jets landing every day at the Springbrook ‘airport’ terminus. Only then can one comprehensively understand the mayhem that this ride will bring to a place that needs careful management and complete commitment if its World Heritage characteristics are to be maintained. Springbrook is fragile. All one has to do is to recall the messy crowds of people at airports, with their endless comings and goings, and their smug behaviour that concentrates only on themselves as they anticipate the drama of their next move. It is usually forgotten that the region is listed for its biodiversity, not for its beautiful landscapes, vistas and views, or ‘tourist’ potential. The prime importance of this place and everything that happens in the region must be seen and evaluated against its World Heritage interests. The State is obliged to do this or risk the delisting of this area, a circumstance that we have seen happen recently with the Great Barrier Reef.

 it seems that its World Heritage listing is threatened also, because of the numbers of species that are still being lost. This will be Springbrook’s future also, like The Reef that sits on the knife-edge of an ‘endangered’ categorisation, the step prior to the ‘delsited’ classification.  World Heritage needs a complete commitment to real outcomes, not just bland words, money and inaction. It needs governments to plan and properly manage these places for the world, not just for the parochial interests of tourism and commercial profit. This is governments’ responsibility that currently appears to be given only lip service at best. The local, state and the federal governments have serious responsibilities in World Heritage matters.

All of our World Heritage listed places will be under pressure unless governments start responding to the obligations that World Heritage involves: see –  To date, authorities have been happy to ignore these important matters and do whatever they want. Now that UNESCO has shown that it is serious about reclassifying places if they are managed poorly, we see our governments scrambling, trying to save face quickly by spinning words and throwing a bit of money away in the hope that these activities might be seen as enough to postpone the delisting, for the immediate future at least – until the next election. Is UNESCO silly enough to accept this deceptive nonsense while the reef suffers? Will UNESCO ignore Kakadu? Springbrook?

Springbrook is already experiencing what looks like a significant reduction in its ground water, possibly due to commercial water extraction. No one knows the cause of this change as the original development condition that required research to be undertaken has apparently never been complied with, even though the water has been allowed to be extracted for many years, perhaps in ever-increasing quantities? Who knows? Subsequent to any approval, discussions between the applicant and council can vary conditions agreed to in the approval without any requirement for public notification. What is this water that is being taken out of the mountain? Where is it from? Is it a finite resource? What is the impact of its removal on local streams and waterfalls? It seems that no one knows, or no one will tell. One can only watch as creeks that have, to one’s knowledge, never dried up previously, become more akin to a mere trickle than a gushing mountain stream. What is happening? Apparently we just do not know. Yet some want to bring in more and more visitors with demands not only on water usage but also on sewerage disposal too, in a region that has neither service for the community. What is to happen? How? Then there is the catering for these numbers and the general waste that these crowds generate. OK, this trash will go down the road; but this track is not designed for commercial transport traffic or any increased highway usage. It is a narrow, steep, twisting mountain way that was originally a one-way track. Parts of it still are. The road is under constant threat of serious rock falls with filled areas continually eroding away, creating an ever-slimmer strip of bitumen with few safety barriers for all traffic to negotiate. The road is more an engineering challenge than an adequate service road for a developed Springbrook. One can see that any increase in numbers arriving at Springbrook will come with the demand to ‘improve’ this road. Such a cry has already been made for the road up to Kuranda, even with its train service.

One is constantly reminded about the 'very successful' cableway at Kuranda, the wet tropics cableway. One has to remember that this region is not only a very large, robust area, but that the cableway terminus, the town of Kuranda, is also a place that is serviced by rail and is sufficiently developed as a village to be able to provide a commercial strip for tourists, like Tamborine in Queensland where sightseer shops line the main thoroughfare. Springbrook has no ‘village’ centre. It is a scattering of individual places serviced by a single road, Springbrook Road, its spine. There is no one central place on the mountain in which to shop or eat or otherwise relax to enjoy the place, even though planners like to call some zones ‘Village’ areas when ordinary experience tells one clearly that they are not. Any local will be able to tell of the occasion when a visitor has asked: “Where is Springbrook?” Springbrook has no focus. It is the plateau. Neither is there any other transport available to allow visitors any choice of alternative means of travel, as in Kuranda where one might experience a round trip of cableway up, train ride down, or vice versa; or perhaps a car ride in lieu of the train. Springbrook does have a school bus. Will Springbrook become a cableway / bus or car trip? Cableways are notoriously expensive journeys for families. Making the ride a one-way trip takes the edge off the costs. This will only mean increased traffic on the narrow roads.

Kuranda also has a communal sewage system and town water supply. It looks like sheer blind nonsense, some might say simple stupidity, to use the Kuranda model as the example to ‘prove’ that a Springbrook cableway might be possible, even sensible, or desirable. Springbrook is so unique that it has been listed by the World Heritage body. Can no one accept this? It must be understood that even today there are new species being discovered in this speck of a remnant of Gondwanaland. Still no one can respect this place, leave it alone, and go elsewhere for flighty entertainments. Bringing in something like seven jumbo jets a day will also bring in all the development that tourists demand: see -
 The cry is always for more and more distractions designed to cater for what is seen as the desirably extreme, exotic experience that stimulates the demands of the fun-searching mind that has freed itself from any daily responsibility just for the sheer, naughty enjoyment of it, like ladies at a hens’ party with a male stripper. Springbrook needs care, not joy rides or joy riders seeking narcissistic perversions to accommodate the indulgence of endless selfies taken with the sole aim of posting them on line as the cable car goes over the . . . Who cares what it goes over? What does it matter? It might as well be anywhere with a tourist machine smartly called a ‘Natureride’ or ‘Skylink’ or whatever title the jaunt might be given. Hanging in the sky is the critical message: “Hey! Look at ME!” If the windows could open, the heads would be out and the tongues extended with the hands forming fingered frills either side of the head. WOW!

If a cableway is really needed, it has to be put somewhere with water, waste and sewage services and the existing commercial density that can provide for the frivolities demanded by day-trippers who do not pay to travel just to care for the environment. No, “bugger the environment,” seems to be the attitude. It is like the refrain of the six-star hotel guest being asked to conserve water: “What! Don’t be silly. I do not pay hundreds of dollars a day to suffer any restrictions.” Tourists likewise anywhere will not suffer restrictions. They are there for the excesses of everything, to extend their personal delight. If one can or might want to do something, one will, and will insist on it. This is the tourists’ right. One is reminded of the Councillor’s response to the suggestion that restrictions might be placed on a special road at the Gold Coast. The answer was that this is a public road, so anyone can use it anyhow, anytime. If you don’t like it, move; go elsewhere and leave us be!

Gosh! Imagine that being the answer to those objecting to a cableway proposal, for it could easily be. Our premier already has the runs on the board. In spite of the mathematical proof and detailed facts being presented to him on one matter, this engineer – well, reportedly an army engineer – eventually wrote to say that he would never be responding to any correspondence on this issue again: go away. “Go away cableway protesters,” could easily be his response. “Queensland needs this. This is a democracy!! Greatest numbers win. I am a great number, just ask me!! I ‘can do’ and will, irrespective of any of the facts of the impacts.” This is the man who pushed for Brisbane’s loss-making tunnel that links parts of the city already joined by a bridge.*

A cableway proposal for Springbrook would be a serious insult to all who have protested over the years – successfully. Many have been involved in these outcomes, even though a few like to claim that it was their input alone that achieved the result. It is like slinging mud in one’s face, yet again. Protesters act at the expense of being seen to be belligerent idiots - those folk who can only repeat the reasons why this should never happen, over and over again: the proverbial ‘broken record’ putdown is used. The danger is that if the developers continue in the way that they have previously, then they only show how deaf they are to all subtleties; how blind they are to matters important, significant, critical. It is a little like the landowner bulldozing bush – everything in the way goes, whatever it might be. It is seen as a right to profit.

The great desire apparently seems to be to get the ride up and to start making money in the same brutalist manner as the landowner who sees no problems with his strategies. One assumes that the politician who has reportedly invested in the company does not wish to lose money. Yes, unbelievably, there is a politician connected with this provocative scheme - he has told parliament; but this is Queensland. Everything is seen to be possible. One can already see this “world class” ride being the “most environmentally sensitive” and “most responsible” ride in the universe - ever - with nothing else like it in the world. ‘World class’ outcomes; ‘world class’ everything: see -

Australia seems unable to understand how significant and important it is to have a World Heritage site, and how such a location must be cared for: see -  and
One cannot trample over a place and expect no change. Australia has a perception of bush as being a nowhere, no where important - a place to dump trash; a place to strip bare; a place to extract dollars from -  timber, water, minerals: to make money. Otherwise it is worthless, rough and irrelevant. It is rarely seen as a place to protect. One is a stupid fool if one wants to do this. Why must something always be done anywhere, everywhere? Doing nothing needs to be the call as a basis for management of this World Heritage site, then one can see that this can never be. Something has to be done, always, but only with the ambition for World Heritage futures – enrichment, never use and abuse for tourism. One can attract, and indeed has an obligation to encourage folk to come. This is true; but this scenario comes with the necessity to care for place, this World Heritage place, not as a tourist might. Tourists care only for the gross indulgence of the selfie experience that sees everywhere in the same manner: look, extract all available emotions and interests, click, next. No, care has to be on the basis of World Heritage needs. As we continually see with the ride attractions, as experiences become familiar, ever new distractions have to be provided to ensure that there is greater fun than ever before for everyone to experience, forever and ever: always more and more. The fun parks grow denser every year with ‘new’ unusual attractions. The demand is insatiable, apparently like the experience of drugs that has the user always searching for a repeat of the last high, or better, more and more for ME, just ME, now!

If a cableway has to be, build it elsewhere that is already cluttered up by tourism and comes with town water and is sewered. This is not a NIMBY response. It is a World Heritage response. To use such a special unique place as Springbrook as a drawcard destination for a trip - like a ‘trip’ with drugs! (tourism is like that) - for folk to enjoy just for the fun of the ride, looks like a cheap, lazy marketing ploy. It can be seen as crude, rude and abusive: ignorant. Would anyone do this to the Taj Mahal; Uluru; Chartres cathedral? – see:

Create the ride elsewhere. Flying jumbo jets into a tiny scattered settlement will be like the FIFO impact, dragging in great numbers daily that have to be catered for: food, facilities, filth removal, fun with fabulous fantasies to fritter away time foolishly - for ME; for profit - without any care for place other than as a resource, a place to mine for its qualities alone, to flog as a World Heritage, world class ride: to collect the profits for ME. The demand will very likely grow to include a hotel; a resort for folk to spend time and money at. God forbid, a GOLF CLUB!! The whinge will be: “There is nothing to do at Springbrook once we have arrived by the cableway.” Ideas will grow - a spa; restaurants; etc. just as has been proposed previously. The demand will be there, and if there is money to be gained, the response will surely come. Why not a world class brothel; a casino? Apparently these are profitable too. The government can just create a licence; sell it off – bingo: literally! - the Springbrook Mountain Casino. Could it be called ‘The Rodent’s Retreat’? One has to remember the spiteful jibe made publicly some years ago to one retiring Councillor who was sensitive towards Springbrook, after this Councillor was defeated at a local election. There is little love for this region here. Is a new scheme payback for past resistance – simple belligerence?

One can guess at the political games that might be played this time around already. Governments promoting development in National Parks do not care for place. The cry is likely to be, “Come to Springbrook. We have plenty of World Heritage quality National Park to be used. We need creative ways to grab tourist money: more numbers, lots and lots of dollars. Think smart! We will approve the cableway, (might have already?), to deliver the people, so it’s up to you to do the rest. Tourism is our future!”

A cableway access for Springbrook can be seen as an irresponsible proposal. It has been argued before but one must never place any credence in any politician listening, let alone understanding, for they all appear blind to everything except their own importance and personal gain, both political and monetary. This time we have the senior politician reportedly intimately involved in the proposal and his Premier does not seem to care about any ethical implications! Even our Prime Minister is up to all of the tricks of the perks, apparently travelling to Melbourne on a private matter but ensuring he has one ‘official’ duty squeezed in, even at the risk of running late, to allow all costs to be paid for from the public purse. It is a dangerous precedent to have a politician as an investor in any project, let alone a controversial one. The politician may not speak publicly about it, but this person is there every day in the corridors, rubbing shoulders with his colleagues. Who knows what might go on, what this person might be saying; promising; what this individual has said; what this representative of the public interest has already done? One cannot even guess. Little by little, tiny bits of information that one assumes might be accurate, come out to suggest that there have already been many, many months of planning, scheming, on this cableway project. Is it a done deal? Will anyone ever know? We have a Federal government that is keen to keep most things a secret, away from the prying eyes and ears of the public. Why should the State politicians not do likewise? Their promise will always be that there will be no surprises, but we are constantly surprised by surmises that may or may not be accurate. We are never told. We have heard this all before! Oh, poor Springbrook – important World Heritage one day; a tourist resort the next: “ENDANGERED” and then “DELISTED”? Will tourists care?

Must one finally rely on the idea that Springbrook looks after itself? Without going into the details here, this self-protection has been so and hopefully will remain so in the future. As if this circumstance was something like the Gaia principle, there seems to be an inherent sense, a rigour in Springbrook’s being that drives madness away so that it can maintain its rich diversity. It does take time and patience, and perhaps chance. We’ll see. History is on its side so far; and time and circumstance too. One must only encourage this spirit of place and do everything to allow it to operate freely in its own mysterious manner.

Brisbane is currently tarting itself up ‘culturally’ for the G20 because “the world will be watching.” It has done similarly in the past, almost too exuberantly, when Expo 88 came to town. In between such specific, international supervision, anything is allowed to occur, willy-nilly. Would there be bold, sexy dancers in Brisbane Square without a G20? Would there be any decorative lighting on the city buildings? It is truly alarming, astonishing that governments act like naughty school children who only behave sensibly, responsibly when the teacher is looking. Governments should remember that the world is watching Springbrook. Others in the world take their World Heritage matters seriously even if Australian federal, state and local governments could not care less about it. World Heritage is for the world, not for parochial, commercial, private development. Such global recognition is not insubstantial, insignificant or unimportant. The world is proud to have these gems and works tirelessly to keep them, to care for them, to ensure their future. Australia just doesn’t seem to give a ‘rats.’ It just lets the cunning developers in, indeed, encourages them to do whatever, facilitates them, hoping the world will not notice. Look at the history of The Great Barrier Reef. The world is not that stupid or irresponsible enough to be hoodwinked, even though some Queenslanders seem to be.

It takes a very long time for beautiful places to become as richly complex as they are. It takes no time at all to destroy them. If it is only money that matters here, does no one realise that Springbrook will be much more valuable both now and in the future if nothing is done to it, than if it is converted into a slick tourist destination, one like all others in the world, cluttered with loud, self-important, staring, gazing folk trampling around with fat wallets and heavy cameras looking for ‘interesting’ things to become engaged in? Springbrook is itself rare and endangered. Protect it, enrich it, and this small but exceptional place will grow from the icon of the world that it now is, to be one of its unique gems. The cableway will make it like elsewhere, everywhere, anywhere: a place for gawking tourists to visit, clubbed in with all the other ‘whiz bang’ attractions of the region. One can envisage an ‘all-encompassing, three-day ticket’ already: ‘all attractions including a FREE World Heritage trip.’ The sky’s the limit!

If it is a matter of wanting a real ‘bang for your bucks,’ do nothing other than care for and protect this World Heritage place. It will be there longer than any crass cableway, if we only let it be.


Kakadu, Wet Tropics one step away from ‘critical’
NOVEMBER 14, 2014 12:00AM
Senior Reporter

How our parks rate. Source: TheAustralian
FOR the first time, Kakadu National Park and the Wet Tropics of Queensland have been identified alongside the Great Barrier Reef as under major environmental threat.
The first global assessment of the natural World Heritage sites, unveiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature at World Parks Conference in Sydney, found all three iconic landscapes were a “significant concern” — one step away from “critical”.
The World Heritage Outlook 2014 report said the reef’s “fragile ... ecosystem and marine biodiversity are at risk”, but also found Kakadu and the Wet Tropics of Queensland were facing “massive challenges”.
The director of IUCN’s World Heritage program, Tim Badman, said the reef assessment was no surprise, but it was now clear Kakadu and the Wet Tropics also faced major challenges.
“The Great Barrier Reef could be recommended for the UNESCO “endangered” ranking next year. That’s what were trying to avoid,” he said.
“There’s really high-quality management going on, but in both the Wet Tropics and Kakadu there’s a clear pattern of threats which are combinations; in both cases the principal threat is related to invasive species and the predicted impacts of climate change. The assessment is that scale of threat is just out of reach of the current management interventions.”
The World Heritage Committee said it had already asked the federal government for a stronger response to the threats that the reef faced.
The report follows the government’s announcement that it would legislate to ban 100 per cent of sediment disposal in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and had committed a further $6 million to the six-nation Coral Triangle Initiative and $700,000 to help clean up marine debris in the reef and on its surrounding coastlines.

Coalition bid to strip Tasmanian forests of world heritage cover 'disappointing'
Leading conservationist says Australia needs to understand the importance of leaving carbon-dense forests standing, Monday 10 November 2014 06.05 AEST

The world heritage-listed Florentine forest in Tasmania. Photograph: Rob Blakers/AAP
The head of the world’s leading conservation organisation has criticised the Australian government’s attempt to strip world heritage protection from Tasmania’s forests, as new data laid bare the vast number of ecosystems in Australia at risk of collapse.
Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director general of the IUCN, the body that advises the United Nations on conservation matters, told Guardian Australia it was “disappointing” that the Abbott government had launched a bid to remove 74,000ha of Tasmanian forest from world heritage protection.
A meeting in June of Unesco’s world heritage committee took just nine minutes to reject Australia’s proposal. Portugal’s delegate heaped further embarrassment upon the Coalition by calling its rationale for the removal “feeble”.
“Australia on the whole has a very good record on protected areas [but] there are challenges, such as the Tasmanian issues,” Marton-Lefèvre said. “They aren’t the first country to try to take away a commitment, but it would send a bad message if the world heritage committee allowed Australia to do that.
“They didn’t allow them to do that, they didn’t allow them to regress, and that listing should not be revised. I’m disappointed that any government would try that but I believe Australia has accepted the decision.”
The Coalition had claimed that the forest listing, part of a larger world heritage extension agreed by the previous Labor government, unfairly locked out the timber industry and was not world heritage quality due to heavy degradation caused by previous logging. IUCN experts rejectedthis latter assertion.
Marton-Lefèvre said Australia, like other countries, needed to realise that leaving carbon-dense forests standing was preferable, economically and environmentally, than cutting them down.
“Standing forests are worth far more than those that are cut down,” she said. “You can make money from timber tomorrow, but standing forests can capture and store carbon and provide much better value for communities long term.
“There is around 2bn hectares of degraded land in the world and we want to restore that. It would be much better to take forest supplies from this degraded land than to destroy undamaged forests. We could restore degraded land and have timber products from it – it would be a win-win for everybody.
“Leaving these forests standing is important not just for Tasmania and Australia, but to all of us in the world. We need to understand the role of nature in our lives before we destroy it.”
Marton-Lefèvre, who is in Sydney for the once-in-a decade meeting of the World Parks Congress this week, was more positive about the Australian government’s efforts to avoid the Great Barrier Reef being listed “in danger” by the world heritage committee next year.
“From what I understand, Australia is looking to protect the reef and there has been good dialogue on the issue,” she said. “The Great Barrier Reef is not just an Australian thing, it belongs to all of us. We will encourage Australia to continue discussions and then hopefully it won’t be on the ‘in-danger’ list. Australia doesn’t want to be embarrassed over this.”
The comments were made as a new report by WWF illustrated the previously unquantified threat faced by Australia’s natural spaces.
The WWF analysis used 40 years of satellite imagery and land use mapping to find that nearly half of 5,815 Australian terrestrial ecosystems, covering an area of approximately 257m ha, would be listed as threatened under IUCN criteria because of land clearing and degradation.
This vast number of threatened ecosystems, primarily due to the clearing of land for agriculture, dwarfs the 66 ecological communities officially listed as threatened by the Australian government.
Since 1972, the fastest rate of land clearing and degradation has occurred in the catchment area of the Great Barrier Reef and the biodiversity-rich region of south-west Australia, the study shows.
“Land clearing has had a pretty dramatic impact and there a lot more endangered ecosystems than are currently listed,” Dr Martin Taylor, conservation scientist at WWF, told Guardian Australia. “There was previously a myth that animals just up and leave areas that have been razed but that’s clearly not the case.
“Land clearing laws have been powerful instruments in curtailing threats to species but some jurisdictions, such as Queensland, are winding back laws. The latest evidence is there’s been an uptick in land clearing after a long period of decline, which is a very worrying situation, not only for biodiversity but also for carbon emissions.”
A separate study also released on Monday, by the Places You Lovealliance, a coalition of 42 Australian environment groups, showed worrying deteriorations on a number of health and conservation fronts.
The report’s findings include:
More than 3,000 Australians die every year from air-pollution-related illness, nearly twice the national road toll.
Total consumption of natural resources per person in Australia is one of the highest in the world and is projected to increase by up to 27% by 2030.
One million hectares of Australian native vegetation was cleared every year between 2000 and 2010.
Of the 68 zones of the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s most significant agricultural region, only one zone is rated as being in good health.
Since 1985 more than half the Great Barrier Reef’s coral has been lost, with remaining coral cover predicted to be lost with two degrees of warming through climate change.
“Nature supports our lives, livelihoods and our quality of life. Every single thing we need to live comes from nature: our rivers, climate, soils, oceans and forests,” said Kelly O’Shanassy, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, one of the alliance’s groups.
“If nature was a bank account, we’d be eating through the capital, not the interest – and when we do that with our savings, eventually we go bankrupt.”

Kakadu’s world heritage listing under threat from species loss

New $750,000 strategy part of fight to save widllife from threat of fire, weeds and feral animals
Helen Davidson in Darwin, Monday 3 November 2014 18.17 AEST

Quolls are one of 75 threatened species in Kakadu national park in the Northern Territory. Photograph: Jonathan Webb
A comprehensive $750,000 new threatened species strategy in the Kakadu national park is set to give conservation work in the area a massive shake-up in a bid to prevent a threat to the famous park’s world heritage listing.
Over the past 30 years Professor John Woinarski has seen Kakadu decline from an extraordinary place, home to “squillions” of animals, to a park under threat of losing entire species.
Many populations have declined by as much as 90%, and some have disappeared completely from the area. There are 75 threatened species in Kakadu, probably the largest number in any one Australian area.
“The conservation of threatened species is part of [Kakadu’s] world heritage listing criteria, so … if it’s failing in that then it’s potentially sabotaging its world heritage listing,” Woinarski told Guardian Australia.

The Kakadu threatened species strategy, developed primarily by Woinarski and launched in Canberra on Monday, has explored this well-documented decline in population of unique and threatened species and identified specific causes, including the lethal combination of increased fires and feral cats.
“The group of threatened species which have shown most rapid decline, most severe decline are all … bite-sized mammals for feral cats,” he said.
The threat from cats is worsened by too-frequent fires.
The yellow snouted gecko calls Kakadu home. Photograph: Anne O'Dea
“Sixty per cent [of the lowlands] gets burnt every year and many of these possums and bandicoots which are declining rapidly at the moment need woodlands that have at least five years without burning, and only about 3% of the lowlands are within that age group,” said Woinarksi.
“Frequent fires get rid of hollow logs and undergrowth that provides shelter for many of these native species so cats can pick them off much more readily.”
He said the current fire regime needed to be improved substantially, with the extent of fires reduced to about half the current level.

Implementation of the strategy will begin immediately, with federal funding of $750,000 on top of the $17m annual budget of the country’s largest national park. It outlines key plans around adaptive management, allowing programs time to have an effect and be adjusted as needed.
Rangers and researchers work together to tackle floodplain weeds. Photograph: Michael Douglas
Four priority programs will be rolled out, with $650,000 spent on expanding the reintroduction of “toad smart” quolls – which have been taught and bred to not eat the poisonous cane toads – to the Mary River region, and the relocation of struggling species to Gardangarl (Field Island), where rangers will ensure the land is pristine and supportive without threatening the existing flatback turtle population.
Extensive work across the park targeting fire, weed and feral animal threats will also be conducted, as well as the creation of a plant “bank” for threatened and unique species.
A researcher holds up a sawfish in Kakadu national park. Photograph: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
The parliamentary secretary for the environment, senator Simon Birmingham, said despite concerted efforts by Kakadu park staff and traditional owners, “we’ve been losing ground” and “the survival of many species has almost slipped through our fingers”.

“This is the start of a long journey,” said Birmingham in a statement.
“The strategy runs for 10 years, and it will need a mix of urgent and sustained effort. The problems in Kakadu have developed over many years, so turning things around is going to take time, but I am determined that Kakadu can set an example of best practice management for other parks to follow.”
The strategy was commissioned at the request of stakeholders in the national park and was initiated in early 2013.
The 10-year timeline is critical said Woinarski, but it’s not at the point of no return.
“This is going to be a long, slow process. Many of those threats are deeply embedded now, and will take a long time to turn around,” he said.
“[But] this is a problem that can be solved.”

* P.S.
Very shortly after publishing this piece, The Guardian reported Premier Newman’s response to President Obama’s concerns on the health of the reef. One can anticipate the same response to objections to the cableway to Springbrook: ‘a “campaign of misinformation” by green groups.’ In spite of all of the information on the risks to the reef, Newman knows better!

Queensland premier tells Obama he is ‘solid’ on protecting Great Barrier Reef

US president raises concerns on health of the reef, but Campbell Newman says fears about its future are the result of a ‘campaign of misinformation by green groups’
Australian Associated Press

Two Regal Angelfish, two Coral Rabbitfish, and a Dot and Dash Butterflyfish swimming over coral on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. Photograph: 145/Ocean/Corbis
The Queensland premier has moved to reassure US president Barack Obama that his government is “solid” on protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Campbell Newman criticised a “campaign of misinformation” by green groups for sending out the wrong message on the reef to international visitors.
In his speech on Saturday Obama warned that natural wonders such as the reef were under threat from climate change, and he wanted it to still be there in 50 years’ time, saying “I want to come back [to visit it], and I want my daughters to be able to come back, and I want them to be able to bring their daughters or sons to visit.”
On Sunday, Newman moved to reassure the US leader.
“If the president is concerned about the reef I absolutely want to reassure him we’ve got a government that’s really solid on reef protection, and there are many examples of that,” he told reporters.
“One the things I’ll be doing in the future is making sure that US officials perhaps know more about what actually is going on because there’s been a very strong campaign of misinformation by green groups.
“They’re determined to misinform the world community about what’s happening to the reef.”
But conservationists said mining and industrialisation on Queensland’s northern coast was an enduring threat.
Unesco has given Australia until February to show it is properly managing the reef. If it is not satisfied with the response, the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger.
“It is time for the Australian and Queensland governments to take heed and act decisively, rather than trying to placate concerns by whitewashing international consternation such as that expressed by Unesco and the World Heritage committee,” the Australian Marine Conservation Society said on Saturday, after the Obama speech.
“To do that, our governments must stop the rapid industrialisation of the coastline, driven primarily by plans for increased coal mining.”

There is something about cableways that conceal their reality. They are commanding, extremely intrusive structures with very heavy equipment driving them. There is little that is elegant about them even though they suggest this idea. All pieces and parts are substantially engineered for their function alone, not for any aesthetic or picturesque ambitions, and require continual supervision and servicing. This cannot be managed from a helicopter. Access is required to every piece of this transport system for safety checks and maintenance. While the cableway might seem to ‘touch things lightly,’ circumstances are really otherwise. The impact is always more than the idea.

The images in this blog have been selected from Google Images to highlight the universal identity of these installations: their awkward presence that strangely references itself, watching other cars and other tourists go by; their crude detailing; and their clumsy, noisy operation. All of these features become a surprise to the tourist who brings visions and hopes of the promoted, minimal ‘sky riding.’ The continual search for the extreme experience that tourists seek is seen in one illustration that shows a group sitting on top of the cable car!

Cableways have their own necessity that makes them identical wherever they might be. Sadly, they make different places indistinguishable with their familiar, startling dominance, World Heritage or otherwise.

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