A bridge over the Daintree River will cause irreversible damage to World Heritage values and will fuel further development along the Daintree coast. Thousands of people have added their voice to calls to urgently stop this bridge.
Daintree River - by Steven Nowakowski
The Daintree is the jewel in Far North Queensland’s tourism crown. Cape Tribulation, at its northern end, is a popular destination for tourists – both Australian and international. Crossing the Daintree River to get there is a rite of passage for many tourists.
Currently, the only way to reach the Daintree from the south is by vehicular barge across the Daintree River. For a small number of days every year there is a queue to cross the river. Locals don’t have to queue as they have special access to a fast lane to avoid delays.
The local authority, Douglas Shire Council is now exploring options for a bridge over the Daintree River. According to Council, a bridge could cost up to $75 million and people would still need to pay a toll to cross. Neither State nor Federal Government has indicated financial support for a bridge.
In comparison, a second ferry, which has been fully costed and already opened to tenders, would cost less than $3 million to establish and then turn a profit.
A bridge may create jobs but only during construction and mostly for people in neighbouring regions. 30 local employees operating the current and potential second ferry would lose jobs once the ferry was decommissioned. Council has stated that it has not considered job losses in its deliberations.
It’s not just the financial cost that has alarmed Rainforest4 supporters across the globe as well as local conservationists and residents.
The Daintree River Crossing Options Report, prepared by two engineers on staff at Douglas Shire Council focuses only on technical and financial considerations and does not include environment, social, economic or cultural heritage implications of a proposed bridge.
According to David Attenborough, the Daintree is “the most extraordinary place on Earth.”
It’s the only place on the globe where two World Heritage sites exist side-by-side. In the Daintree, the rainforest meets the sea, supporting an ancient landscape that contains the oldest plants on the planet – some of them twice as old as Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The rainforests of the Daintree represent the largest area of lowland rainforest in Australia, with an area sufficiently large to ensure ongoing evolutionary and ecological processes despite 120 million years of climate and geological change.
The Endangered Southern Cassowary
Home to endangered species like the Cassowary and the rare Bennet’s Tree Kangaroo the Daintree is the most biodiverse region in Australia and is internationally recognised globally for its breathtaking beauty and striking landscape.
With pristine coastal scenery where rainforests meet white sandy beaches with coral reefs offshore, the region is framed by swift-flowing rivers, spectacular waterfalls, and rugged and iconic mountain peaks and gorges as well as unbroken vistas of tropical forests and valleys.
Despite conservationists successfully lobbying to have 900,000 hectares included as part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in 1998, a subdivision more than a decade earlier of 1100 residential blocks continues to have a detrimental impact.
This proposal for a bridge will fuel further development.
Thirty-five years since subdivision and there are proposals still being tabled for the development of this ancient ecosystem. Landowners can apply to build dwellings and clear vegetation which directly removes rare and threatened plants and displaces vulnerable animals. The construction of a bridge will have the same impact.
As the current ferry operates under restricted hours, a bridge will increase both the number of vehicles, as well as the hours of the day that they’re on narrow, poorly lit roads. Vehicle strike is a killer of the Southern Cassowary, an endangered species critical to the rainforest’s natural ability to regenerate. The installation of lights or other traffic devices will have an impact on nocturnal animals.
Canopy opening occurs when vegetation is cleared for roads being built or widened and this results in a fragmented habitat, increased light penetration, and more weed species. Expanding the road network will create further edge effects, having an even bigger impact on opening up rainforest canopies. Doing so, then catalyses the spread of pest plants and animals.
The existing ferry crossing the Daintree River
With greater access comes further residential development which 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. A bridge will be the catalyst for many changes to the ecosystems so highly valued by residents and tourists alike.
Tourists are drawn to the Daintree now because of its intact rainforest and genuine wildlife experiences. This proposed bridge will undermine the region’s natural values and put its World Heritage status at risk.
In the previous consultation by Douglas Shire, only 5% of respondents wanted a bridge.
As ratepayers and landowners in the Douglas Shire, Rainforest 4 Foundation is opposed to the construction of a bridge across the Daintree River. And we’re not alone. A coalition of the country’s most significant conservation groups has written to the Federal Government and UNESCO about their concerns. And thousands of people have added their voice to our calls to stop this bridge from going ahead. You can join them by adding your name to our petition.