A View From the Understory - August 2021

A View From the Understory - August 2021

Home, home again, I like to be here when I can.

The universe came out of the big bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Our planet earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

The oldest rock material discovered on earth, at about 4.3 billions years old, is in the Kimberley’s, making the continent that we now call Australia the oldest of all earths landmasses. Sometimes known by its geological name of Sahul, it consisted of a larger landmass which included mainland Australia, Tasmania and the islands of New Guinea, and collided with Antartica as well as other landmasses about 1 billion years ago forming a large part of the super-continent Gondwana. Gondwana began to break apart during the Jurassic Age (180 million years ago) with the Australian continental plate slowly creeping north. During this northern drift the continent initially was humid and warm supporting rainforest vegetation with a vast inland dominated by wetlands, rivers and lakes. This environment nurtured the evolution of our unique fauna including marsupials.

A period of global cooling and drying began about 30 million years ago and saw the building of the Antarctic ice-sheets and the steady recession of the rainforests and subsequent transformation to the more arid loving sclerophyll forests. Over the next 30 million years, as the landmass moved north alternating waves of hot,moist and cool,dry climate conditions saw the rainforests march out over the continent and retreat again and again. However from that time to the present day, the wet tropics remained a refugia of the original Gondwana rainforests.

Australia’s First Nation People speak of being here in their country since creation times and before that it was a ‘land before time’. From then to now, the ecosystems of the Wet Tropics evolved with the continuous and measured interaction of bama . Cultural practices such as harvesting, constructing and creating, hunting and gathering and fire management shaped these ecosystems as much as has geological upheaval and time. Today the 20 rainforest Aboriginal groups with 100 clans and family groupings continue to live on and connect with their traditional lands throughout the Wet Tropics.

In contrast the first Europeans were thought to have arrived in the Wet Tropics area approximately 160 years ago establishing temporary beche de mer camps along the coast. This colonization continued with the declaration of Cairns township in 1903 and the subsequent European spread driven by mining, logging, development and agriculture to the present day.

Bulmba to the Djabugay people and the Wet Tropics bioregion to some others, encaptures and protects one of the last refugia of the ancient rainforests of Gondwana. Further, this remarkable repository of evolutionary history protects living examples of the last 200 million years from the age of the mosses and ferns, the age of conifers and cycads, the origins of the angiosperms (flowering plants) and the emergence of the sclerophyll flora that favoured the drier conditions which now dominates this landscape called Australia. This protected area of 9000 square kilometres of rainforest has more plant and animal taxa with primitive characteristics than any other region upon the earth.

I feel blessed to live where I do connected with this landscape. However these ecosystems, ecological processes, flora and fauna and natural resources, like so many others across Australia and around the earth are now under tremendous pressure from the impacts of human induced climate change, habitat fragmentation, loss of biodiversity, soil loss, and poor water quality.

We are witnessing loss of biodiversity at such extreme rates that have never been seen before in human history. Last week biodiversity experts from 134 governments completed the final draft of the Report “Global Assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services”. The report states that nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world.

The Report does recommend strongly that we take a number of urgent steps. Three of those steps would be familiar to those who have read past articles of mine. Firstly it urges us to redefine human well-being beyond the present narrow basis of economic growth thus giving individuals the opportunity to make real change through how they consume, produce and invest. Secondly it critiques the impoverished state of global environmental laws and and urges us to lobby governments to take responsibility in this space. Thirdly the report provides evidence that lands managed by Indigenous and local communities perform best in terms of biodiversity. Lets elevate the inclusion of indigenous cultural knowledge and land management now.

This article was first published in The Kuranda Paper.