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Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 THE SENATE 34

Date Wednesday, 16 September Source Senate
Page 34 Proof Yes
Questioner Responder
Speaker Furner, Sen Mark Question No.

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (1.21 pm)—I rise over one per cent of the current bauxite mining interests
to speak in regard to some activities that happened on the cape.
several weeks ago in my home state of Queensland.
I never thought in my wildest dreams that one day I The three springs we experienced were Bluebottle,
would be involved in the capture and research of an Tentacle and Oasis. To say these areas are unique
estuarine crocodile, which was more than 10 feet long, is an understatement. I was following Ranger Barry
on the muddy banks of the Wenlock River in Far North Lyons and I felt myself trying to step in his footsteps
Queensland with the Irwin family, and experience one to avoid any destruction to this amazing area. I saw
of the most beautiful and treasured pieces of landscape fern forests probably never seen before, diverse and
in this country. Ever since my youth I have been a beautiful orchids, tall tree lands providing nesting for
keen outdoor person, trekking and camping in many endangered species and unique pitcher plants, which
places throughout Queensland and New South Wales. are nationally listed as endangered. Bluebottle Spring
Although I have experienced many beautiful places in is the largest of the perched bauxite springs and meets
state and national parks, I have never seen such a rich all seven of the significant ecological criteria. This
and diverse environment as that contained in the Steve spring provides a perennial freshwater flow for four
Irwin Wildlife Reserve. The reserve covers 135,000 kilometres through an otherwise dry landscape to the
hectares, which is home to rare and threatened plant Wenlock River during the entire dry season. The spring
and wildlife species, including six highly vulnerable provides a refuge for more than one per cent of the
plant species and four plant species which had never national population of vulnerable plants. In addition to
been recorded on western Cape York. flora, the spring provides food and nesting habitat for
the rare palm cockatoo, of which we only saw three,
The most spectacular and threatened area of the the endangered red goshawk, the vulnerable marbled
reserve are the eight perennial springs, of which I frogmouth and the rare grey goshawk.
experienced three, situated on the bauxite plateau. The
springs lie on the margins or along drainage lines Surveys have been conducted by professionals on
within the bauxite plateau, which feature discharge various types of wildlife that rely on the existence of
heads ranging from two to 650 metres in linear extent. the perched bauxite plateau. A total of 41 freshwater
Research indicates that the springs perform crucial fish and seven species of shrimps and crabs were
ecological functions at both the local and landscape surveyed in 2008. The survey results showed that
level. The springs act as a refuge and water source the aru gudgeon was located in three of the springs,
for woodland wildlife species in an otherwise dry which provided a rare extension as it was thought to
landscape during the heat and drought of annual dry only be associated with Aru Island near southern New
seasons. Ranger Barry Lyons demonstrated simply to Guinea and the eastern side of the tip of Cape York.
us the need to retain the bauxite by pouring water Of the wildlife surveyed, 75 bird, 26 reptile, 16 native
over the ground and watching it absorb into the amphibian, eight native mammal excluding microbats,
earth like a sponge would gather water. Bauxite, as and 16 freshwater fish species were recorded in
we know, is permeable and does not absorb water. the various springs, which comprised 151 vertebrate
Therefore the plateau acts as a giant sponge by filtering wildlife taxa in total.
rainwater during the wet season and slowly releasing
it during the dry. We are not talking rocket science In relation to the research in this area, Dr J Winter
here; the springs need the bauxite to survive and the has indicated that the balance of the species are of
fauna and flora need the springs to see out the dry regional conservation significance as they are Cape
season. Should the proposed strip mining application York endemic, they are of limited distribution and are
proceed, research indicates it would irrevocably alter suffering declining populations or considered locally
hydrological characteristics of the bauxite plateau threatened due to habitat loss from the development
resulting in the extinction and loss of unique species of broad strip mining across the Weipa plateau.
of fauna and flora. The proposed mining lease is for Additionally, botanist David Fell has highlighted the
12,300 hectares on the reserve, which represents just role of the perched bauxite springs as isolated refuges
for a significant range of plants of conservation

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 THE SENATE 35

significance that have formally only been recorded Accommodation, of course, was tents backed up by
in eastern Cape York, the wet tropics, and/or New quite surprising creature comforts like a hot shower
Guinea. heated from a fire under a drum, a toilet that actually
flushed, a washing machine and lighting powered by
To protect this unique environment, Australia Zoo a generator between morning and evening, a satellite
has proposed a management plan which includes phone, and great meals with special ingredients cooked
strategies such as: establishment of formal recognition by master chef Hannah.
of this ecosystem; protection from fire incursion;
development of protocols for human and vehicle Following a great barbecue on Monday night and
access, including water and soil hygiene—Australia a terrific night’s sleep, the morning commenced with
Zoo has already excluded direct vehicle access, which a chorus of bird calls and breakfast, and we headed
is a protocol not already followed by those recently for the morning crocodile bag traps upstream. Barry
associated with the area; ongoing feral pig and cattle Lyons, head ranger, took us to the first two, which
control by shooting and trapping where appropriate; were empty, and looked less than optimistic but the
ongoing wildlife and botanical surveys with particular third produced the capture of a new male of over
emphasis on the wet season and post wet season seven feet. Barry has a wealth of knowledge, with
periods; ongoing monitoring of palm cockatoo 30 years previous experience as a Queensland Parks
nesting activities; ongoing monitoring of established and Wildlife Service ranger, and he explained different
vegetation monitoring plots; undertaking cultural species of plants and wildlife along the way. The bag
heritage surveys and implementing appropriate traps, being out of the water, needed to be dealt with
management actions as necessary; monitoring all first due to dehydration. Not long after the rest of the
possible measures to ensure a safe distance for the crocodile team arrived and the briefing was given by
location of any proposed public roads with respect to Briano, this feisty reptile was measured, sexed, tagged
the potential for poaching and damage by unlawful with a tracking device and released.
visitors; undertaking all possible measures to protect
the springs and the supporting bauxite land system This was the third caught on the Wenlock overnight,
from proposed bauxite mining; and liaising with the with the other two being recaptures and so released.
traditional owners on the effective conservation of the Assessment of whether a croc is a new capture or
springs. not is quickly done by tracking signals through the
largest remote crocodile-tracking program initiated
In regard to the Wenlock River, as mentioned earlier,
in the world, using cutting-edge acoustic telemetry.
I never thought I would be privileged to be involved
The tracking will run for 10 years, and over 100
in such an experience. When Wes Mannion, Managing
crocodiles ranging in size from one to four or five
Director of Australia Zoo, earlier this year extended an
metres will be monitored. It will showcase Australia’s
invitation to visit the reserve and said that I would at
expertise in crocodilian research, which is at the
some stage be involved in the research and capture of
forefront of the field, with the key objective being to
estuarine crocodiles, I thought he was joking.
better understand the ecological roles and functions of
I arrived on the Monday afternoon of the last week estuarine crocodiles so that we are all in a position to
in August, after escaping the hottest winter day in understand, conserve and manage these iconic animals.
Brisbane’s history, and was greeted by Josh Lyons.
After a few bits of business in the town of Weipa Meanwhile, plans were afoot for us to travel
and collecting supplies, it was time to head north-east downstream on the Wenlock River to where a larger
on the 1½- to two-hour four-wheel-drive journey. The croc was awaiting in a floating water trap. My curiosity
journey takes you past extensive mining areas around as to how the trap and croc would be recovered
northern Weipa where the earth has been substantially was shortly satisfied when the other team arrived.
stripped for the resource of bauxite. After travelling Within moments, eight of us were pulling the cage
through rough and remote dirt roads, we finally ended and croc out of the river up the muddy bank, being
up at Stone Crossing on the Wenlock River. To my cautious, of course, not to fall into the murky river
surprise a large number of the crocodile research team while performing this part. At this stage the highly
were cooling themselves off in the lower reaches of professional, experienced and dedicated team sprang
the river. Terri Irwin was keeping a watchful eye on into action, securing the top jaws of the croc with rope
the water, while Bindi and Robert were playing in the and bringing the croc out of the cage. From here it is
water with the other families. a mad rush to position yourself on top of the reptile
so no-one is bitten. Having watched the team in action
From here it is a mere short distance to the earlier that morning, I was quite at ease about the safety
coolabah campsite which was home for the next two of both my fellow team members and the croc. Like the
nights. Despite it being several years since my last morning’s catch, the croc was measured, coming in at
camping trip, I quickly settled into the familiar routine.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009 THE SENATE 36

10 feet 2.5 inches and identified as a male; a tracking
device was inserted and he was sutured and released.

Nineteen new captures and 12 recaptures were the
total for this season, bringing it up to 34 crocodiles
with tracking capacity over the last two years. With
the Wenlock River having the strongest population
of crocodiles in Queensland, and crocodiles being
listed as a threatened species, this area is an ideal
site for research. Professor Craig Franklin, from
the School of Biological Sciences at the University
of Queensland, competently performed all of the
procedural steps, from administering local anaesthetic
and inserting the tracking device to suturing the
crocodile. Subsequently, after leaving the cape, I
understand there were scientists catching and inserting
tracking devices into bull sharks in the Wenlock River.
In fact, there were a number of groups of scientists
making their way to this area to study its fauna and

As can be imagined, Cape York has a wild history,
with people like Frank Jardine and his younger brother,
Alexander, travelling 1,200 miles through Queensland,
from Rockhampton to Somerset, in 1864. They started
with 42 horses and 250 head of cattle. The trip took
10 months, during which time the party was constantly
harassed by the area’s inhabitants—various Aboriginal
tribes—as they forced their way through scrub and
swamps and crossed at least six large rivers. They
reached Somerset on 2 March 1865 with 12 horses
and 50 cattle. Frank Jardine claimed to have personally
killed 47 people, and the total death toll was over 200.
Local elders say the springs in this area are the weeping
souls of the elders killed on the lands by the Jardines,
and should the springs be affected by mining they
would dry up or become muddy.

I hope that, for the sake of this beautiful area, we can
find sustainable ways of preserving what is in my view
one of nature’s gifts so it can be enjoyed by generations
to come.