Had a fantastic day with intrepid explorer/adventurer biologist - Niall McCann, Gryphon Productions producer Peter von Puttkamer and crew who recently travelled from Townsville to the Daintree documenting the Cassowary.
The award winning Canadian team is in Australia putting together the Saltwater Crocs and Cassowary episode of their 'Biggest and Baddest' series which will air on Discovery Channel in January 2013.
It was great to listen to their stories and passion for the natural world, their individual experiences, and how they believe they can 'make a difference' with this style of documentary, for better environmental outcomes around the globe.
My job was to show them around Mission Beach, inform them of how the cassowary is under threat and to introduce them to some of the locals who have stories to tell about our endangered icon.
As we are now so aware, the lack of appropriate planning at Mission Beach has created an uncertain future for both the economy and the environment. The ad hoc manner in which development has been allowed has, left an oversupply of residential lots, fragmented and degraded the natural habitat, reduced the scenic tourism appeal and lowered real estate prices and demand.
To demonstrate the problems arising from the current development approach, first stop with the team was to 'Oasis' where only two houses have been started on the 2008 approved 140 residential housing estate. It is a good example of how conditions for approvals (such as the introduction of fencing) have resulted in the fragmentation of habitat corridors and created a nightmare for compliance.
When the development was first completed, cassowaries were often seen trapped inside the fences as their access to essential habitat within their normal range was blocked.
Four years later, even after repairs following cyclone Yasi, the fence and gates are now becoming derelect as is the entire development which is weed infested with one of the two houses being built in the estate in an unkempt state of incompletion.
From the Oasis development We visited artist and Djiru Traditional Owner representative Leonard Andy who lives at Clump Mountain. There is a paradox of history here as the only land at Mission Beach that has been under full control of Djiru ownership until the recent native title determination over unnalocated state lands, is a place that was bequeathed by an early settler to the area. There is another story to be told about Fenby and his lifestlye who was affectionately known as the 'tarzan of the north'.
Then it was off to Peter Salleras's farm at East Feluga. Peter has led the way for more than two decades with an innovative approach to farming that seeks to find a balance between his farming practices and protection of the adjacent natural areas.
He explores to understand symbiotic relationships that can be taken advantage of such as native insect and animal pollinators and rainforest buffers that may aid in the control of disease.
Peter has worked with Mission Beach environment group C4 over many years, one of the initial joint ventures being the design of a cassowary friendly pig trap. He won the Cassowary Award for Wet Tropics Neighbour in 2010 for best practice farming within the wet tropics rainforest environment.
Peter's willingness to look for solutions to reconcile the traditional divide of farming and the natural environment has led to his being a leader in tropical fruit growing in challenging climate conditions
For anyone interested this is the process a development that has resulted in significant clearing of an endangered species habitat is subject to on a federal level. You wil note the intial application to local Council was approved based on the local planning scheme codes and did not give opportunity for public comment. High quality remnant vegetation at the entrance to the development was removed despite Approval condition No.2 which states "The person taking the action must rehabilitate the area marked revegetation and landscaping on Survey 2 in order to protect and enhance habitat for the Southern Cassowary" Read more here
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This process is now being called 'Green Tape' , blamed for, and targeted as being too restrictive to development.
You can read about the value of the habitat that was cleared in this environment report.
The yellow dot shows the position of the cassowary in the photo (left) and another was seen (marked in red) a week ago when the above photo was taken.
The small population of cassowaries at the mouth of the Johnstone River is a good example of how the natural environment has been fragmented, isolating species and exposing them to all the threatening processes associated with development.
As we explored around Yvonne's lot and down onto the small beach on the bank of the Johnstone River, we were treated to a mineful of information about the history and wildlife of the diverse environment Yvonne lives in.
W e finally got lucky when a cassowary was spotted in the front yard of a house not far from Yvonne's place. The bird was obviously familiar with the house and the actvities of the owners as seen when the bird rushed to the front door when it heard it being opened.
It was late afternoon and Yvonne took us on a walk around her property in the hope of seeing any one of the birds she sees frequently and writes about each week on News from Coquette Point.
While the team was in town they visited Etty Bay where they were able to film birds living in their natural environment both on the beach,in the adjacent rainforest steam and also how they interacted with the visitors at the public picnic and camping area.
They were also able to spent a morning with the QPWS rangers filming the release of a cassowary back into the environment where it had been found injured. The bird had been treated at the Garners Beach Cassowary Rehabilitation Centre.
After an action packed week they travelled north to record experiences with the Daintree community and another of the important cassowary populations of the Wet Tropics.
From there they were off to Darwin in search of a few crocodiles.
We look forward to seeing and sharing the episode of this series made here when it airs in January.
Mission Beach after the media highlighted a community call for buyback of Lot 66, a crucial cassowary habitat corridor being theatened by development.
Their visit prompted a 7.30 report about the threats to the endangered cassowary at Mission Beach and Rainforest Rescue began a campaign with Bob to raise funds to help protect rainforest at Mission Beach.
If local governments don't add clear guidelines with enough detail to protect natural areas outside the World Heritage Areas and within urban footprints in new local planning schemes, places like Mission Beach where 40% of essential cassowary habitat is not protected, could lose large amounts of habitat supporting endangered species.
Julia caves to states. Green tape deal
Gillard has given some ground to win agreement from the premiers to cut 'green tape', specifying when Canberra will intervene in approvals rather than leave a broad definition of "high risk" projects.
The agreement to streamline approvals for economic developments in environmentally sensitive locations came at a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Canberra, which despite opening with hostility and political posturing, PM tells premiers to cut 'green tape' to free capital
Ms Gillard said her plan to streamline environmental rules with states would mean developers "don't go through double assessments''.
But she said the Federal Government still had to oversee developments in World Heritage areas in Commonwealth waters and nuclear power. See Lateline report
Coalition wants to slash 'green tape'
"States would be a one-stop shop for environmental approvals for major projects under a coalition plan to fast track development and slash "green tape".
Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott said the opt-in scheme would see states and territories administer Commonwealth legislation such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, creating a single lodgment and assessment process.
Campbell Newman demands developments be approved in Queensland's World Heritage areas.
Mr Newman has gone further than other Premiers and called for complete control over environmental assessments in the Sunshine State.
"It's a bit rich for the Prime Minister to suggest that the states have to work with her to reduce that 'green tape' when the Federal Government coming over the top in Queensland on major resource and tourism projects is causing huge delays and blocking the economic progress of Queensland,'' Mr Newman said.
How did 'red tape' get changed to 'green tape'?
Minister Cripps decides to review approach to enforcement of Vegetation Management Act
(From latest Environmental Defenders Office (Qld) e-notices)
Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Andrew Cripps announced this review on 19 April, 2012 on the basis that an overly aggressive approach had been taken to enforcement of this legislation. We’ve (EDO) had a chance to consider Minister Cripps’ statement.
In our (EDO) experience:
New statewide report reveals the Cassowary Coast Regional Council’s (CCRC) development application approval rate is at 98 per cent – a figure higher than the state average.
CCRC Mayor Bill Shannon has publically criticised the three tier government system actively demonstating his view by protest voting against several state laws concerning local planning decisions.
Cr Shannon voted against the State determination to deny a development at Mission Beach which would have resulted in increased density within a conservation zone and required destruction of prime cassowary habitat in a known highly utilised cassowary corridor.
(Ed Note) The FNQ2031 Plan clearly identifies Mission Beach as a village activity centre, recommending low density development in respect of the high biodiversity values. State laws and plans that currently provide recommendations and some protection for the natural environment such as the FNQ 2031 Plan and the Vegetation Management Act (VMA) are now under review by the state government in a bid to fast track development.
When asked about being the first to sign a petition against state imposed regulation of dogs on rural properties? Cr Shannon stated "Regarding rural dogs – they are regulated, despite the impracticality of policing this due to the size and/or isolation of many properties".
About voting against the degazetting of a road through the heart of a World Heritage area at Mission Beach because it would deny horse riders access? "Horse riding in National Parks in Australia is often permitted. My support was for horse riding on gazetted roads adjacent to/through National Parks".
Voting for Woolworths Sunday trading against a plea from a local business owner petitioning council on the plight of her business if Woolworths were allowed to trade on Sundays? "I do support Sunday trading for Woolworths – in my view it would improve amenity, business opportunity i.e. for people to buy and overall employment".
Exploring ways to remove contracts with local landowners to protect natural vegetation in return for rate reduction? Cr Shannon expressed a view that there was no more need for convenants as current legistlation such as the VMA provided adequate protection.
In regard to our civic leader's comment that, "There is no one vision for a region as diverse as the Cassowary Coast?"
(Ed note) In fact, the opportunity does not only exists but is now urgent for a clear vision to be realised in the new Cassowary Coast Regional Council Planning Scheme, (which contradicts the Mayor's comments above by seeking to provide shire wide policies), that will allow for long term, in Cr Shannon's words "sustainable development that will not prejudice the natural values".
We received a call from a Garners Beach local on Saturday reporting a turtle stranding. We rang the official DERM wildlife number and found there were no rangers on duty in the area until Sunday. There was no luck with alternative action after a phone around, so we went to investigate.
Other worried locals were keeping an eye out for the large old turtle that appeared trapped amongst the mangrove roots.
It was all smiles as we watched the barnacled and scarred old reptile being freed from its confines and could see its head bobbing up occasionally as it headed out to sea.
I wanted to share this photo of Margaret and Catherine Bone at the exhibition of Catherine's portrait of Margaret in Townsville last Friday (5 May). Titled " Margaret Thorsborne AO - Pigeon Census after Cyclone Yasi ". It was a wonderful night and the judge said of Margaret's portrait that it was a wonderfully symbolic work which gave a clearly very grounded figure an ethereal quality...just the intention . It will be on exhibit at Perc Tucker Gallery until 1st July.
(Suzanne Smith, WPSQ Tully Branch)