National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
The Mareeba Wetlands (Qld) - conservation through sustainable tourism
Gwyneth Nevard, Co-ordinator Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland
Inspired by the world famous Bharatpur wetland in India, the Mareeba Wetlands in Far North Queensland harness seasonal excess water overflowing from the Mareeba Dimbulah Irrigation Area through a series of wetlands. Set within a 2500 hectare reserve, these wetlands compensate for the significant past loss of natural wetlands in the region. The Mareeba Wetlands are managed by the non-profit Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland, with revenue from sustainable tourism funding ongoing conservation initiatives, including work on a wide range of wetland species, including sarus cranes and cotton pygmy geese.
The establishment of the wetlands
Green Tree Frog (Robert Thorn & the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)
The Mareeba Wetlands have their genesis in 1994, when the Queensland Water Resource Commission aspired to harness the seasonally unused irrigation water from Lake Tinaroo to provide additional downstream irrigation for growing sugarcane. However, environmental impact studies had revealed massive difficulties in converting the land to irrigated sugarcane, due to erosive soils and salination potential. This being the case, the opportunity to 'transit' water through what was to become the Mareeba Tropical Savannah and Wetland Reserve became the Water Resource Commission's new focus.
Tim Nevard, who had been inspired by the 19th Century Bharaptur man-made wetlands of the World Heritage listed Keoladeo National Park in India, had recently completed the planning and concept design of the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's London Wetland Centre in the United Kingdom. He suggested that Bharatpur's well-established principles could also be applied in Far North Queensland.
The large body of available environmental and survey data, augmented by additional studies, provided a fantastic opportunity to design a project led by sustainable principles. The design included:
- connecting channels with eleven ecologically-designed wetlands ranging in size from a few hectares to several hundred, each providing different habitats
- a wetland centre and accommodation to encourage nature-based tourism that would also provide the supporting revenue stream for ongoing management
- all objectives of the Queensland Government Wetland Strategy.
This would not only help to compensate for the significant past loss of natural wetlands in the region but could also rehabilitate the severely overgrazed and degraded tropical savanna ecosystems in the reserve. It also provided the catalyst for stimulating nature-based tourism to the west of Cairns. As this planning and design work was progressing additional support was given by Dr Christoph Imboden, the then Director-General of Birdlife International, who was visiting North Queensland. He gave a presentation on what by then had become known as the Mareeba Wetlands, referring to the project as "visionary", and giving it his unequivocal support.
Gouldian Finch (Dave Watts)
The non-profit Mareeba Wetland Foundation was set up in 1996 and working in partnership with local, state and Australian governments successfully designed and constructed what has become the multi tourism award-winning Mareeba Wetlands (www.mareebawetlands.org). Subsequently, and based on the success of the Mareeba Wetlands, in 2006 the Mareeba Wetland Foundation evolved into the Wildlife Conservancy of Tropical Queensland, which is now working on a number of reserves in Far North Queensland, with revenue from sustainable tourism funding ongoing conservation initiatives, including work on sarus cranes, cotton pygmy geese, Gouldian and black-throated finches and buff-breasted button quail.
There were many trials and tribulations during the establishment of the Mareeba Wetlands; not the least of which resulted from the remodelling brought about by the impact of cyclones Steve and Rona in 1997 and 1998. The latter caused the breaching of the dam wall at Clancy's Lagoon and required a major reappraisal of the irrigation delivery function of the Mareeba Wetlands, focusing ever more closely on sustainable tourism.
Clancy's Lagoon Visitors Centre
In 1999 the Clancy's Lagoon Visitor Centre was built to a design developed by the MWF in consultation with the Savannah Guides Organisation and with involvement by the Muluridji Corporation. A Savannah Guides training opportunity was provided prior to opening, from which two participants gained employment with Savannah Guide-accredited businesses and others continued to volunteer on the reserve.
From 1999 to 2006, the Mareeba Wetlands continued to evolve, adding overnight accommodation to its offering, with the Conservancy operating tourism activities in its own right, using a mixture of employed and voluntary staff. During this period it became clear, in the absence of significant underpinning public funding, that a stronger professional and commercial focus was required to maintain a sustainable world-class tourism operation and to optimise revenue.So, in July 2007, following a public tender process, Tourism Naturally was awarded a tourism concession to operate the visitor centre and its associated safari tents, with the conservancy remaining in overall control and focused on environmental land management.
In June 2006, as a result of growing recognition, the famous Japanese sculptor, Mitsuaki Tanabe, donated an internationally significant 18 metre stainless steel sculpture of the extinct monitor Megalania priscus to the people of Australia, and which he specifically requested should be placed at the Mareeba Wetlands. His reason was that he was so impressed with its contribution to wider understanding of wetlands and particularly to draw attention to the role sensitively managed man-made wetlands can play in the conservation of wild rice species.
Since its opening in 1999 by Professor David Bellamy OBE, the Mareeba Wetlands have welcomed hundreds of thousands visitors, hundreds of school and special interest groups, and four state and three Australian Government ministers. All have come to enjoy:
- eleven man-made wetlands of high ecological value, linked by around 20 kilometres of roads and tracks
- around 10 kilometres of walking tracks
- served by mains power, a top-class visitor centre and five safari tents, volunteer warden's accommodation, three bird hides and an 18 metre sculpture of international importance.
Above all, the reserve conserves significant numbers of several nationally and regionally important species such as sarus cranes, cotton pygmy goose, black-throated finch and buff-breasted button quail. It also hosts regionally recognised Gouldian finch and freshwater crocodile reintroduction programmes, and boasts one of Australia's longest bird lists, standing at 212 by mid-2011. In short, the Mareeba Wetlands are a model marriage of wetland conservation and nature-based tourism.
For further information contact email@example.com or visit: