Some of Queensland’s key marine biodiversity values remain unprotected. Wildlife Queensland is campaigning for border to border marine parks for Queensland with a particular emphasis on the Gulf of Carpentaria. So why does the Gulf need protection?
Map © Wildlife Queensland
The state coastal waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria are highly productive, largely due to the outflow of freshwater, nutrients and sediments from rivers and catchments within the basin. The coastline is dominated by mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes providing significant habitat for an array of wildlife including numerous nationally and internationally protected species. These habitats also support a thriving commercial and recreational fishing industry. Tourism is increasing within the Gulf and has a major focus on recreational fishing. Figures from a survey published in 2003 revealed that around 100 000 tourists visit the Queensland part of the southern Gulf each year and 90% of them cited recreational fishing as a primary reason for visiting the area.
Wildlife Queensland believes there are at least 4 key areas of high conservation value within the Queensland waters of the Gulf that require protection. Wildlife Queensland acknowledges that there are significant knowledge gaps of the Gulf ecosystems. An opportunity exists to conduct baseline research and monitoring in these areas before further human expansion and developments affect them. This baseline data is vital in monitoring the effectiveness of marine protected areas and determining the impacts of climate change. An increased research effort will also benefit the Government’s capacity to monitor the sustainability of fisheries working in these areas.
The biodiversity values of the Wellesley Islands are well recognised on a state, national and international level. This area supports 70% of all seagrasses found in Queensland’s Gulf waters. A recent Geoscience Australia survey (2003) revealed large tabletop-like coral reef structures around 40-50m deep in the southern part of the Gulf. These include Big Reef, a 100km2 reef north of Mornington Island, which was found to have abundant growth similar to the Great Barrier Reef on platforms 30m deep. While knowledge of coral reefs in the Gulf is fairly limited, this discovery demonstrates the possibility that other similar reefs may exist throughout the Gulf.
There are a number of nationally significant nesting and foraging sites for green, flatback and olive ridley turtles within the Wellesley Islands Group. Leading turtle researchers acknowledge this area for its particular significance for green turtles suggesting that areas such as Bountiful Island are of a similar scale of importance for greens as Rain Island of the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s largest green turtle nesting population).
The Wellesley Islands are also important for feeding, breeding and calving aggregations of dugongs. According to traditional owners there are three species of dolphin (bottlenose, Irrawaddy and Indo-Pacific Humpback) and three species of whale (Roqual, False killer and Pilot) found within the area. Islands such as Bountiful, Manowar and Rocky support nationally and internationally significant seabird breeding colonies. The coastal beaches in the area provide vital habitat for nesting and foraging aggregations of waterbirds and roosting sites for migratory shorebirds, particularly on Mornington Island.
South-eastern Gulf (including Karumba, Normanton)
This area contains extensive and continuous wetlands, known as the Southern Gulf Aggregation. It is the largest continuous estuarine wetland aggregation of its type in northern Australia and is listed on the National Directory of Significant Wetlands.
This wetland area is one of the three most important areas for shorebirds and waders in Australia. Nationally and Internationally significant aggregations of migratory shorebirds rely on this area. In fact it provides habitat for 22 species of migratory shorebirds listed under JAMBA, 31 species listed under CAMBA and 32 species listed under ROKAMBA. Bird watching is extremely popular within this area and a number of cruises operate from Normanton and Karumba attracting large numbers of tourists to these towns.
The area also contains important seagrass meadows and mangrove communities supporting numerous protected species and a number of highly productive fisheries. The estuaries around Norman and Bynoe Rivers provide important breeding and nesting areas for saltwater crocodiles. The shallow marine waters of the aggregation provide habitat for green, flatback, hawksbill, olive ridley, leatherback turtles and dugongs. The area is an important recreational barramundi fishing destination. It has spectacular scenery and is the focus of an expanding ecotourism industry in the gulf country.
Aurukun to Port Musgrave (including Albatross Bay and Weipa)
Photo © Wildlife Queensland
The area between Aurukun and Port Musgrave contains flatback and hawksbill turtle nesting sites of national significance. Seagrass beds are extensive throughout the area and the Embley and Hey Rivers at Weipa have the most extensive intertidal Enhalus acoroides beds in the entire Western Cape. During winter the coastal waters of Albatross Bay support a resident population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The estuaries of Weipa and Albatross Bay are also an important breeding and nesting area for saltwater crocodiles. The area also contains wetlands listed under the National Directory for Important Wetlands providing habitat for a number of protected species.
Western Cape (Port Musgrave to Bamaga)
The coastal waters of the Western Cape contain extensive seagrass meadows. There are 4800 ha of seagrass beds in the shallow water around the mouth of Port Musgrave. Seagrasses have been recorded at a depth of 15m off the coast of Bamaga and are likely to occur deeper. There are also extensive mangrove forests located within the area. The Western Cape is acknowledged as nationally significant for nesting populations of flatback and hawksbill turtles. Crab Island for example supports the largest nesting aggregation of flatback turtles in northern Australia.
The coastal estuaries are also important breeding and nesting area for saltwater crocodiles. Port Musgrave is one of the most important areas of crocodile habitat on the Cape York Peninsula. The number of crocodiles recorded in the area was almost double that of other surveyed sites on Cape York Peninsula. This is largely due to the prime nesting habitat found within the area. The Western Cape is also home to the Port Musgrave Aggregation - a wetland area listed on the National Directory of Important Wetlands.
Wildlife Queensland acknowledges the current marine planning by the Government around the Wellesley Islands. Wildlife Queensland advocates ongoing liaison and genuine consultation with Traditional Owners. Obviously discussions with the fishing and tourism industry must occur.
Wildlife Queensland approached the Government requesting a commitment prior to the next election to gazette the Wellesley Islands Marine Park in the next term of Government. We are also advocating significant progress for the gazettal of a number of other marine parks in the Gulf to ensure the protection of the core biodiversity values of this area and will be approaching the opposition requesting a similar commitment.
For more information on Wildlife Queensland's activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.