Cape York Peninsula is a large peninsula located in Far North Queensland, Australia. This remote peninsula is one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Its undisturbed tropical rainforests and savannas are now recognized for their global environmental significance. A nomination for World Natural Heritage is currently being considered by the Queensland and Australian Federal governments.
The Cape York Peninsula region encompasses an area of approximately 137,000 km² north of 16°S latitude. It has a population of only about 18,000, of which a large percentage (~60 %) are Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
At the tip of the peninsula lies Cape York, the northernmost point on the Australian continent. It was named by Lt. James Cook in 1770 after His Royal Highness the Duke of York. From the tip, it is about 160 km to New Guinea across the island-studded Torres Strait. The west coast borders the Gulf of Carpentaria and the east coast borders the Coral Sea.
Throughout the Pleistocene epoch Australia and New Guinea have been alternately land-linked and separated by water on a number of occasions. During periods of glaciation and resulting low sea levels, Cape York Peninsula provided a low-lying land link. Another link existed between Arnhem Land and New Guinea, at times enclosing an enormous freshwater lake (Lake Carpentaria) in the centre of what is now the Gulf of Carpentaria. In this way, Australia and New Guinea remained connected until the shallow Torres Strait was last flooded around 8,000 years ago.
The backbone of Cape York is the Peninsula Ridge, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. This mountain range is made up of ancient (1,500 million year-old) Precambrian and Palaeozoic rocks and rises to some 800m elevation in the McIlwraith Range around Coen. To the East and West of the Peninsula Ridge lie the Carpentaria and Laura Basins, themselves made up of ancient Mesozoic sediments. Those lowlands are dominated by mighty meandering rivers and vast floodplains.
There are also several outstanding landforms on the Cape York Peninsula: the large expanses of undisturbed dunefields at the eastern coast around Shelburne Bay and Cape Bedford-Cape Flattery; the huge piles of black granite boulders at Black Mountain National Park and Cape Melville; or the limestone karsts around Palmerston in the Cape’s far south.
On the Eastern slopes, the shorter, faster-flowing Jacky Jacky Creek, Olive, Pascoe, Lockhart, Stewart, Jeannie and Endeavour Rivers flow towards the Coral Sea, providing important freshwater and nutrients to the healthiest section of the Great Barrier Reef. On their way, those wild, undisturbed rivers are lined with dense rainforests, sand dunes or mangroves.
Cape York’s river catchments are noted for their exceptional hydrological integrity. With little disturbance on both water flows and vegetation cover throughout entire catchments, Cape York has been identified as one of the few places where tropical water cycles remain essentially intact. Cape York Peninsula contributes as much as a quarter of Australia's surface runoff. Indeed, with only about 2.7 percent of Australia's land area it produces more runoff than all of Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Tapping those heavy tropical rainfalls, Cape York’s rivers are also of particular importance for replenishing central Australia’s Great Artesian Basin. The Queensland Government is currently poised to protect 13 of Cape York’s wild rivers under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.
Annual rainfall is high, ranging from over 2000 mm. in the Iron Range and north of Weipa to about 700 mm. at the southern border. Almost all this rain falls between November and April, and only on the eastern slopes of the Iron Range is the median rainfall between June and September above 5mm (0.2 inches). Between January and March, however, the median monthly rainfall ranges from about 170mm (6.5 inches) in the south to over 500mm (20 inches) in the north and on the Iron Range.
Cape York Peninsula supports a complex mosaic of intact tropical rainforests, tropical savannas, heathlands, wetlands, wild rivers and mangrove swamps. Almost the entire area of Cape York (99.6%) still retains its native vegetation and is little fragmented. Therefore, the Peninsula has also been noted for its exceptionally high wilderness quality.
The majority of Cape York is covered in tropical savannas. On Cape York, this ecosystem is typically comprised of a tall dense grass layer and varying densities of trees (dominantly eucalypts), making it a tropical savanna woodland. Although abundant and fully functioning on Cape York, tropical savannas are now rare and highly degraded in other parts of the world.
Cape York’s tropical rainforests cover an area of 748,000 ha, or 5.6 percent of the total land area. Rainforests depend on some level of rainfall throughout the long Dry season, climatic conditions that are mostly found on the eastern slopes of the Cape’s coastal ranges. Being almost exclusively untouched, old-growth forests and supporting a disproportionately high biodiversity, all those forests are of high conservation significance. The largest contiguous rainforest area on the Cape occurs in the McIllwraith Range-Iron Range area. This area contains at least 1000 different plants, including 100 rare or threatened species, supports 16% of Australia's orchid species and 200 species of butterfly including 11 endemic butterflies.
On poor, dry soils tropical heathlands can be found. North-east Cape York supports Australia’s largest areas of this highly diverse ecosystem.
The extensive wetlands on Cape York Peninsula are “among the largest, richest and most diverse in Australia”. 19 wetlands of national significance have been identified, mostly on the large floodplains and in coastal areas. Important wetlands include the Jardine Complex, Lakefield, and the estuaries of the great rivers of the western plains. Many of these wetland come into existence only during the Wet season and support rare or uncommon plant communities, provide important fish habitat, crocodile habitat and drought refuge.
Cape York’s coastal areas and river estuaries are lined with mangrove forests. Australia’s largest mangrove forest can be found at Newcastle Bay. They are noted for their importance as a fish nursery and crocodile habitat.
Some of the world's most extensive and ancient rock painting galleries surround the town of Laura, some of which are available for public viewing. There is also a new Interpretive Centre from which information on the rock art and local Aboriginal culture is available and tours can be arranged.
Major national parks include the Jardine River National Park in the far north, Mungkan Kandju National Park near Aurukun, and Lakefield National Park, in the south-east of the bioregion.
Cape York Peninsula: decades of hard work, relationship-building and trust are paying off as Aboriginal homelands are given back to Traditional Owners. Andrew Picone and Leah Talbot report on the historic result of the bold agreement to protect both natural and cultural values.
Oct 12, 2011; [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Indigenous groups and the conservation movement reached an historic agreement over 15 years ago to...
New era for Cape York Peninsula Land Management.(Campaign news)(Cape York Peninsula Heritage Bill)(Brief article)
Oct 01, 2007; Over the past year Indigenous organisations of Cape York Peninsula have delivered a strong message to the Queensland government...
Let's take about World Heritage for Cape York Peninsula: it's hard to believe that despite its unique environmental and living cultural heritage, Cape York Peninsula is not on the international World Heritage list.(Cape York)
May 09, 2012; [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] World Heritage recognises more than 900 places around the world that have been found to have universally...