‘Coral bleaching event equivalent’: alarm sounded for Queensland Wet Tropics Area

By Angela Heathcote 30 April 2019
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The Wet Tropics Management Authority has called for urgent action against climate change, which is impacting the biodiversity of Queensland’s Wet Tropics Area.

THE BOARD of the Wet Tropics Management Authority has demanded urgent action, saying “extreme heat is the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area’s coral bleaching event equivalent”.

In a statement released today, the board pointed to “concerning new evidence” that revealed an acceleration in the decline of the biodiversity of the Wet Tropics of Queensland’s World Heritage Area.

The Wet Tropics Management Authority is responsible for managing the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area according to the World Heritage Convention.

“The World Heritage Convention is about protection, conservation and presentation of World Heritage areas but it is also about transmission of these values to future generations,” the official statement reads.

The statement was signed by six directors of the board and Leslie Shirreffs, the chair of the board.

They say that while investment to confront the impacts of climate change facing the Great Barrier Reef has been substantial, investment in terrestrial World Heritage Areas has not matched the need for equally urgent action.

The plants, as well as the fauna living in this area, are suited to the cool climates of mountaintops more than 1000 metres above sea level and are extremely sensitive to any change in temperature.

These high altitude rainforests are also home to rare mammals, including the white lemuroid possum, spotted for the first time in years on an Australian Geographic expedition to Mount Lewis. The lemuroid possum is said to be Australia’s first mammal severely impacted by climate change.

In 2015, a report by the authority identified climate change as the number one threat to the wet tropics area.

The board is due to release a draft Climate Adaptation Plan in June of this year, but they say action is needed now.

“This is occurring now, not in the future, and requires an immediate response,” they say. “With current trends, the world is locked into 20 years of increasing temperatures.

“Action and significant investment is needed to reduce other threats now to ensure these areas are as robust as possible to withstand those increasing temperatures.”

The statement included a 10-point plan, which includes:

  • Land restoration
  • Monitoring
  • Pest management
  • Research and innovation
  • Threatened species listing
  • Fire
  • Partnerships and engagement
  • Cooperation
  • Climate adaptation plan
  • Mitigation.

Like the Great Barrier Reef, the Wet Tropics area contributes billions of dollars to the Australian economy each year.

“It provides economic benefits to the region of more than $5.2 billion per annum, significantly through visitation and tourism which enables people to experience and understand this important tropical wonder,” the board says.

Last month, scientist from James Cook University announced that they had begun what they described as a ‘mountaintop rescue mission’ to urgently record and collect plant material from the Wet Tropics Area for propagation at the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne.

The project is partly funded by the Wet Tropics Management Authority.