World Heritage for Lake Eyre Basin?


By Lisa O'Neill
and Dave Hemming

ADELAIDE — World Heritage listing for key sites in the Lake Eyre Basin has been mooted since at least 1985, but still remains to be accomplished.

Public pressure on the issue is now beginning to build up. A public meeting was held here on May 31, organised by the Conservation Council and attended by around 200 people, including conservationists, pastoralists and other interested people.

Speaking at the meeting were Warren Bonython, author, naturalist and adventurer; Carolyn Wild, ecotourism consultant; Jim Puckeridge, wetlands ecologist; Denise Noack, PhD student; and Mark Parrell, World Heritage legislation expert.

The Lake Eyre Basin is an outstanding area of wilderness that covers one-sixth of Australia, stretching over South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Over 200 million years, the area has evolved into a mosaic of landforms, comprising a network of great dune deserts, sand plains, tablelands and biologically rich wetlands, including natural mound springs.

The basin is the second largest river system in Australia. In world terms it is unique. It is ecologically intact and biologically rich; it supports water bird densities as high as in Kakadu and more vertebrate species than Cape York.

Areas of the basin have a great significance to Aboriginal people. There are artefacts, stone engravings, ceremonial stone arrangements and burial sites. These remains are precious, irreplaceable and a record of Australian history.

Communities in the region have evolved a way of life which is distinctive. These homesteads and small towns, like the native inhabitants, depend on the soils, water, vegetation and ecological processes of the basin. If these are degraded, the lives of the communities will be damaged and possibly destroyed.

Degradation has been taking place since the arrival of Europeans in Australia and, if allowed to continue, could be catastrophic. Current causes of degradation in the area include uncontrolled vegetation clearance; intensive grazing and feral animals; mining and its infrastructure; 4WD tourism, littering, illegal fishing; introduction of exotic fish species; and commercial fishing

World Heritage could help to ensure that environmental degradation will not continue. It is a way of showing that the area is of great value and that proper management is vital.

The areas proposed for listing are the lower Cooper Creek flood plain, Lake Eyre and vicinity, and mound springs. It is also proposed that the basin be subject to a catchment management plan.

These issues were discussed at the meeting, and there was a lively debate. The pastoralists opposed the idea because they were concerned that land values would be reduced or their livelihoods taken away. They believe that World Heritage listing does not produce commercial activity or make any difference to use or protection of the area.

Three resolutions were passed calling for state and federal governments to develop an integrated catchment management program; calling on the federal government promptly to honour the Prime Minister Keating's commitment to assess the region for World Heritage listing; and urging the federal government to commit resources to ensure wise management of the area.

For further information on how to support these irreplaceable areas, contact the Conservation Council.

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