Saturday 30 January 2010

Saturday SoapBlog: Denis Walls - Idyllic wetlands park on our doorstep

Following the successful opening of the Cattana Wetlands and CairnsBlog's lovely little video promoting the Northen Beaches bit of natural paradise, there's a call for a Cairns Wetlands Park for East Trinity.
The idea has attracted widespread interest and spokesperson for the park Denis Walls, has been fighting for its protection for ten years. He argues the case for the eco-friendly and sustainable development in this weekend's SoapBlog.

Looking across Trinity Inlet from the Pier, or eastwards from the deck of a tour boat, is an awe-inspiring sight with a curtain of water fringing mangroves in the foreground and the Murray Prior Range beyond.

And yet, ask locals what they know about the land that lies behind the mangroves and you will mostly draw a blank expression.

The State government bought nearly 1000 hectares of land at East Trinity, as this area is known, in 2000 following years of community pressure, after failed sugar cane and then urban development projects. Their promise was to protect this precious green backdrop to Cairns for future generations.
Since then, the land, which was heavily polluted by acid sulfate soils as a result of the original clearing, has been closed to the public while it is rehabilitated. Fish and birdlife are now returning in large numbers.

The proposed Eco-centre is marked in blue.

The Cairns Wetlands Park committee, comprising a cross section of the Cairns community, was set up at the time of the purchase to lobby for the establishment of a Wetlands Park at East Trinity. Our suggestion was for an informative visitor centre with boardwalks adjacent to the bund wall at Hills Creek and only 10 minutes boat ride from the CBD.

For the last nine years the Wetlands committee has given numerous presentations to various groups outlining the many benefits to Cairns of a wetlands experience so close to the city. It is often stated that Cairns has many excellent full day excursions to the Reef, Tableland, Daintree and so on but very few half-day outings. The Wetlands Park would fill that gap.

Over the last few years the State government has begun to recognise the potential of a Wetlands Park to the region and a report on East Trinity tourism options is soon to be released with recommendations. The CWP committee has long emphasised the need to supplement tourism with wetlands education and research.

Acid sulfate rehabilitation and research will be ongoing and James Cook University is well placed to play an active role as a centre of excellence in this field as these toxic soils are the bane of many countries in our region where serious degradation of mangrove ecosystems has occurred. In addition, nearly all Cairns schools have, or have had, East Trinity study as part of their curriculum. Thus, users would be a mix of educational groups, researchers, tourists and locals.

Concepts like this are not new. Wetland parks have been established elsewhere in Australia and overseas with success as people have come to see the merits of protecting and promoting wetland habitats. But few places can boast, like Cairns, outstanding tropical wetlands with a magnificent forest backdrop in such proximity to a fully serviced city.

By contrast, there is a real sense of isolation and remoteness across the Inlet. It is also a first class fish nursery. Crocs, usually small ones, can be seen and it is rapidly becoming a bird watcher’s paradise with jabiru, magpie geese, spoonbills, egrets and regular sightings of the rare great-billed heron.

The CWP committee has proposed to government that the park be managed by a not-for-profit trust made up of representatives from environmental education, traditional owners, non-government conservation, recreational fishing, eco-tourism, research, Cairns CBD visitor services and the East Trinity community. This sort of structure is how successful wetlands like the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in the UK have been operating for decades.

The main benefit of a community trust is in building a sense of local ownership and cooperation. It would be responsible for raising funds from all appropriate sources, including government and the corporate sector. It would also raise revenue from visitors on a user pays basis. Initially, an amount of about $8 million is suggested to provide the most important infrastructure.

This may seem like a lot to kick-start such a project but is very little considering the long term benefits the park would bring to the region. Many, like me, succumb to East Trinity’s jaw-dropping beauty.

A Cairns Wetlands Park would secure its long-term future as a prized environmental asset, making it a major visitor draw card and generator of wealth and employment.

  • Register your support for a Cairns Wetlands Park by contacting our local Cairns State MP Desley Boyle on 4051 2868 or email and Mulgrave MP Curtis Pitt on 1800 815 743, or email.


Bob Beamon said...

Great concept and wonderful vision, perfect for a day like today where trips to the Daintree or the Reef are very unappealing but a 10 minute scoot across the Inlet would be ideal to blow away the cobwebs.

Emma Alesworth said...

Hi Denis, my colleague Rob saw your presentation at the Marine Science conference in Cairns a couple of years ago. Could you please let me know whether you have any available funds as, if there are key tasks that you would like assistance with, it may be possible to contract us to collate such relevant information and produce a document to help with the management plan?

With regards to involvement we would be able to assist with various aspects of your project from the master-planning phase (access/ audience, business plans, site management plan, habitat feasibility, exhibit concept development) through to detailed design and management planning of exhibits and habitats.

Emma Alesworth
Principal Consultant
WWT Consulting
Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
Slimbridge, Glos GL2 7BT