Saturday, January 10, 2009

Conserving Dampier Peninsula’s Vulnerable vine thickets

This is a photograph of a fully laden Gubinge (Terminalia ferdinandiana) taken at James Price Point last weekend. This fruit is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C in the world - 50 times that of the oranges. The Dampier Peninsula, located between Broome and Derby in the Kimberley region of WA, contains significant communities of native vine thickets, remnant of monsoonal rainforests more often restricted to the wetter parts of northern Australia.

Many species in the Peninsula’s thickets are located at the southern limits of their range. The vine thickets are renowned for their high biodiversity value and provide important habitat for native fauna and valuable food sources and cultural significance for Aboriginal people.

About 90% of the total 1,000 ha of thickets occurs on Aboriginal reserves and grazing leases, and over the past 10 - 15 years Indigenous communities have been engaged in the protection, harvesting and conservation of these vine thickets.
The vine thickets occur as discrete and discontinuous patches of dense semi-deciduous vegetation situated on the leeward slopes of coastal sand dunes. The patches increase in species diversity and structural composition progressively towards the northern end of the Peninsula and can range in size from a stand of several trees to a patch greater than 60ha. The network of patches ensures species migration and gene flow, and the loss and degradation of a single patch can leave isolated patches vulnerable to local species extinction.
These Vine thickets are already increasingly threatened by the combined effects of frequent hot wildfires, weed infestation, impacts of off-road driving, camping, and damage from cattle. The development of a proposed LNG Gas Hub at James Prices Point will definitely add to these pressures.

Dampier Peninsula’s vine thickets are recognised as Threatened Ecological Communities under State legislation, and are listed as ‘Vulnerable’, facing a high risk of total destruction in the medium to long term.

In 2005, the WA TEC Scientific Committee reassessed the plight of the vine thickets and recommended that the communities be upgraded to ‘Endangered’, which means that they face a very high risk of total destruction in the near future.

This is not the scrubby bush our Premier would want people to believe. To some, the vegetation on the Peninsular may appear dull and uninteresting, but to those who take the time to understand its complexities, it reveals a wealth of fascinating plant communities.

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