a. State Party Australia.
b. Name of World Heritage property Wet Tropics of Queensland.
c. Geographical coordinates to the nearest second Between latitudes 15 degrees 39 minutes south and 19 degrees 17 minutes south, and longitudes 144 degrees 58 minutes east and 146 degrees and 27 minutes east.
d. Date of inscription on the World Heritage List 9 December 1988.
e. Organization(s) or entity(ies) responsible for the preparation of the report
Environment Australia, in conjunction with the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
World Heritage Branch
John Gorton Building
King Edward Terrace
Parkes ACT 2600
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Phone: +61 2 6274 2111
Fax: +61 2 6274 2095
Wet Tropics Management Authority
Cairns Corporate Tower
15 Lake Street
Cairns Qld 4870
PO Box 2050
CAIRNS, Queensland 4870
Phone: +61 7 40520555
Fax: +61 7 40311364
f. Date of report
g. Signature on behalf of State Party
II.2. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE
The Wet Tropics of Queensland met all four World Heritage criteria for a natural property. The criteria current at the time of listing (1988) and specified in the nomination were:
1. Outstanding examples representing the major stages of the earth’s evolutionary history
Outstanding examples representing significant ongoing geological processes, biological evolution and man’s interaction with his natural environment
Superlative natural phenomena, formations or features or areas of exceptional natural beauty
The most important and significant natural habitats where threatened species of plants and animals of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation still survive.
Statement of Significance
An explicit summary ‘statement of significance’ was not included at the time of the Queensland Wet Tropics nomination. The following two paragraphs distil the essential values which formed the basis of the Wet Tropics nomination.
The Property is of universal significance because it contains most of the relicts that exist on Earth of the flora of the forests which were part of the super continent Gondwana. The rainforests which constitute about 80% of the Property have more taxa with primitive characteristics than any other area on Earth. The ancestry of all of Australia’s unique marsupials and most of its other animals originated in rainforest ecosystems of which the Wet Tropics still contains many of the closest surviving members (DASETT 1987). One of the outstanding features of the Property is that it contains a high diversity of ancient taxa representing long evolutionary lineages which preserve a greater degree of evolutionary heritage than places with a similar number of species but containing a succession of closely allied forms.
The Wet Tropics provides an unparalleled living record of the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia over the past 415 million years when first it was part of the Pangaean landmass, then the ancient continent Gondwana, and for the past 50 million years an island continent. During this 415 million years of evolution, the processes of speciation, extinction and adaptation have been determined by history, particularly continental drift and cycles of climatic change.
Justification for listing At the time of the Wet Tropics listing the wording and emphasis of the Criteria for nomination differed from the current natural value Criteria. The following section updates the Wet Tropics nomination (DASETT 1987) based on the present version of the Criteria. In the following section:
the original 1988 nomination information is presented in normal font;
those parts of the original nomination which have been superceded by new or better information are indicated by strikethrough font; and
new or amended information is presented in bold font.
Description and Inventory The Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage AreaThe area nominated as the Wet Tropical Rainforests of North east Australia is shown on Maps 1 and 2. The area covers 894,420 haabout 9000 square kilometres and extends from just south of Cooktown to just north of Townsville.
The wet tropical rainforests of North east Australiathe Wet Tropics of Queensland are a relict of a vegetation type which was once much more widespread. Fossil pollen records have indicated that the whole of Australia was covered by closed forests some 50 to 100 million years ago. Today the Australian rainforests are restricted to a series of discontinuous pockets extending for more than 6000 km across northern Australia and along the east coast to Tasmania. Representatives of the sub-tropical and temperate rainforests are included in the Australian East Coast Temperate and Sub-Tropical Rainforest Parks World Heritage AreaCentral eastern Rainforests Reserve in New South Wales and south east Queensland and the cool temperate rainforests are included in the Western Tasmania Wilderness National Parks World Heritage Area.
It is estimated that rainforests today cover only 3.6 million hectares (NFI 1998),20,000 square kilometres (Webb and Tracey, 1981) which is about 0.20.4 per cent of the area of Australia. There isare approximately 7800 square kilometres of wet tropical rainforest in north-east Australia (Winter et al. 1987) and of that about 90 per cent is within the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area.
(i) Climate and hydrology Many of the distinctive features of the region relate to the high rainfall and diverse terrain. The mean annual rainfall ranges from about 1200 to over 4000 millimetres with some sites having much higher falls. The wettest region lies between Cairns and Tully on the coast and subcoastal ranges where the mean annual rainfall is generally over 3000 millimetres.
Even in the wettest areas between Tully and Cairns there is a distinctly seasonal precipitation regime with over 60 per cent falling in the summer months (December to March) followed by a relatively dry season in mid-year. Tropical low pressure cells and cyclones that develop in the monsoonal trough commonly produce more than 250 millimetres of rain in a day during the wet season. Mt Bellenden Ker has received 1140 millimetres of rain in a 24-hour period.
By comparison with other tropical rainforest areas in the world, the wetter parts of the region lie at the ‘wet’ to ‘extremely wet’ end of the hydrological spectrum. During the wet season when soil profiles are often saturated, high intensity rainfall may not be absorbed by the soil, and widespread overland flow can occur even on relatively steep slopes. The common occurrence of widespread overland flow, as distinct from highly localised saturation overland flow in valley bottoms, channel margins and stream head locations, appears to be rare in other wet tropical rainforests of the world; indeed its absence has been regarded as characteristic. In this respect, the rainforests of the Wet TropicsNorth east Queensland appear to be exceptional (Walsh 1980).
On the coast, mean daily temperatures range from a maximum of 31°C to a minimum of 23C. During winter the mean daily maximum and minimum temperature, are about 5˚C lower. The tablelands and uplands are cooler, with mean daily summer temperatures ranging from a maximum of 28˚C to a minimum of 17˚C. During winter, the mean daily maximum and minimum temperatures are 22˚C and 9˚C respectively. Coastal humidity during the summer months is on average 78 per cent, but there are numerous days when it reaches into the high nineties.
(ii) Geology and geomorphology The main rainforest occurrence in North Queensland lies astride three major geomorphic regions: the tablelands of the Great Divide, the lower coastal belt, and the intermediate Great Escarpment.
The undulating tablelands are remnants of an elevated and warped landscape. The highlands rise to altitudes of 900 m with isolated peaks up to 1622 m. To the east, the Great Escarpment marks the limit of headwards erosion into these tablelands from the coastal plain. It is a zone of rugged topography, rapid geomorphic processes and diverse environments. The escarpment is deeply incised by many gorges, and there are numerous waterfalls.
The history of the geomorphology of the region is summarised in Appendix 2. The main rock types (slates and greywackes to greenschist facies) beneath the region are the marine Silurian, Devonian and Carboniferous sediments of the Hodgkinson Basin and of the Broken River Embayment. The Barnard Metamorphics of largely schist and gneiss occupy some south-east coastal outcrops and may be part of the Hodgkinson Basin. The distinct nature of the Barnard Metamorphics is emphasised by the presence nearby of the rare Babalangee Amphibolite.
The greatest concentration of volcanics and granite occurs at the southern end of the known Hodgkinson Basin where it intersects the trend of the Broken River Embayment. This area lies west of the Barnard Metamorphics making the Innisfail area and its hinterland the most diverse and complicated of the region.
Many of the granites were probably exposed by the end of the Palaeozoic of the beginning of the Mesozoic. Uplift of the tablelands shed drainage north-west during the Jurassic to the Tertiary period. Climatic change and geomorphic processes during the Quaternary led to repeated coastal retreat and marine submergence. These events influenced the reversal of stream flow to the east.
One of the most striking elements of the present landscape is the Great Escarpment. Catastrophic erosion and slope failure of poor soils resulted in the retreat of many faces of the Escarpment. Only where basalt flows have run down valleys have the gradients of the Escarpment been locally reduced. In the Johnstone River valley system the escarpment is breached by a ramp of moderate slope.
The vulcanism of the Atherton Tablelands and adjacent volcanic provinces is characterised by scoria cones, lava cones and maars. Lakes Eacham and Barrine occupy the youngest maars. The tablelands and some coastal areas were greatly disturbed by basalt flows throughout the Pliocene-Pleistocene. However, the high nutrient status of the developing basalt soils may have proved advantageous to the rainforest in resisting stresses during the fluctuating climatic conditions associated with the Pleistocene glacial cycles.
(iii) Fringing reefs Fringing reefs occur along much of the coastline of the northern section of the region, adjoining rainforest. The reefs are included in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
(iv) Vegetation types The major vegetation type in the nominated areaWet Tropics World Heritage Area is tropical rainforest but this is fringed and to some extent dissected by sclerophyll forests and woodlands, mangroves and swamps. The vegetation types in the region are described below.
Rainforest The rainforests of the Australian wet tropicsWet Tropics of Queensland occur across a diverse range of rainfall, soil type and drainage, altitude and evolutionary history. As a result there is a spectrum of rainforest plant communities and habitats recognised as being floristically and structurally the most diverse in Australia (Tracey 1982).
The rainforests of the wet tropics have been classified into 13 major structural types including two which have sclerophyll (Eucalyptus and Acacia) components. The major types have further been classified into 27 broad communities correlating with climatic zones and soil parent material. All these communities occur in the Property and are listed in Appendix 3. The wet tropical region comprises a mosaic of rainforest types reflecting the environmental conditions. The floristic composition within the types varies from place to place; therefore it is important to conserve the types throughout the nominated areaWet Tropics in order to ensure preservation of all species.
On the slopes and summits of the high peaks where there is frequent cloud cover and strong winds there exist the wet submontane forests known as simply microphyll vine-fern forests and thickets. There is a high regional endemism of species in the floristic composition of these upland areas. Above 1500 m on the Bellenden Ker Range the canopy, sometimes with the endemic Leptospermum wooroonooran dominant, is often low and dense and shows the streamlining effects of strong winds. On the summits there are many narrowly restricted species including Dracophyllum sayeri, Cinnamomum propinquum, Rhododendron lochae, Flindersia oppositifolia, Orites fragrans and Uromyrtus metrosideros,
The montane forests of the Mt Lewis and Mt Spurgeon area are also classified as simple microphyll vine-fern forests. However these forests, having many of their own endemics, differ floristically from those of the Bellenden Ker area. These include in the family Proteaceae, Helicia recurva and Austromuellera trinervia; Prumnopitys ladei in the family Podocarpaceae; the striking pink-flowered Aceratium ferrugineum in the family Elaeocarpaceae and the undescribed palm Archontophoenix ‘Mt Lewis’.
Floristically, the upland simple microphyll vine-fern forests and thickets are very different to the other rainforest types in the nominated areaWet Tropics, but they show a floristic affinity with the Australian temperate rainforests at higher latitudes and with montane rainforests of New Guinea and Indonesia. Shared genera with southern Australia include Trochocarpa and Eucryphia. Rhododendron and Agapetes, which are each represented in the nominated areaWet Tropics by a single species, are shared with New Guinea and Indonesia.
The most highly developed Australian rainforests occur on the wet lowlands. These complex mesophyll vine forests on colluvial footslopes and alluvial soils, are represented in the nominated areaWet Tropics by small patches between Innisfail and Cape Tribulation. Characteristic trees include Acmena graveolens, Backhousia bancroftii, Argyrodendron peralatum and Ristantia pachysperma. Local endemism and disjunctions are common and are exemplified by Storkiella australiensis and Idiospermum australiense.
One of the most striking rainforest types is that dominated by the endemic Fan Palm, Licuala ramsayi. The type is restricted to small patches on poorly drained soils on the lowlands. Most has been cleared for sugar-cane farming and only a few square kilometres remain. Small patches of these palm forests are included in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area near Cowley Beach, Mission Beach, Yarrabah and north of the Daintree River.
Complex notophyll vine forests on the basalt soils of the Atherton Tablelands have by now been mostly cleared. What remains includes restricted and disjunct species such as Athertonia diversifolia, Austromuellera trinervia and Austrobaileya scandens. The drier remnant of the type is conserved in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area at the Curtain Fig (State Forest 452) and Severin Creek (State Forest 185). The wetter type is accessible at Mt Hypipamee - The Crater National Park. The overlap of the wet and dry types are preserved in National Parks at Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham.
Complex mesophyll vine forest on very wet lowlands on beach sands is now extremely rare. The major occurrences at Kurrimine Beach and near the mouth of the Daintree River and at Noah Creek near Cape Tribulation have all been included in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area. Palms found in this type include Arenga appendiculata, Archontophoenix alexandrae, Hydriostele wendlandiana, Licuala ramsayi, Ptychosperma elegans and in the Noah Creek area the narrowly restricted endemic Normanbya normanbyi. Conspicuous trees in the type include Calophyllum inophyllum on the beach front; Calophyllum sil, Syzygium forte, Acmena hemilampra and Podocarpus grayi on the dunes; and in the wetter swales Dillenia alata, Syzygium angophoroides and Randia fitzalani. Backhousia hughesii is common in the community at Noah Creek.
In addition to these rarer forest types the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area contains outstanding and extensive occurrences of mesophyll vine forests and simple notophyll vine forests of the moist uplands and highlands.
Tall Open Forests Adjacent to the rainforest margins on the western edgemargin of the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area are the tall open forests (wet sclerophyll forests) dominated by Eucalyptus grandis (Rose Gum), . Other tall species common in the type include E. resinifera (Red Stringybark), E. acmenioides (White Stringybark), E. intermedia (Pink Bloodwood), Lophostemon confertus (Brush Box) and Syncarpia glomulifera (Turpentine). Variation in species composition and concentration within these forests incorelateiontowith soil type, rainfall and fire frequency; as well these factors are reflected in understoreys of different compositions ranging from well developed rainforest elements to dense grass.
There is a striking contrast in the structure of the adjoining rainforest and wet sclerophyll forests of north Queensland. This extraordinary ecological situation is very different from rainforests and “campos cerrados” of Brazil and the moist evergreen-dry deciduous forests of India (Webb and Tracey 1981).
The narrow strip of tall open forest where it occurs adjacent to rainforest is important for the conservation of one of the mammals restricted to the World Heritage Area, the endangered Bettongia tropica (Northern Bettong) and the northern population of threetwo other species of mammals restricted to this forest type - Petaurus australis (Yellow-belliedFluffy Glider), Bettongia penicillata (Brush-tailed Bettong) and Rattus lutreolus (Swamp Rat).
Medium and Low Woodlands Areas of medium and low Eucalyptuseucalypt woodlands have been included in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area. These are examples of widespread vegetation types found today over most of tropical Australia. Their inclusion will preserve the ecotones between rainforest and sclerophyll elements. The species compositions of both canopy and understorey differ in to rainfall, soil type, fire frequency and vegetation history over the long term.
Paperbank Swamps Melaleuca spp. (paperbanks) occur as the dominant tree species in poorly drained lowland coastal areas where the water table is near to or above ground level for most of the year. They usually occur as components of vegetation mosaics reflecting specific habitats including the Melaleuca leucodendra and M. dealbata complex in freshwater and brackish swales in old beach ridge systems; M. quinquenervia dominant in fresh water swamps; and M. viridiflora on solodic and saline sand plains. Their inclusion in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area preserves the pattern of their evolution in relation to the rainforest of North-east Australia. The Melaleuca communities often have distinct species including the epiphytes Dischidia, Hydrophytum and the Tea Tree Orchid, Dendrobium canaliculatum.
Mangroves A high degree of species diversity of mangroves trees and shrubs (c. 30 species) occurs in North-east Australia, comparable to the diversity of those of New Guinea and Southeast Asia which are acclaimed as some of the richest mangrove areas in the world. Major areas include the Hinchinbrook Channel, the north bank of the Daintree River and Alexandra Bay north of the Daintree River, all of which are included in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area.
The rainforest intergrades with the mangroves, sharing many species at the interface including Diospyros littorea, a species found only on the landward side of the mangroves.
The mangrove zone has a rich and varied epiphytic flora including ferns of the genus Drynaria and orchids of the genus Dendrobium and the Ant Plant, Myrmecodia beccarii. The ant Iridomyrmexcordatus which inhabits the Myrmecodia tends the larvae of the rare butterfly Hypochrysops apollo.
(v) Flora Within the nominated areaWet Tropics there over 3000 species of vascular plants, representing 1164 genera and 210 families. Of the genera, 75 are endemic to Australia and 43 are restricted to thewet tropical area of North-east AustraliaQueensland’s Wet Tropics. More than 700 species, or 23 per cent of the total, are found only in this area.
The nominated areaWet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area plays a vital role in the conservation of the Australian members of the Southern Hemisphere family Proteaceae. At least thirteen genera (some of which are still to be described) out of a world total of 76 occur in the nominated areaWet Tropics and 40 species are restricted to the Property. The rainforest members of the Proteaceae, living or extinct, are claimed (Johnson and Briggs 1975) to be the ancestors of the sclerophyll species such as Grevillea and Persoonia that today form such an important part of the Australian vegetation. Placospermum coriaceum, one of the most primitive plants of the Proteaceae, occurs only in the nominated areaWet Tropics.
Many examples of isolated populations of tree species occur throughout the rainforests of the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area, both on the lowlands and in the uplands. Species included on the lowlands are Storkiella australiensis and Noahdendron nicholasii which are restricted to near Cape Tribulation; Idiospermum australiense and Lindsayomyrtus brachyandrus have a disjunct distribution between the Cape Tribulation area and the Harveys Creek–Russell River area south of Cairns, both very wet humid tropical lowland areas. On the uplands Sphalmium racemosum and Stenocarpus davalloides have populations restricted to the Mt Carbine Tableland in the northern section of the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area, whereas Lomatia fraxinifolia, Darlingia darlingiana and Cardwellia sublimis are widespread. Much is yet unknown of the species distribution patterns in the tropical rainforests of North-east Australia.
The Property has a rich orchid flora. Of some 90 species present, about 59 have a restricted distribution with 43 having an extremely small range. Dendrobium fleckeri, D. adae, D. carrii with its creeping rhizome, Bulbophyllum boonjie and Saccolabiopsis rectifolia are a few examples of the restricted epiphytic orchids. Terrestrial orchids are also represented in the Property. The endemic Jewel Orchid, Anoectochilus yatesiae, is only found in the darkest, dense upland rainforests of this region.
The Property is also the home of one of the world’s largest cycads, as well as one of the smallest. Lepidozamia hopei may grow to a height of about 20m. Its population today is scattered and disjunct. The small fern-like cycad, Bowenia spectabilis, is common in the understorey of rainforest-associated communities. The related B. serrulata is represented in the nominated areaWorld Heritage Area by small disjunct populations usually associated with Agathis robusta.
The richest concentrations of ferns and fern allies in Australia are found in the nominated areaWet Tropics. Of more than 240 species occuring in these rainforests, 46 are entirely restricted to the Property. Some 17 species have extremely restricted distributions within the Property. Of the five Australian endemic fern genera (Page and Clifford 1981), four occur in the nominated areaWet Tropics (Coveniella, Neurosoria, Pteridoblechnum and Platyzoma). Pteridoblechnum is the only endemic fern genus restricted to the tropical area of northeast Australia and is represented by P. acuminatum at Mt Spurgeon and Mossman Gorge and the widely distributed P. neglectum.