Daintree gets $15 million observatory

By Julian Swallow 1 December 2013
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A new observatory and research centre will provide access to the the World Heritage-listed rainforest.

SCIENTISTS AND THE PUBLIC will soon be able to delve deep into North Queensland’s pristine Daintree Rainforest and unlock its secrets, courtesy of a new state-of-the-art observatory.

The plan for the $15 million Daintree Rainforest Observatory, to be run by James Cook University, was announced during the Federal election and is expected to open mid-2012. It will replace the existing Australian Canopy Crane Research Station at Cape Tribulation, used by scientists researching the impacts of global environmental change. (See the video below).

With space to accommodate researchers, up to 40 students, and some members of the public, the new facility will serve as an education and research centre providing “unbroken access from the atmosphere through the canopy and down to the soil,” says Professor Sarah Harding, James Cook University’s Vice-Chancellor.

The observatory will also feature an elevated rainforest boardwalk, reafforestation and agro-forestry areas, and a trail network which will give scientists access to the deeper rainforest, says chemistry professor Michael Liddell from James Cook University. Water and electricity supply facilities will showcase renewable energy technologies.

Daintree’s diverse ecosystem

The World Heritage-listed area is home to a rich variety of tree kangaroos, possums, owls and reptiles including lizards and snakes. It is also home to the endangered cassowary. Michael, who uses the existing research station, told Australian Geographic he has already had interest in the expanded facility from other scientists who want to study the Daintree’s unique residents.

“There is a lot of animal biodiversity in the area, and we need to be able to access a larger patch of the rainforest to study it. With the new observatory we will be able to study many more birds and animals,” he says.

The Daintree rainforest is one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth and attracts half a million tourists each year. It contains 30 per cent of Australia’s frog, marsupial, and reptile species, 65 per cent of Australia’s bat and butterfly species and 20 per cent of its bird species.

The Vice-Chancellor says the centre “will provide an unforgettable hands-on field experience for Australian and international researchers and students and an ecological interpretive centre open to Australian and international tourists.”

See Australian Geographic #100 for the full Daintree travel feature.