Seasonal changes take hold in Julaymba 1. With a flick of the tail, Yirrmbal 2 slides away through the gorge. Kabakabada 3 lingers and shuffles as Duluruiji 4 circles to land. Coming to the cool dry now. Herons stalk slow and stealthful, bait-fish surge and coruscate. Bilngkumu 5 bask all along the banks of the great green and brown beguiling river.
Two stunning figures perch atop the tallest tree on Pig Island - Glossy Black-necked Storks at their nest, 30m above it all with a commanding view of the canopy, the river, the cane and cattle-pasture, and the mountains beyond. This is the mid-estuary reaches of the Daintree River - Eastern Yalanji Country, and my weekday office.
It’s raining again. 700mm over the Easter long weekend - hundreds of milimetres persisting into May and bringing debris down into the estuary. More flotsam and jetsam, more sediment, more nutrients and chemicals. Flooding rains are no stranger to this landscape, nor the flow of rich alluvial soils that engulf, then enrich and renew the floodplains at the edge of the land.
The floodwaters now carry herbicides, growth regulators, defoliants, pesticides, surfactants and fertilizers. Together with plastics in various stages of decomposition, the chemical load forms a potent potpourri of human legacy.
It is true that now we are doing so much better than ever before. We know so much more and resources are plentiful for land and water managers to design and deploy sustainable projects throughout the Wet Tropics region. Regulations are comprehensive and rigorous…
But each time I open my communications channels, there are more reports of the unfolding impacts of the perfect storm that is the anthropocene. Even as I tell the tourists on my boat that the river got very good marks in the latest Wet Tropics Waterways Health Report, I tell myself the other narrative - that what happens in the catchment will compound downstream.
I explain the complexity and productivity of mangroves, the cradle of so much that is the essence of the estuary, and their influence along the coastline, out to the reef and beyond - through the south-west Pacific and the Indo-Malay. I also mark the bleached expanses along the Reef, and the pockets of eerie silence that appear in the nooks and crannies of this relict paradise.
The truth is that we are inevitably changing the landscape around us as we go about our workaday lives. The landforms and their associated ecological units are no longer what they were. They are now examples of “The New Nature”.
I know all this - it is at the center of what I do - and so the story I tell each day is the story of the new river and the new floodplain and the new future. As a wise man once said: “You can never step in the same river twice.”
Anthony Too President FoE FNQ
Photos by David White [email protected]:
1. Looking north to Wundu (Thornoton's Peak) from Pig Island
2. Charlotte blends in to erosion mitigation installation - who needs mangroves when you can have wire and rocks?
This article first appeared in the Kuranda paper 343 June 2022