A bridge over the Daintree River will undermine decades of conservation efforts in the Daintree Rainforest
An open letter from the founder of the Rainforest 4 Foundation.
The existing ferry crossing the Daintree River
The Daintree Lowland Rainforest is one of only two places on Earth where two World Heritage sites exist side-by-side. It is the oldest tropical rainforest in the world and boasts the greatest diversity of plants and animals found in Australia. There are more tree species in one hectare of the Daintree Rainforest than in all of the UK.
The Daintree’s natural values were exploited early. In 1883, the Daintree village on the southern side of the Daintree River was established as a base for the red cedar logging industry and 50 years later a road was built from Mossman heading north. In the 1960s a road was opened from the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation with a steel punt used as a ferry for carting timber trucks across the Daintree River.
It was around this time that ecologists began to truly understand the significance of the Wet Tropics bioregion and while a national park was declared over an area south of the Daintree River in 1966 with an additional 17,000 hectares added in 1981, it wasn’t long until developers started circling.
Forest protectors responded quickly to proposals for a new road through to Bloomfield (pictured below) and in 1983 a campaign unfolded with activists climbing trees, chaining themselves to machinery, and burying themselves in the path of bulldozers on a mission to clear rainforest for a new road. This blockade brought international attention to the values of the Daintree rainforest.
The Bloomfield Track in 1984
In the mid-1980s high conservation value rainforests were subdivided into 1,100 blocks for rural residential development with ads appearing as far afield as the Wall Street Journal and people from all over the world bought up our ancient rainforest.
In 1988, nearly 900,000 hectares of rainforest in north Queensland was declared as the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and by the 1990s there was widespread recognition that development in the Daintree was inappropriate and needed to be capped.
The 1990s and 2000s saw several Government and NGO rescue programs unfold which resulted in properties either being bought back, having development rights removed or landowners compensated for lost development rights.
For 28 years, community conservation groups have also managed their own buyback schemes, purchasing priority blocks for their conservation values. 252 hectares have been protected by just four organisations working in this space. That's in addition to formal buyback schemes initiated by Governments. It is estimated that 200-300 potential house sites have been removed from the Daintree lowland rainforest through these schemes. An additional 365 hectares of land has been protected as nature refuges through voluntary conservation agreements. Rainforest 4 Foundation is one of the organisations actively involved in buying back properties in the Daintree. In just one year we’ve purchased seven blocks of land to be returned to Traditional Owners and managed jointly with the Queensland Government as part of the National Park estate.
Despite these efforts, there are new proposals still being tabled for the development of this precious ecosystem. 85km2 of Daintree lowlands is freehold land outside the national park and World Heritage Area.
The current proposal to explore a bridge over the Daintree River is of deep concern to our organisation as well as thousands of people who’ve signed a petition, which will be sent to Douglas Shire Council at the close of consultation on the Daintree River crossing.
Rainforest 4 Foundation strongly opposes proposals for a bridge over the Daintree River on the following grounds.
- A bridge could cost up to $75 million. Neither State nor the Federal Government have indicated financial support.
- In comparison, a second ferry has been fully costed at less than $3 million for establishment, and already opened to tenders
- A bridge only creates jobs during its construction phase
- A bridge continues to cost money after its construction. A ferry makes money for Council
- 30 local employees operating the current and potential second ferry would lose their jobs once the ferry was decommissioned.
- Council has stated that it has not considered job losses in its deliberations
Tourism and World Heritage in Danger
- The Daintree lowland rainforest has an unbroken evolutionary history going back over 120 million years to the first flowering plants.
- It is listed as World Heritage because of its global significance
- Tourists are drawn to the Daintree now because of its intact rainforest and genuine wildlife experiences.
- A bridge will undermine the region’s natural values and put its World Heritage status in danger. UNESCO cites dangers to World Heritage listings as being: “the serious decline in the population of an endangered… species or the deterioration of natural beauty or scientific value of a property caused by human activities such as logging, pollution, settlement, mining, agriculture and major public works”
- Additional infrastructure will negatively impact current nature-based and eco-tourism offerings
- The majority of tourists publicly reviewing the current ferry, rate it as “very good” or “excellent”.
- Tourists currently view the Daintree Ferry as a rite of passage for their entry into the Daintree Rainforest. The time it takes to use the ferry means that tourists are more likely to spend a night in the Daintree than if they could drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation and return in one day. A bridge may well see a reduction in overnight tourist stays in Douglas Shire.
Catalyst for inappropriate future development
- With greater access comes further residential development in the region
- This in turn creates increased pressure for services such as electricity, mobile phone towers and sealing of dirt roads
- This infrastructure increases the region’s land value which then drives further development
- Commercialisation of the Daintree will incentivise land owners to develop their properties
- An increase in development exacerbates all of the issues outlined here, in particular road kills of native wildlife, including the endangered Southern Cassowary
Impact on wildlife and habitat
- A bridge will increase both the number of vehicles, as well as the hours of the day that they’re on narrow, windy, poorly lit roads.
- 24-hour access across the river means cars are crossing at all times of the day and night, putting at risk already endangered wildlife.
- Improving lighting or other traffic devices will have an impact on nocturnal animals
- More vehicles on Daintree roads will lead to an increase in car strikes, particularly on the endangered Southern Cassowary. Road fatalities are the single biggest cause of Cassowary deaths.
- The construction phase and inevitable road upgrade will disturb sensitive ecosystems – both terrestrial and aquatic
- When roads are built or widened, the rainforest canopy is opened. This results in fragmented habitat, increased light penetration and more weed species.
- Habitat fragmentation leads to changing humidity regimes, increased light penetration, decimation of climax vegetation and more weed species.
Over the past four decades, Australian citizens, international donors, researchers and Daintree residents have actively and passionately worked to protect and enhance the Daintree lowland rainforest. People power has triumphed before and it will again. We strongly urge Douglas Shire Council to put the region’s natural and cultural values first and dismiss proposals for a bridge over the Daintree River.
Founder - Rainforest 4 Foundation
For wildlife, climate, people, climate, and our Planet!
Add your voice to our urgent call to stop this bridge. Sign our petition now.
Clearing in the Daintree in July 2020