Updated: July 11, 2011
About Cape York
Cape York is a vast, intact, landscape of extraordinary natural beauty – natural and indigenous cultural values are interwoven, diverse and abundant. Managed for tens of thousands of years by traditional owners, Cape York is one of the last great Aboriginal homelands on earth. It is diverse, unique and needs urgent protection before it’s too late.
Cape York is an incredible and unique interconnected mosaic of savanna, wetlands, coastline, rainforests, dune fields and coral reefs. Cape York’s traditional Indigenous cultures and languages reflect the incredible diversity of this environment – revealing a rich expression of human interactions with nature all the way back to ancient times.
Almost the size of Victoria but only 1% cleared, Cape York is remarkably intact.
The Cape by numbers
- Two thirds the size of Victoria but only 1% cleared.
- 50% of Australia's birds, 1/3 of our mammals, ¼ of our frogs and reptiles
- 2 New species found in 2011 alone
- 40 Animal species found only on Cape York (endemic)
- 3000 plants, 264 endemic to Cape York
- 21 Major wild river systems
- 1800 kilometres of unspoilt coastline adjacent to the most pristine section of the Great Barrier Reef.
Indigenous cultural life remains rich, unique and strong – it is part of the oldest continuous human culture on earth. Daily life for many traditional custodians continues to be sustained from the abundant natural resources of their lands and by fulfilling traditional management obligations for their country.
By comparison with other natural World Heritage Areas, Cape York contains larger rainforests than the Daintree, more old growth than Tasmania, more river biodiversity than the Franklin, larger reef systems than Ningaloo, bigger wetlands than Kakadu and larger dune systems than Fraser Island.
Protecting Cape York also protects the Great Barrier Reef. Not only is the unprecedented wave of mining development projects (and the removal of river protection laws) undermining the potential for a World Heritage listing for Cape York, but the associated damage is a major new threat to the most pristine and healthiest section of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.
On a damaged planet it is remarkable that the inter-connecting ecosystems of this vast Peninsula are healthy from coast to coast. That the Cape is so intact and free from industrial development is also why the most pristine and healthy section of the Great Barrier Reef is adjacent to Cape York.
Until now, Cape York has mostly been spared the impacts of the rampant mining industry in Australia. But eight new bauxite, kaolin, sand and coal mines are proposed for the Cape, with about a quarter of the region under exploration for further mines.
These new mines will industrialise the Cape York region and destroy its World Heritage values. They will involve the obliteration of tens of thousands of hectares of wilderness, the opening of new mining roads and ports, building of dams, pollution, dredging and increased shipping through the Great Barrier Reef.
The Wilderness Society is pushing for a moratorium on mining projects until the completion of the World Heritage assessment. Only once we have identified and protected the natural and cultural values of Cape York can we make a decision about what mining is appropriate and where.
A successful World Heritage listing will ensure the uncontrolled mining industry cannot run rampant on Cape York.
A better future for the Cape
Cape York needs strong political leadership from Queensland and federal governments.
To give Cape York the recognition, management and protection it deserves, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments must work with Traditional Owners and the Cape community to put in place a large World Heritage Area nomination.
Campbell Newman and Tony Burke have a responsibility to work together and with Traditional Owners to deliver a World Heritage nomination. The choice of the future for Cape York as a World Heritage Area instead of a complex for excessive mining is in the balance.
Tony Burke has committed to a February 2013 nomination. The Queensland Government says it supports the World Heritage listing of suitable areas of Cape York with the consent of traditional owners, but has not committed to a timeframe for a decision.
The strong desire of Traditional Owners to care for their country and to build economic opportunities from this gives the community a great chance to achieve a world class result. Traditional Owners of the region must consent before a World Heritage listing nomination for their homelands is made and will need support from the community, resources and clear information to make a decision on whether to include their lands in a world heritage nomination.
World Heritage will …
- Provide recognition for the globally important natural and cultural values of the Cape.
- Uphold current land ownership and enhance management practices.
- Not take away anyone’s land or rights, or put control of land in the hands of international bodies.
- Start with Traditional Owner consent and the support of landholders in Cape York.
- Assist Indigenous Traditional custodians to protect and manage their country, and will support other landholders managing these areas.
- Recognise Indigenous traditional management through Indigenous Protected Areas and Community Conserved Areas.
- Bring a source of income and economic opportunity where they are needed most – on the Aboriginal homelands and in the Indigenous communities of Cape York.
A Conservation Economy for the Cape
With endorsement from UNESCO, World Heritage Listing guarantees that Australians must commit resources to enable the Cape’s Traditional custodians and residents to care for the region, and that we can all benefit from the protection and presentation of this amazing place.
The declaration of a World Heritage Area would pave the way for a new economic future for Cape York – one where protecting, managing and showcasing the Cape’s spectacular natural and cultural environment is the foundation for growth in jobs and new enterprises. These are vitally needed in a region in which Indigenous people suffer serious disadvantage. Yet at the same time their homelands provide a great competitive advantage to Indigenous people in developing a sustainable regional economy for the 21st century.
There are economic alternatives to destruction – people should not be forced to accept mining as the only way to address poverty and unemployment, or to receive the health care, education and training they have the right to. Opportunities from activities that support and sustain culture and nature are many and varied and already constitute a substantial sector of the economy, including: jobs in ecotourism, conservation and fire management, protected areas, carbon farming, weed and feral animal control, biomedicines, cultural and arts industry, land management and biosecurity.
The rapacious/uncontrolled mining industry not only wrecks wilderness, but exports most of the revenues it produces out of the region and away from the Traditional Owners of the land and the Cape community.
As big and mighty as mining seems, the present hyper-inflated expectations will inevitably disappoint as the finite mineral resources are depleted and all that is left is a legacy of environmental destruction and the social impacts of fly-in, fly-out work forces. Protecting the World Heritage values of the Cape is not only the right thing to do for its beauty and ecological value, it also makes economic sense in the long term.
There is a better way. World Heritage listing can deliver a long term, sustainable and prosperous future for Cape York, driving a new conservation economy, opening up an array of opportunities for new enterprises in ecotourism, conservation and fire management, carbon farming, and weed and feral animal control. New mines, broad scale land clearing, damming rivers and irrigation will blow our best chance to create this future and leave behind permanent damage to this special place
Help us convince the federal and Queensland government to nominate Cape York for World Heritage before it’s too late.
For more information, please contact:
The Wilderness Society Inc