What Drives Us
To bring together the broad-based community and other organisations to take action to promote a vibrant Far North Queensland natural environment
CAFNEC has been advocating for the protection of nature in
Far North Queensland since 1981.
The Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) is a not-for-profit incorporated association that acts as conservation council for the region from Cardwell north to Torres Strait and from the east coast to the Gulf of Carpentaria. We work to protect the environment by enhancing the capacity of local groups and community members to act for conservation, strengthening networks within FNQ, facilitating region-wide cooperation to identify and coordinate action on issues of regional significance and when necessary, engaging in campaigns that are strategically important for the region.
The FNQ environment needs a strong voice, and the people of FNQ who know, love and live in the region are the best ones to be that voice. Protecting the world’s largest living structure (the Great Barrier Reef) and the oldest continuously surviving rainforests (the Wet Tropics) – as well as the other spectacular natural areas in the region – is a huge challenge and needs resources. These World Heritage Areas are important to Australians and global citizens alike so we also need people outside the region to join and support us in giving voice to the local community members who speak and act for these globally-recognised natural wonders.
Like many not-for-profit organisations, we have a small number of staff that keep things ticking along but volunteers, members and donors are the real power behind the organisation so the more we have, the more we can do.
CAFNEC was formed in 1981 by members of a number of local conservation groups. It was felt that group coordination and a higher profile for regional environment issues was needed with a single, accessible contact point. Since 1991 that contact point has been both an office and library in Cominos House, a restored Queenslander at the corner of Greenslopes and Little Streets, where the then city council chose tenants for their contribution to restoration and to co-operative management. Cominos House is one of the most well know cultural and historical buildings in Cairns, close to the Flecker Botanic Gardens. Since CAFNEC’s establishment it has been the focal point for environmental action and education in the region.
Lucy Graham | Director
Lucy was born here at the Cairns Base, and grew up on the Atherton Tablelands. She has a deep love for our World Heritage Areas and the wide ranging nature that our region has.
Prior to her appointment in August 2019, Lucy has been actively involved with CAFNEC for more than five years, as a volunteer, management committee member and representative. Lucy has strong networks with a wide range of organisations and community groups in Far North Queensland, as well as at a State and National spheres.
Lucy has a B. Sustainability from JCU, and has trained with The Change Agency and for many years worked in Outdoor Education and Tourism. Lucy has worked with organisations such as The Wilderness Society, GetUp and the Queensland Conservation Council and brings knowledge and exprience valuable to CAFNEC.
Marie Short | Office Manager
Marie has worked for us for many years and maintains a vast knowledge bank in relation to our work.
She says there is never a dull day in the CAFNEC office and that she is fortunate to be able to interact with so many interesting and energetic people, and of course the myriad of environmental issues.
Marie is involved in CAFNEC’s annual Far North Wilderness Bike Tour and hopes to actually do some riding one year!
Apart from her CAFNEC life, she enjoys a range of sports, good friends and the odd glass of champagne!
Aïsha de Barros Lopes (she/her) | Community Organiser
Aïsha has been working for CAFNEC for 5 years, initially as our Projects & Events Coordinator, and now as our Community Organiser.
Aïsha has a B. Environments Degree MAJ. in Architecture from the University of Melbourne, and has trained with The Change Agency. Over the years Aïsha worked alongside Conservation Volunteers Australia, and volunteered her time at CERES Community Environment Park, undertaking on-ground land management. Aïsha is currently studying a B. Law at JCU.
Aïsha has an absolute passion and drive for the work she does, but she will always take time for hiking, painting, a good book and a cup of coffee!
Alex Sinchak | Projects and Events Coordinator
Alex began as a volunteer with CAFNEC in 2020, became an intern for CAFNEC in early 2021, and then became the Projects and Events Coordinator in April 2021. She came to CAFNEC with degree in Geography and Environmental Sciences with a focus on Sustainability and dedicated her final year in university to studying the impacts of tourism on the environment and local populations in tropical communities. Since her graduation, Alex has worked in outdoor recreation and hospitality in both the US and Australia. She couldn’t have found a place further from the cold mountains of Colorado she was born in when she moved to tropical Cairns in 2017.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on a project like MangroveWatch that facilitates community engagement around coastal ecosystem monitoring and advocacy. Our volunteers are enthusiastic about mangroves and help change the narrative around them from scary muddy environments to vital ecosystem actors that protect our tropical way of life here in Cairns. Raising awareness of our natural environments is crucial to living within them and ultimately protecting them.” – Alex Sinchak
Vanessa Hoedlmayr-Wales | Fundraising Coordinator
Coming all the way from Austria, Vanessa has settled down in Cairns in 2019 despite preferring the colder climate.
Having done an internship with CAFNEC in 2019, Vanessa has found her way back to CAFNEC as the Fundraising Coordinator after gaining work experience in sustainable tourism and marketing in small businesses.
Vanessa is hoping to be able to combine her broad spectrum of different knowledge and work experience to lead CAFNEC’s fundraising into a bright future. Vanessa has a B. in Tourism and will start her Master of Global Development next February at JCU.
In her freetime she enjoys being underwater and what better place is there to get wet and enjoy a great abundance of fish life and corals than the Great Barrier Reef.
Bronwyn Opie | Climate Organiser
Originally hailing from Ontario, Canada, Bronwyn has been in awe of the FNQ environment since she arrived in Australia in 2014. She is very excited to be joining the team at CAFNEC, working to inspire and empower the community to lead the way on climate action.
As the Climate Organiser, Bronwyn’s role is to lead and coordinate the ‘Our Climate, Our Way of Life’ campaign. So far, the campaign has led to over 100 meaningful conversations about climate change with our community, demonstrating a strong demand for climate action in our region.
Bronwyn has a B. Sustainability from JCU and is currently completing a Master of Environment through Griffith University. When she is not working or studying, she enjoys hiking with friends, breakfast food, and painting.
Our Management Committee
Pia Harkness | President
Pia was born and raised in Townsville and was fortunate to spend much of her childhood on Magnetic Island where the seeds of her interest in tropical marine ecosystems were sown. She studied a Bachelor Environmental Management at Newcastle University and a Master of Tropical Environmental Management at Charles Darwin University. Pia went on to complete a PhD which examined marine conservation and community development policies and their implications for coastal communities and their livelihoods in remote eastern Indonesia.
Pia is now a Social Scientist working with Traditional Owners to bring together Indigenous knowledge and western science) for land and sea management with multiple benefits. After nearly a decade living in Darwin, Pia is excited to be getting back into diving in Cairns, and has recently taken up mountain biking.
Bess Murphy | Treasurer
Hailing from country NSW and trained as an Environmental Scientist/Biologist Bess is passionate about environmental advocacy, science, social change & sustainability.
She has over half a decade of environmental campaigning and outreach experience spanning Bathurst, Wollongong and Cairns, including most recently working at CAFNEC from 2015-2020.
When not at CAFNEC you can find Bess crafting sustainable timber jewelery in an off grid shed on the Tablelands, under the sea, or hiking in the rainforest nerding-out on botany. She now runs two eco-conscious businesses with her partner and teams.
Dirk Werner-Lutrop | Secretary
Dirk, an economist by trade, has worked for large NGOs in South America and Papua New Guinea supporting social and economic development and justice. Following a passion for scuba diving, Dirk and his wife, Claudia, settled in Cairns in 1994 establishing a flourishing dive tourism business. Through that business Dirk was able to witness first-hand the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef. He is keen to face the challenges posed to the GBR and reef systems globally through involvement with CAFNEC. Dirk was an active member of Aquis Aware and is a keen singer in a number of Cairns choirs.
Denis Walls | General Member
Denis has been a member of CAFNEC for 26 years and has extensive political, social and environmental campaigning experience. He was a broadcaster and newspaper columnist for 10 years and is the author of books on Rwanda and Malaysia (the latter with Stella Martin). He has worked as a sociology and environmental studies lecturer and Indigenous education program manager. Since the early 1990s Denis has led and been involved in numerous campaigns to protect our precious natural heritage. Denis has a passion for languages and enjoys focused travel, bird watching and a cappella singing. He continues to defy the years by playing veterans league soccer.
Claire Galvin | General Member
Claire is a university student and has co-organised a social movement in Cairns, empowering young people to take on leadership roles and fight for climate justice. She started her activism by organising a number of climate strikes in Cairns. Upon seeing that more young people were engaging in climate activism she decided, along with other climate strike organisers, to start an Australian Youth Climate Coalition group in Cairns. AYCC Cairns is actively campaigning in the community to achieve climate justice through a number of exciting campaigns. Claire has also won multiple national Eureka Prize awards for science communication.