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Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. Photo | Glenn Walker
Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve. Photo | Glenn Walker

Wenlock River and Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve Protected

Updated:

In a significant win the protection of Cape York Peninsula and the rivers of northern Australia, the Queensland Government has just announced that the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and the Wenlock River on Cape York Peninsula will be permanently protected from mining.

The Wenlock catchment is an extraordinary place, containing natural and cultural values of World Heritage quality. The river ranks number one nationally for freshwater biodiversity, is a haven for endangered species including the Freshwater Sawfish and Spear-toothed Shark, and has beautiful rainforest environments.

This is partly because the Wenlock system contains a rare system of freshwater springs which replenish the catchment during the long, harsh dry season, when most rivers in northern Australia cease to flow.

The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve and Wenlock faced a number of mining threats which have been ruled out by this announcement. In particular Cape Alumina’s Pisolite Hills mine, which would have involved the clearing of 6500 hectares of tropical savannah woodland, dredging the nearby Port of Musgrave and the destruction of some of the most significant of the springs.

This is great news for the Irwin Reserve and the Wenlock River. The Wilderness Society has campaigned for this area to be protected for several years and helped secure the Wenlock Basin Wild River Area declaration in 2010. If it wasn’t for Wild Rivers and the buffer zones the Wenlock Wild River Declaration contains, Cape Alumina may already have a bauxite mine in this sensitive area.

But significant threats remain for Cape York. The Wenlock announcement was timed to coincide with the Queensland government’s release of its draft Cape York Regional Plan.  This suggests that open cut and strip mining may be excluded from some areas of the Cape, but the draft plan is light on details about how and whether this will be achieved.

It also comes at the expense of other rivers and landscapes, particularly the stripping away existing Wild River protections which currently apply to the Archer, Stewart, and Lockhart river basins, as well as the disregarding of World Heritage standard values throughout Cape York Peninsula. As it stands significant parts of the Cape is to be opened up for mining and land clearing for broad scale agriculture and dams.  

That’s why the Wilderness Society will continue to campaign for the protection of Cape York Peninsula’s wild rivers, incredible landscapes and wildlife in the immediate and longer terms, to ensure they properly protected for future generations.