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Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy


The Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy (CYPLUS) was a joint initiative between the Australian and Queensland Governments.

  • Stage 1 involved data collection, issues identification and analysis of opportunities and constraints.
  • Stage 2 involved the development of a coordinated strategy for sustainable land use and economic and social development.
  • Stage 3 consisted of implementation and evaluation.

Data and Resources

Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy Thematic Report 2 Of 3 Land Use and Economy
pdfReference Document

7.57 MB

The land on the Cape York Peninsula has historically been utilised by different cultures for different uses. Aboriginal land use was managed by a complex set of cultural practices involving some ecological manipulation (principally by fire) and a degree of active resource replenishment. Torres Strait Islander land use involved a similar manner of management as the Aboriginal people, with Torres Strait Islanders using the islands and waters of the Torres Strait in accordance to a complex set of cultural practices involving resource mangement. Non-indigenous land use has involved waves of settlement begining in the 1870's with miners and pastoralists with residential communities which fluctuated in size and location according to mining prosperity. In recent years conservation as a land use has become more significant.

Land tenure historically reflects land use patterns and thus is a useful tool within the report. The major land tenures in 1995 were Pastoral holdings (7,819,240 hectares) constituting 57.2% of the total land area, followed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lands (2,023,200 hectares) constituting 14.8%, and National parks (1,367,000 hectares) which covered 10% of the total land area.

The land and natural resources on the Cape York Peninsula were cosnidered to be of economic value as they support a wide range of economic activities. These economic values were estabished as tourism and recreation values, mineral values, agricultural values, aquacultural values, forest values, fishing values, nature conservation values, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values, and other values (including defence force use). The Gross Regional Product (GPR) of the CYPLUS area in 1991-92 was $303 million with the most siginificant industry.

Constraits to the expansion of land use and various econimic activities were identified by the report including; fluctuation in demand, loss of access to land resources, loss of resources due to overuse or non-sustainable practices, lack of industry infrastructure, low resource productivity, high cost of resource utilisations or management, and a lack of investment capital.

The CYPLUS report establishes various possible expansions of the then current (1995) land use of Cape York within the previously established economic values while also raising the issues regarding non-sustainability of this land use including land degredation, loss of habitat, and the destruction of cultural sites.

The key policy issues established by the report were examples of non sustainable management of resources, competition for resources or land, infrastructure issues inluding poor quality of transport links, and the need for a systems based planning approach.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy Thematic Report 1 Of 3 Natural Resources and Ecology
pdfReference Document

8 MB

The Cape York Peninsula is a diverse and important region of tropical Australia covering 13,720,000 hectares. The Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy (CYPLUS) was established in 1992 as a joint initiative of the Queensland and Commonwealth Governments to provide a vehicle for the establishment of objectives for the use of land and land-related natural resources within the guidelines of the Australian and Queensland Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) policy. The CYPLUS process contains 3 stages, with stage 1 consisting of three thematic reports; Natural Resource and Ecology, Land Use and Economy, and Society and Culture.

The majority of the Cape York Peninsula is comprised of roughly 75% level plains with the highest land (800m) occurring in the central-eastern uplands in the Coen/Iron Range area. The area has a monsoonal climate with distinct wet and dry seasons, with less than 60% of the area experiencing greater than 2100mm of rainfall per year. Generally, the northern and eastern areas are wetter than the south and south-west.

There are 16 complete river basins in the Cape York Peninsula of which the Mithcell is the largest in both catchment area and discharge. The rivers draining to the east are generally short and steep while westerly flowing rivers (and the north-flowing Normanby) are large, high volume rivers. The supply of water at the time (1995) was seen to be plentiful, however, flows are highly seasonal. Lagoons and wetlands are more numerous on the west coast while groundwater deposits are abundant in the Carpentaria, Laura, and Karumba basins.

The study area contained 7 geological regions ranging form the younger (1.65-65 million-year-old) sedimentary deposits of the Karumba basin to the ancient (1,500 million-year-old) metamorphic formations of the Coen Inlier. Within these regions numerous minerals of significant economic importance gold, bauxite, kaolin, and silica sand.

One hundred and thirteen soil types were identified on the Cape York Peninsula with ten major types identified. The most common of these (covering 10% of the study area) includes the deeply-bleached gradational yellow massive soils formed on residual sands from Pormpuraaw through Coen to the east coast. The majority of the soils on the Cape York Peninsula had low levels of plant nutrients and were deficient in nitrogen and phosphorus, with this infertility being identified as a factor which limits the range of plant communities which due to the high rainfall would otherwise be present.

Thirty broad vegetation groups were recorded on the Cape York Peninsula constituting 3,338 species with rare and threatened species making up 11.4% of this statistic. Fourteen species of seagrass were recorded from the Torres Strait and East Coast of the Peninsula while 36 mangrove species were found within the extensive mangrove wetlands along both coasts of the Cape York Peninsula.

The Cape York Peninsula is particularly diverse in fauna, with over 509 species of terrestrial vertebrates being found including one-quarter of Australia's frogs, one-quarter of its reptiles, one-half of its birds, and one-third of its mammals. Aquatic species included 73 species of fish and 15 species which spend part of their life cycle within freshwater environments. Rich and diverse fish and crustacean fauna were found in offshore waters, many of which are of commercial significance.

Three ecological threats were identified by the report including weeds, pest animals, and fire. Over 35 species of introduced weeds were identified throughout most ecosystems on cape york, ten were considered to carry major importance with rubber vine being regarded the most serious. Pond apple was also identified to be of serious concern and threatened to become one of the worst weed species in the future. Pest animals such as feral pigs, dingos and feral dogs, feral horses, and feral cats were identified to cause significant damage to natural ecosystems within the Cape York Peninsula. The feral pig was considered the most serious threat with a population of one to two million being estimated in 1995. Fire is important in maintaining habitat diversity and man-made managed burns have extended the influence of fire and has had an effect on the vegetation of the Cape York Peninsula. The interruption of this well-established fire regime was seen to have the potential to alter the balance of rainforest, woodlands, and grasslands. Unwanted fires from the activities of travellers and tourists were also identified to be a threat to the environment.

The key policy issue identified by this report was the preservation and protection of natural values in terms of biodiversity and ecological processes. These values were seen to require protection within both protected areas (National Parks and reserves under fisheries legislation) and other land. Two solutions were raised for this issue; the expansion of the protected network, and multiple objective management on land. The management of ecological threats was also identified by the report as requiring attention.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy Overview of Current Resources, Land Uses and Issues
pdfReference Document

8.68 MB

The Cape York Peninsula is a diverse and important region of tropical Australia covering 13,720,000 hectares. The Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy (CYPLUS) was establisehd in 1992 as a joint initiative of the Queensland and Commonwealth Govermnents to provide a vehicle for the establishment of objectives for the use of land and land-related natural resources within the guidelines of the Australian and Queensland Ecologoically Sustainable Development (ESD) policy. The CYPLUS process contains 3 stages. Stage 1 which incorporated date collection, issue identification, and analyisis of opportunities and constraints for existing and future land use. Stage 2 involved the development of strategic directions for land and resource use in the form of principles, policies, and mechanisms for their implementation which will be recommended for govermnent approval. Stage 3 was the strategy implementation phase.

Stage 1 consisted of three thematic reports; Nautral Resource and Ecology, Land Use and Economy, and Society and Culture and trhese three reports were then combined into this overview report.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: National Resources Analysis Program Airborne Geophysical Data for Cape York Peninsula
pdfReference Document

3.72 MB

The Airborne Geophysical Survey Project had compiled and upgraded four major regional data sets from Cape York including magnetic, gamma-ray, gravity, and height of ground above sea level. The magnetic and gravity data sets cover all of Cape York, the gamma ray data set covers all of onshore Cape York except for one small part of Cape Melville, and the height data set only covers half of Cape York including Hann River, and Weipa. This project was undertaken to increase the usefullness of the then existing magnetic, gamma-ray, and gravity data for regional geological interpretation by improving the quality and consistentcy of the available data. The data was converted to a GIS so that could be used for landscape description, analysis, and modelling.

The data was created with the main intentions for use being in studies relating to resoureces, geology, regolith, and soils however when coupled with the height data they give important and usefull information on ground water, engineering, infrastructure, erosion, flooding, and other natural sciences.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: Land Use Program: Animal and Weed Pests of Cape York Peninsula
pdfReference Document

5.76 MB

Australia has long been an isolated evolutionary cradle of unique species of plants and animals. The evolutionarily recent invasion of a whole host of animal and plant species has caused significant problems for the ecosystem.

Information on the distribution and abundance of pest species occuring in the CYPLUS area from past pest surveys, ground surveys, and interview methods at the time. Relevant information on the impact, control methods, biuology, legislation, and management principals were presented. Seven species of animals were recognised as pests including the most significant such as feral pigs, ding/wild dogs, feral horses, and feral cats. 41 weed species were also identified on Cape York with 37 occuring in the CYPLUS area with four identified as the most signficant. Pest management on Aboriginal lands was identified as a complex issue that needed to be adressed wioth the threat of importation of exotic diseases of exotic weed species a major concern for this region. It was deemed trhat the potential of a serious outbreak was significant and that management plans specigic to the region must be developed to prevent this from occurring.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: Land Use Program: Areas Containing Significant Species or Habitats Outside the Existing National Parks and Reserves Network on Cape York Peninsula
pdfReference Document

8.84 MB

The Conservation and Natural Heritage Assesment Project was one of the 24 projects undertaken as part of the CYPLUS Land Use Program. The aim of the tasks undertaken by the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage had been to anylyse natuyral resource information gathered by the SYPLUS Natural Resources Analysis Program using a CAR (comprehensiveness, adequacy, and representativeness) approach. The first part of the CAR analyisis analysed the extennt of 181 seperate exosystems (vegetation mapping units) and at the time of the report 79 were considered inadequately conserved. Part of the CAR analysis was classifying the region on the basis of fauna and habitats were associated into 22 faunal zones. A substantial portion of seven faunal zones was contained within protected areas. In other areas important habitats constitute only a small portion of the total zone or it was considered that fauna can be maintained under then current management practices.
The report indentified certain areas where conservation should be the primary land use or should at least be an important consideration in land management. These areas of concern include; three coastal strips and five estuarine environments, the dunefields of the east coast, part of Bativa Downs, Glennie Tableland, Localised patches of several types of rainforest, a small area containing Jedda Multicaulis, localised occurences of natural grassland, broad areas containing Eucalyptus setosa, lancewood Acacia Shirleyi, and the Darwin Stringybark forest of "The Desert", and finally the Wenlock and Archer River corridors which were seen to provide west-east corridors for rainforest species.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy Thematic Report 3 Of 3 Society and Culture
pdfReference Document

5.51 MB

There are many histories of the Cape York Peninsula and these may see the same events from differing perspectives. The history between indigenous and non-indigenous has seen events such as the frist contact between Aboriginal and European cultures at Cape Keer-weer in 1606, the disruption of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society through European competition for resources such as pearl and trochus, followed shortly after by the resettlement of many inidigineous people in missions and settlements and an expansion of the cattle and mining industries throughout the Cape York Peninsula.

The Cape York Peninsula is compromised of 12 urban centres with a combined population of 8,700 people (1994) including Thursday Island, Weipa, Cooktown, Coen, Laura, Lakeland Downs, Wasaga Village, Horn Island, Ayton, Rossbille, Protland Roads, and Prince of Wales Island. As of 1994 there were 10 designated Aboriginal communities which were home to more than one cultural group and all communities were provided considerable financial support from the Commonwealth and Queensland Govermnents. At the time there were also two Torres Strait Islander communities at Prince of Wales Islamd and at Bamaga and Seisia.

As of 1994 pastoral properties accounted for 57.2% of the land mass of the study area and supported a total population of 690 over 124 properties.

During the study period the report found considerable differences between the community profile of the Cape York Peninsula and that of Queensland as a whole. The CYPLUS report found that less than two thirds of people in employment work in skilled or semi-skilled occupations as opposed to 77% for Queensland as a whole with only 80% of children 5 to 14 years of age in the Cape York Peninsula are attending school. The report also found that 71% of the popluation lived in towns of 1,000 people or greater with 7500 people (42% of the population) living in the three largest towns (1994). The report found that the population was urbanised with three distinct racial groups; Aboriginal (31.9%), Torres Strait Islander (20%), and non-indigenous (48.1%) wuth only 5 of the study area's 38 Collection Districts being able to be described as racially mixed. Household size and occupancy levels were high with high levels of overcrowding. Single parent households make up a significant portion of households (20.2% compared to 12.5% for Queensland as a whole).

Aboriginal people prior to colonisation saw the Cape York Peninsula as a mosaic of "countries" or clan estates. The natural resources formed the basis of economy, and Aboriginal cultural practices were individual from the natural environment. There is a type of of religious connection with the land as a web of interrelated sacred sites, many of which may have significant archeological and historical importance. There were, as of 1994, 13 sites of Aboriginal cultural value listed on the Register of the National Estate.

Much Like Aboriginal People the Torres Strait Islander view of heritage includes a focus on kin-based groups as a source of personal identity and a strong attachment to home islands and environements especially the marine estates and fisheries resources.

There are 18 sites or aras of significanct non-indigenous cultural value currently listed on the Register of National Estate.

THe CYPLUS report found that while the services in the main urban centres are considered adequate, the delivery of basic services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was percieved as lacking. The following community servers are provided to the people of the Cape York Peninsula; hospitals and the Royal Flying Doctors Service, child-care facilities, women's shelters, aged care facilities, youth programs, subsidised housing, water supply and waste disposal services, reticulated power in some areas, roads, mail service, pre-primary - seconday education, shopping and banking facilities, National parks and campgrounds, legal aid and a circuit court, emergency services, outstations, and environmental planning and management groups.

Community aspirations included that of a balanced, well planned future which incorporates the preservation of their physical and social environment. The main aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents was securing tenure over traditional land, preservation of the natural enviroment and traditional culture, retention of a relaxed lifestyle, improved education, health, and transport services, and a controlled development in tourism. Withstanding the desire to secure tenure over traditonal lands, the main aspirations of the majority of the non-indigenous respondents was much like that of the indigenous respondents.

Within the Cape York Peninsula there were 32 Commonwealth Government agencies, 6 corporations established under Commonwealth legislation, 24 Queensland Government agencies, 17 local government agencies, and 8 non-government oragnisations with responsibilities in the use and management of resources on the Cape York Peninsula.

The CYPLUS report found that there were a number of key policy issues in the Land Use Program and from agency and community consultation pertaining to National and International Obligations, interacial reconciliation, self-determination, land ownership and native title, environment and resource management, infrastructure, service delivery, administration, consultation, and coordination between govermnent agencies.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: Land Use Program: Aspects of Commercial and Non-Commercial Fisheries of Cape York Peninsula
pdfReference Document

5.1 MB

CYPLUS commissioned WBM Oceanics Australia to prepare this report which describes the level of use of commerical and non-commerical fisheries, factors affecing the environmental condition of said fisheries and habitats, and management issues relating to each of the fisheries and habitats in 1994. This report uncovered several major issues which needed to be considered for Stage 2 of the CYPLUS program. Commercial fishing tended to be widespread along the entire coastline of the study area with the Princess Charlotte Bay region being favoured by both inshore net fishermen and prawn trawlers. Both prawn and net fisheries within the area were considered to be fully utilised with stable catch levels though most fisheries were seen to exhibit large annual variations. Indigenous fishing reasonably correlated with the population of the community with traditional and substinence fishinf for dugong and turtle a variable within the study area. The large harvests seen at some locations may have been unsustainable given the species' biological characteristics.

There were a few environmental impacts that were affecting the condition of fisheries and habitats within the Study area including introduced species (feral pigs, rubber vine) pollution and water quality deterioration due to suspended sediments and nutrient runoff, and wetland habitat loss from infrastructure development and mining projects.

The management issues identified within the fisheries of the Cape York Peninsula were those common to most fisheries. The primary issues were acces to the resource and equitable sharing of the respective resources between users. Commerical and recreational fishers expressed concern that claims for native title and future conservation areas could've caused restrictions to be placed on them. Commercial fishers also expressed concerns that lobbying by anglers could result in areas closed off to commerical fishing. Equally, indigenous people expressed concerns that the economic benefits of said comercial fishing do not stay within the Cape York Region and that in fact a high subsistence value of fisheries resource was being compromised by commerical and recreational fishing. A major issue raised was the lack of consultation with Aboriginal people with regards to the management of resources they traditionally regard as their own and that they feel a management responsibility for. Ther report culminates in that managers needed to balance the needs and expectations of various user groups with the necessity to retain resource sustainability.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: Natural Resources Analysis Program: Coastal Environment Geoscience of Cape York Peninsula
pdfReference Document

2.98 MB

The Coastal Environment Geoscience Survey project utilised a variety of information and techniques to compile the coastal geoscientific information necessary for the developent of a land use strategy for Cape York Peninsula.

This project was undertaken to produces a geoscientific synthesis of the evolution and character of the coastal zone of Cape York Peninsula and gathered the following geospatial data; oceanographic and meteorological processes that affected the coastal area, the character of coastal environments and the nature of sedimentary deposits within them, an analyisis of the Holocene evolution of the coastal area, identification of areas of significant instability within the zone and the consideration of issues relevant to sustainable use practices.

There were numerous considerations listed by the report pertaining to the sustainable use of coastal environments on the Cape York Peninsula. Coastal erosion was highlighted as one of the most pressing issues with sever beach deterioration observed along Princess Charlotte Bay. Waste water management was also identified as a serious concern with waste pollutants and runoff from agriculture and other primary industry causing coral reef destruction and nutrification. The report indentified the necessary considerations, especially with reference to erosion, to the construction of coastal structures. Impact from the actions of tourists such as four wheel driving, camping and offshore activities as well as the construction of tourist facilitites were recognised as causes of unsustainable coastal land use practices on the Cape York Peninsula.

Primary industry such as grazing, agriculture, and extractive industries such as mining were all distingusihed as having serious undesirable impacts to the coastal environments surroundig them. Unsustainable grazing practices can accelerate the erosion of coastal soils. Fertilisers applied to farmland causing exessive nutrient runoff which causes the nutrification, and resultant death of coral reefs. Coastal soils can also experience severely increased salnity due to the nutrient salt runoff. The extraction of exploitable materials such as ilmenite, zircon, rutile and silica required the use of a floating dredge, which creates its own pond in coastal sediments. These areas require rehabilitation after the extraction is complete and while these programs had often resulted in faithful rehabilitation, the areas subsequently experienced a loss in diveristy, mature forest, and soils formation.

Due to the narrowness of the ship chanel inside the Northern Great Barrier reef, the necessity for adequate ship navigation practices was identified by the report as to ensure that no nautical accidents such as collision of grounding on the coral reef, limiting the possibility of severe marine pollution.


Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy: Natural Resource Analysis Program: Ecology and Conservation the Golden Shouldered Parrot
pdfReference Document

2.05 MB

The Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotus chrysopterygius) once occured accross much of central Cape York however it is now cofned to a handfull of small areas with small populations. The results of the first two year study suggested that the parrots have difficulty in obtaining sufficient food in the early wet season and survival of this seasons is enhanced by exposure to seed reserves and by early wet season storm burns.

The decrease of storm burns and increase in the frequency of dry season fires was seen to contribute to the decline of the Golden Shouldered Parrot and the increase in density of woody weeds.

The study also found that levels of predaton during the breeding seasong were higher than what could be sustained by the breeding population. It was believed that the altered burning regime may have increased the population of the Pied Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis), a natural predator of the Golden Shouldered Parrot.



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