Fire a Reef issue on the Cape

2009 was a major year for fire on Cape York Peninsula.  Wildfire is a significant issue for managing nutrient and sediment flows in the Cape York catchments.  Fires in the region are responsible for extensive loss of groundcover, release of nutrients, removal of organic matter and powdering the soil surface.

Eight million hectares of the Cape burnt during 2009, equating to 61% of the total landmass.  Given that some of the Cape’s 13 million hectares is rainforest, that should never burn, such a large area affected by fire has significant land management impacts. Many of these fires occurred during the late dry season, producing burns of great intensity which removed not only green vegetation, but also fallen branches and trees that provide valuable groundcover and habitat for biodiversity. 

Fire affected some 61% of the cape in 2009. Photo shows a fire affected property in Cape York showing loss of groundcover.

A number of properties have also been burnt-out by fire activity on the Cape.  These fires, and the preceding drought, have had a very large impact on the extent of groundcover within the Reef Rescue catchments, and this will likely result in elevated levels of total suspended solids (>5x) and nutrients (>10x) being delivered to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon from these areas.  The poor conditions have caused spelling and paddock rotation associated with Reef Rescue funded projects to be postponed until groundcover improves.

Cape York Sustainable Futures is planning a number of activities to support land managers deal with the impacts of fire.  A series of fire management workshops will be conducted, to raise awareness of fire tracking websites and their functionality; property mapping will take place, including mapping of fire breaks and access routes; and mosaic burning will be encouraged, to break up the landscape and reduce large scale wildfire.  The organisation will also continue its research work capturing data about fire, sediment loads and deposition as part of a water quality risk assessment program across the region.

Contact Isha Segboer, Cape York Sustainable Futures 07 4053 2856