Many Cairns residents, indeed visitors, would be familiar with the Jack Barnes Memorial Boardwalk on the approach to the Cairns Airport terminals. But there are rumblings in the mangroves; few would be aware that the boardwalks are destined to be demolished and the mangrove wetland reclaimed for the development of a large heliport.
When the Cairns Airport was privatised by the Queensland Government – as well as taking over the lands actually occupied by the airport – part of the deal was giving to Cairns Airport a large area of mostly pristine mangrove wetlands, including the Jack Barnes Memorial Boardwalk, The mangroves had been deemed so impressive that they were listed as part of the National Estate.
Cairns Airport Limited was required by law to prepare a Land Use Plan for the lands transferred to its ownership. The plan, finalised in 2012, proposes to transfer the mixed aviation businesses, currently next to the Captain Cook Highway at Aeroglen, to the mangrove area east of Airport Avenue, thus releasing the Aeroglen lands for commercial development such as ”E-commerce distribution centres, retail warehouses, shopping centres and other uses” (Commercial Enterprise Precinct).
The mangrove communities at and surrounding the Jack Barnes Boardwalk are particularly diverse in terms of species and form. The northern boardwalk skirts a patch of saltmarsh, a rare natural community in the Cairns region and the only one that is readily accessible. There are numerous species of mangrove of varying age and size, grading from small shrubs on the edges of the saltmarsh through to tall forest on the southern boardwalk. This great diversity makes it a premier environmental education site, by far the best and most accessible mangrove forest in the region.
With its listing on the National Estate, I am clearly not alone in regarding the mangrove wetlands at the Jack Barnes Boardwalk precinct as being of very high ecological significance. The boardwalk adds value by providing an outstandingly accessible educational and tourism experience unique in the Cairns region.
I believe that it is an opportune time to question the wisdom of destroying all this. Further, I suggest that there are alternative sites to satisfy the needs of a Cairns Heliport.
My proposal is to establish formal protection for a ‘Jack Barnes Wetland Reserve’. The reserve would centre on the existing boardwalks, front on to Airport Avenue to the west, the Little Barron River to the north and the Trinity Inlet Fish Habitat Area and Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park to the east. (see map)
The area would be permanently reserved under State legislation but managed locally.
To achieve this vision it would be necessary for Cairns Airport Limited to show some flexibility in the siting of their heliport and to recognise the outstanding environmental and educational value of the Jack Barnes precinct. This requires informing the community that this area has been formally recognised for its environmental values and that the Jack Barnes Memorial Boardwalks are, and should remain, a prime community asset. A previous State Government took this precious asset away without any community consultation and it is not unreasonable for the community to now ask for its return.
The attached map outlines my proposal for all stakeholders to consider.
Peter Hitchcock AM