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Wet Tropics report warns of "narrow window" for saving threatened species

Giovanni Torre -

Climate change is increasing threats to the Wet Tropics rainforests of Far North Queensland, but there remains a "narrow window" in which threatened species can be brought back from the brink through bold new programs and partnerships, a new report says.

The State of Wet Tropics 2022–23 report, 'Rescue and recovery of threatened Wet Tropics species and ecological communities', was tabled in Queensland Parliament this week, providing a snapshot of the state of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, which sits next to another significant World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef.

Wet Tropics Management Authority Board Chair, Christine Grant, warned that there is no quick fix to the situation.

"There is no silver bullet, but the best available science tells us the way to protect threatened species is through long-term planning, rethinking our investments, and prioritising landscape-scale restoration to tackle climate change with better fire management and projects that reduce other threats such as invasive species," she said.

"World Heritage listing for the Wet Tropics has provided a measure of protection to save species, but invasive pests, diseases and more frequent and extensive storms and other natural disasters, particularly fires, threaten this internationally significant region."

The State of Wet Tropics 2022–23 report focuses on the threats faced by the incredible plants, animals and ecosystems in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (stretching from Townsville to just south of Cooktown) and what can be done to lessen their impacts.

Rainforest ecologist and Director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority Board, Professor Stephen Williams, said climate change is having "very real, significant and increasing effects" on native wildlife.

"The number of threatened vertebrate species in the region has increased by 25 per cent in the last four years, and many of the really important species found nowhere else in the world have already declined significantly. There have been massive declines in the populations of ringtail possums and species of regionally-endemic birds," he said.

"A two-day heatwave in November 2018 killed more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, around 30 per cent of Australia's population of this endangered species. Other animals that inhabit typically cooler high-altitude areas are disappearing as they have nowhere to go as temperatures increase.

"And alarm bells are ringing that more than 80 bushfires were burning in Queensland in October and early November. Those extreme conditions highlight the threat the forests of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area are under."

Ms Grant said the State of Wet Tropics report reiterated that the eastern forests of Far North Queensland including the Wet Tropics were a priority under the Commonwealth Government's 2022–23 Threatened Species Action Plan, and more resources and investment would chart a better way forward for them.

"The Wet Tropics Management Authority is working with Rainforest Aboriginal Peoples to bring traditional knowledge into managing the impacts of rising temperatures and threats to the World Heritage Area through fire management regimes and recovery strategies for threatened species," she said.

"Partnerships, particularly with local communities, industry and First Nations Peoples, are crucial, as are managing ecosystems at a landscape level.

"Building stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous land managers, bringing two world views closer to work together, and revitalising and strengthening cultural practices will be front and centre in ensuring the survival of the Wet Tropics. With the right resources we can lead the world in landscape restoration."

She said the emergent regeneration economy was a potential lifeline to threatened ecosystems.

"Funding bodies and land managers understand the potential for job creation and other social benefits flowing from landscape-scale projects encompassing biodiversity, social equity, employee wellbeing and lowering greenhouse gas emissions," Ms Grant said.

"But there is no time to waste. We need to act now."

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