2.0 Study Area
3.0 Previous Studies
4.0 Current Status
4.1 Visitor frequency
4.2 1998 Vegetation Survey
5.0 Management of the Blue Pool Area
This is an independent report executed by Greening Australia – Queensland (Inc), as a component of the Community Vegetation Management Program.
The Blue Pool is a local resident colloquialism for a section of Cooper Creek that comprises a deeply incised channel bed located within complex rainforest in the lowland Daintree area. Owing to a combination of factors which include ease of access, and good swimming within a rainforest environment, the Blue Pool has been a popular recreational spot for many years. In recent years, primarily since 1993, the Blue Pool has been the attention of commercial tourism operators. The land tenure of the southern bank is road reserve, managed in trust by the Douglas Shire Council. The northern bank is private property, lot 52 owned by P. Hewett. Commercial operators have taken advantage of the non-necessity of paying license fees (as would be the required in National Park area) by utilising the land tenure of the Blue Pool and surrounds to their commercial advantage.
The Blue Pool is located within a loci of high environmental values. The Cooper Creek area (Goosem 1991, Small 1998), is an area of known outstanding biodiversity values, with the habitats of many rare and restricted plant and animal species being represented. The blue Pool area has many of these species represented, and in itself is an outstanding area of biodiversity. Some of the species represented about the Blue Pool are entirely restricted to the riparian habitats of such stream systems.
In 1996, prompted by resident concerns, a study on the state of the Blue Pool was carried out by Greening Australia – Queensland (Inc.). Within this report a number of attributes of concern were raised, and this report was used as a basis for approaching relevant management agencies for cooperation in the development of a suitable management plan to mitigate impacts about the Blue Pool. In 1996 a full impact survey and visitor survey to the Blue Pool was carried out by the School for International Training (Van Etten 1996). In 1998, despite minor efforts by management agencies to address some of the issues raised in these two reports, and by the local residents, Greening Australia – Queensland (Inc.) again carried out a field survey at the behest of local residents to determine whether there had been any quantifiable changes in the status of the area about the Blue Pool as a result of uncontrolled visitor access.
The primary aim of this current study is three fold:
• To establish whether there has been a change in the status of the Blue Pool area between 1995 and 1998,
• If there is such, to identify those agencies contributing to this change of status, including highlighting the demonstrated threatening process,and
• To reiterate the impact mitigation strategies that were originally documented in the 1995 report by Greening Australia – Queensland (Inc.).
2.0 Study Area
The Blue Pool is a short section of deeply incised stream channel of Cooper Creek. The incision is a result of the sharp angled bend occurring in this section of channel, and there is a minor tributary entering Cooper Creek at this point also. The deep water resulting is maintained by annual flooding events which gouge out this section. Consequently the stream bed is primarily exposed clay with a large area of accumulated leaf litter in deep water, with the eddy side of the bank (southern side) having an accretion of alluvial material of a sandy nature. The northern bank of the Blue Pool is a moderate to steep escarpment varying between 3 to 7 metres in height. This bank is stabilised by the presence of number of large trees, the largest being a specimen of the rare species ”Ristantia pachysperma”.
The northern bank is freehold land, lot 52, and is within the World Heritage Area. The southern bank of Cooper Creek about the Blue pool is a spur of deposited alluvial material, which is seasonally inundated, with a short steep bank of between one to one and half metres. The southern bank is accessed by traversing a section of rainforest from the nearby Flametree Road. The northern bank is accessed through trespass on lot 52.
The rainforest about the Blue Pool is structurally classified as complex mesophyll vine forest. This is the ultimate expression of rainforest in Australia, and is one of the most endangered rainforest systems in the Wet Tropics Region with less than 10% of the type remaining (Goosem 1998). This rainforest type is especially noted as being the habitat for many rare and threatened species located within the precinct. These species are presented in appendix One.
3.0 Previous Studies
Past studies on the status of the Blue Pool and surrounds were carried out in 1995 (Small – Greening Australia) and 1996 (Van Etten – School for International Training). The following is a summary of results and
recommendations from these two studies.
• Eight species of rare and threatened plants were located. Of these, ”Waterhousea mulgraveana”, is restricted to riparian habitats,
• Soil compaction and erosion along established trails has resulted in the death of many seedlings, ferns and other associated groundcovers,
• Sheet overland flow during rainfall events has scoured the exposed soil surface, with increasing root exposure,
• Vandalism and accidental damage of existing mature and transgressive species is rampant,
• Areas of access to the river bank are heavily eroded,
• Of the approximately 233 individual plants monitored for accidental or deliberate damage, 176 exhibited signs of such damage. Of these, 88 individual plants were rare and threatened species,
• Through documented survey results held in 1996, an average of over 30 visitors per day visited the Blue Pool, and at the height of the tourist season over 300 visitors per day have been recorded,
• 83% of all visitors to the area ignored a Department of Environment sign stating the Blue Pool was “Closed for Revegetation”
• trespass is a common occurrence on lot 52, with severe implications towards the landowners in relation to injury and damages claims should a visitor suffer an accident using a non-sanctioned rope swing on a tree on this property.
• Rubbish about the Blue Pool area is a common feature, and includes papers, plastics and glass, as well as left over foodstuffs;
• The area has being used intermittently as a toilet area by visitors, with evidence of faecal contamination.
• the Blue Pool area should be closed to commercial tourism traffic through closure of Flametree road as a public road reserve,
• hardened infrastructure such as boardwalks, would have a negligible effect in mitigating the damage sustained by visitors, as 1) visitors are unlikely to use infrastructure limiting their recreational opportunities, 2) the area is subject to seasonal flooding, and all infrastructure would be exposed to varying degrees of severity,
• there are areas of other opportunity within the Daintree lowland that offer similar recreational opportunities, without the severity of impacts as exhibited at the Blue Pool. These should be promoted, rather than the Blue Pool area.
4.0 Current Status
The Blue Pool area was resurveyed between May and August, 1998. During this period of time information was gathered related the presence and status of rare and threatened plant species and the extent and nature of those processes deemed as threatening to the maintenance of the ecological values of the Blue Pool area.
4.1 Visitor Frequency
Visitor frequency, and type of recreational use in the area, greatly influence the intensity and distribution of adverse environmental impacts on plant form and function, soil stabilisation and subsequent susceptibility to soil erosion. Visitor frequency also determines the extent of litter in the area. The survey by Van Etten (1996) found that 242 people visited the Blue Pool in a period of 8 days. Of these, 162 were visitors to the area with approximately half being with organised tours. The remainder, 80 people, classified themselves as ‘locals’.
During the course of this current re-survey it was not possible to carry out the detail of visitor study that Van Etten embarked upon. It should be pointed out that surveyed time period for his study was extremely restricted, and thus introduces a degree of bias that makes interpolation of his results for management decisions a risky proposition. This bias is based on the timing of the sampling. An eight day period is not indicative of the relative use of the
Blue Pool area over a full year. The actual usage of the Blue Pool could be expected to be both drastically higher during the peak tourism season, and nonexistent during the wet season and flood events. As an example, during the course of the current survey in one day an estimated 136 people visited the Blue Pool between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm. The majority of these came in 6 tour vehicles belonging to 3 commercial tour companies. Other visitors to the Blue Pool indicated they were staying in local accommodation houses.
The intensity and frequency of visitors to the Blue Pool and immediate surrounds must be considered a major threatening process to the on-going maintenance of Blue Pool as a functional ecological unit of high integrity.
4.2 1998 Vegetation Survey
The report by both Small (1995) and Van Etten (1996), identified a number of attributes of concern related to visitor impact at the Blue Pool. The major attributes were the soil erosion on site, and the damage, both direct (vandalism, accidental) and indirect (soil compaction, restriction of seedling recruitment) to vegetation. The current survey has confirmed these attributes of concern to be major symptoms of the threatening processes initiated by visitors to the Blue Pool.
The following impacts are those as confirmed with this 1998 survey.
• Seedling growth and recruitment is non-existent throughout most of the reserve about the Blue Pool. The original extent of seedling recruitment suppression as identified in 1995 and 1996 were primarily limited to a series of established trails and the banks of the creek where access is gained to the Blue Pool. The lack of seedling recruitment is linked to two suppressive influences. Firstly, mature trees in the reserve are under considerable stress through soil erosion, compaction, vandalism and accidental damage. Consequently their ability to reproduce may have been compromised through these actions. Secondly, where there has been recruitment, ie., seeds have successfully germinated, their life expectancy is very short as they are particularly vulnerable to destruction through trampling.
• The lack of seedling growth and recruitment has been compounded in that the extent of area about the Blue Pool utilised by visitors has greatly increased, with people no longer simply using those few trails as identified by Van Etten (1966). Thus, those impacts have spread over a wider area than was previously identified 3 years ago.
• The absolute number of individuals of species has quantifiably diminished since the survey of 1996. In 1996, 88 individual rare and threatened plants representing 8 species were damaged either accidentally or through vandalism. In 1998 this figure was 102, with a total number of damaged plants exceeding 320. This is a direct function of increasing visitor numbers within a limited area. Some of the plants that were recorded in 1995 and 1996 no longer exist.
• With an increase in the extent of area now affected by visitors, further survey identified another two rare and threatened species than were identified in the original surveys, and resolved the nomenclature of two species. Previously ”Haplostichanthus sp. (Cape Tribulation)” and ”Haplostichanthus sp. (Cooper Creek)” were regarded as separate species. These are now classified as the one species. The two additional species are ”Waterhousea mulgraveana” and ”Idiospermum ausraliense”.
• ”Waterhousea mulgraveana” and ”Syzygium xerampelinum” are species which are riparian dependent. They are restricted to the creek banks, and ongoing deterioration of the banks through uncontrolled access to the Blue Pool is compromising the critical habitat area for these two species.
• Soil erosion about the Blue Pool area has reached the situation where plants, including large trees, have substantial areas of previously buried roots exposed to human trafffic. The depth of erosion varies across the site, but with cross reference to previous survey results in 1995, soil erosion in some areas about the Blue Pool has removed up to 32 cm of topsoil. In the worst affected areas, some 30 square metres, it is estimated up to 6 cubic metres of soil has been eroded. This soil erosion loss has compounded difficulties for plant species trying to re-establish themselves in these areas.
• Moisture, shade requiring species, primarily the ferns and some epiphytes, have diminished in diversity and frequency about the Blue Pool area. Most vulnerable have been the ground ferns, and the small filmy ferns and mosses currently found on tree trunks and rocks of the area. There are a number of causal factors, which include higher temperatures and light regimes and lower humidity levels (associated with canopy thinning due to stress on canopy trees) and direct destruction through trampling, and loss of topsoil necessary for population maintenance requirements.
• Deliberate vandalism and accidental damage have increased since the 1995 survey, with a higher proportion of surveyed plants exhibiting indications as deliberate cutting of shrubs and saplings that overgrow trails, scuffing of exposed root surfaces, and twig breakage and leaf stripping. In addition, there is a large and rare tree individual on private land that has axe marks cut into the tree for footholds for a rope swing. These axe marks are now exhibiting signs of fungal infection, as is the ringbarked collar about where the rope swing is connected. This particular tree is a major component of the stabilisation of the northern bank of the Blue Pool and loss of this large tree (”Ristantia pachysperma”) will result in spectacular and sudden slumping of the bank.
• Faecal contamination about the Blue Pool is obvious, as are signs of other pollutants including glass, plastic and cans, although some local residents do attempt to remove the non-organic pollutants on an irregular basis.
5.0 Management of the Blue Pool area
The Blue Pool is located between the private property of lot 52, and the Flametree Road reserve, and is within the World Heritage Area. Access is either through lot 52 or through the road reserve. The road reserve is managed in trust for the Department of Lands by the Douglas Shire Council. The boundary of the World Heritage Area about the Blue Pool is a matter for debate by the relevant management authorities. The defined boundary is the high point of the southern bank of Cooper Creek. From a hydrological regime perspective, the high point of the bank is that achieved by water flow of the stream system at the highest normal peak flow during the year and/or the highest physical point of the levee of the stream system. This definition is used by the Water Resources Commission within the Water Resources amendment Act (Qld 1993), which precludes the clearing or removal of vegetation between the defined high point to high point bed of a declared waterway without permit authorisation. Under this definition, the forested section of the road reserve about the Blue Pool is within the World Heritage Area. However this definition is not accepted by the Wet Tropics Management Authority, who maintain that the lowest stream bed point of the Blue Pool is the World Heritage boundary. This boundary has never been surveyed, and despite the Flametree Roads very high World Heritage natural values (that is, representation by rare and restricted species, species which are examples of ongoing evolutionary processes and species relictual from past geological times) it has not been acknowledged as being a priority for management consideration.
Legislation governing the protection of individual species listed under a conservation status is enacted through the ”Nature Conservation Act – Qld 1992”. Those species deemed to be legislated for are defined within the schedules of the accompanying regulations to this act, namely the Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulations. The agency with the mandate for enforcing these regulations is the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage. There are a number of regulatory options available to the Department, however none of these have been actively pursued owing to a number of factors:
• DEH believe that the area is outside the World Heritage Area, and have interpreted their own Act in that the legislation does not apply to plants listed under the schedules outside of the protected reserve system. This would appear to be in contradiction of previous actions where Interim Conservation Orders have been placed on freehold lands outside the reserve system;
• DEH do not believe that there is ongoing threatening process of a magnitude great enough to compromise the continued survival of these specie;
• There are limited mechanisms under the Act to impose Interim Conservation Orders on crown land, such as road reserves, administered in trust by local government;
• DEH do not have the resources to trial the imposition of regulatory mechanisms over riding what they perceive as local government responsibility, and setting a precedent for such actions.
The overall impasse is the reluctance of the Department of Environment and Heritage to impose regulatory controls over an area that is seen as the responsibility of local government. This reluctance would appear to be in direct contradiction of a mandate outlining their own area of responsibility under the Nature Conservation Act.
Notwithstanding such lack of action, the DEH have attempted to introduce voluntary mechanisms to reduce the numbers of visitors to the Blue Pool area. Two signs have been placed at the beginning of the access trails to the Blue Pool. One sign was erected in 1996 and states “Area Closed for Revegetation”. Van Etten (1966), in his survey of visitors, found that 83% of all visitors ignored the sign and walked past it – the majority being commercial tour operators. In 1998, the sign has been vandalised, and visitors continue to ignore the sign. An extra sign has been raised in 1998 which has been more effective. The Blue Pool is near the tidal reach of Cooper Creek, and has been known as a crocodile habitat for a number of years. An official DEH “Beware of Crocodiles” sign has been erected beside the existing sign.
From observation during 1998, this sign has certainly deterred casual visitors from local accommodation houses, but not organised commercial tourism. The implications for a commercial tourist operator if a person is attacked by a crocodile while swimming in the Blue Pool, after walking past a warning sign would be extremely serious. However, these operators are willing to take the risk, some do not believe that the Blue Pool is a crocodile habitat, and others are unaware of the legal ramifications that may follow. The Department of Environment should strongly emphasise these ramifications and risks to the commercial tourism operators, through whatever communications mechanisms that are available.
The Douglas Shire Council has been approached in relation to support in closing the road reserve as a public road. To date there have been limited attempts by the DSC to gain a consensus from local landowners related to access rights and privilege if the reserve is closed. Ultimate decision on the road closure is the responsibility of the Lands Department, which has been accepting seemingly flawed advice from other management agencies in relation to the importance of the Blue Pool, and the nature and extent of the threatening processes, ie., unregulated visitor access into a ecofunctional sensitive habitat.
There has been nominal support from Douglas Shire Council in respect of submissions to the Lands Department to close Flametree Road as a public reserve. Flametree services only two properties, the owners both whom are in agreement in closing the road reserve. Douglas Shire Council have taken the position that Flametree Road is a public reserve and there is a public right to be able to access the Blue Pool. The council have proposed hardened infrastructure for the Blue Pool area such as boardwalks, and have sought funding from the Daintree Rescue Program for this infrastructure, but have been refused on the basis of the constraints listed earlier in relation to infrastructure.
The recently initiated local vegetation protection law for the Douglas Shire has no mechanisms within it to be able to rule over such a case. There is an additional complication related to management of the Blue Pool area that has not been considered by the management agencies. This is that only one side of the Blue Pool is public land. The northern side of the Blue Pool is private land, and is subject to trespass, destruction and damage to rare and threatened plant species, rubbish, and the other attributes that have previously been noted. Owing to the topographical features of the northern bank, ie., very steep, these attributes are not as marked as they are on the southern bank section. However, there is very considerable scope for legal complications if there is an accident involving visitors to the Blue Pool trespassing on the northern bank to use a (illegally placed and without owner consent) rope swing on a large overhanging tree. This northern bank is private land within the World Heritage Area, and the owners have legal obligations under the ”World Heritage Act” to maintain the World Heritage values of their property. Their ability to satisfy these obligations are compromised by management agencies who have provided no support in regard to management of the Blue Pool area, and illegal access to their property.
The primary aim of this report is to illustrate that there are major threatening processes degrading the natural World Heritage Values of a small area of outstanding biological significance. This has been done through a direct comparison of quantifiable floristic survey work carried out in 1995 and 1996, with survey work carried out in 1998. In addition it has been clearly demonstrated that there exists little will or cooperation within the various government agencies at all levels to accept responsibility for management of this area.
In 1992 one of the major threatening processes identified at a workshop of technical experts on the conservation of rare and threatened species was that:
“official ineptitude/inaction can be a threat in itself to the survival of rare and/or threatened species” (Werren 1992).
Management agencies were notified of the existence and extent of the degradation of the values of the Blue Pool in 1996. Little or no action has followed, and this inaction is clearly one of the major threatening processes that the Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Rare and/or Threatened Wet Tropics Biota report identified.
The situation in relation to the Blue Pool is not unique. There exist other areas of outstanding biological values where management decisions have been deferred owing to lack of acceptance of responsibility or “official ineptitude” in relation to the interpretation of the legislative regulatory mechanisms that are at their disposal. Even when there is acknowledgment of these mechanisms there is the lack of will and resources to enforce these mechanisms.
The recommendations in relation to impact mitigation and future management of the Blue Pool have not significantly altered since the initial report in 1995.
Given that the management agencies responsible for the maintenance of the ecological values of the Blue Pool have not agreed as to who should be the lead agency in the management of the area, it is imperative that a forum be held with the heads of those agencies who have the authoritative right to accept responsibility and make decisions on behalf of their respective agencies. The total of the recommendations are that:
• a round table forum with landowners and management agency authorities be a matter of priority, with agencies accepting clearly defined areas of responsibility as laid out in the relevant legislation appropriate to each agency,
• the Blue Pool should be closed to commercial tourism traffic with closure of Flametree Road as a public road reserve,
• hardened infrastructure such as boardwalks is not suitable as an impact mitigation strategy on the basis that:
1) visitors and locals have indicated they are unlikely to use infrastructure limiting their recreational opportunities, and
2) the area is subject to seasonal flooding, and all infrastructure would be exposed to varying degrees of damage from such events.
Goosem S. (1991) Conservation Significance of the Cooper Creek Area,
Internal Report. Department of Environment and Heritage, Cairns
Small A (1995) A report on the Current Status of the Blue Pool, Cooper
Creek, Greening Australia – Queensland (Ltd.)
Small A. (1998) Cooper Creek Wilderness, a Window on the Daintree
National Estates Program, Canberra
Van Etten K. (1996) The Impacts of Dainly Visitors on the Land Surrounding the
Blue Pool on Cooper Creek. School of International Training.
Werren G. (1992) A Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of Rare and/or Threatened Wet Tropics Biota World Wildlife Fund for Nature (Australia)
Rare and/or threatened Plant species, Blue Pool area.
Species Constat Code
”Idiospermum australiense” rare a rare and primitive species, rare on site
”Syzygium xerampelinum” rare a small tree of riparian verges, particularly vulnerable to soil erosion and disturbance
”Waterhousea mulgraveana” rare a small tree of riparian verges, particularly vulnerable to soil erosion and disturbances
”Haplostichanthus sp. (Cooper Creek” BG 2433) rare.
An undescribed and poorly known understorey species that is common about the Blue Pool, but particularly vulnerable to damage
”Ristantia pachysperma” rare large tree with axe footholds carved into it, damage from climbing and rope swing, saplings and seedlings damaged and destroyed
”Normanbaya normanbayi” vulnerable mature palm, root system exposed through erosion
”Medicosma sessiliflora” rare small tree, rare on site
”Mesua larnachiana” rare small tree, rare on site
”Cleistanthus mirianthus” rare Small, uncommon tree about the Blue Pool
The conservation status codes (constat) are those used in the schedules of the ”Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulations Qld 1994”