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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the peninsula located in the Australian state of Queensland; it should not be confused with either Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, or Cape York, Greenland.
False-colour infrared image of Cape York Peninsula

Coordinates: 10°41′S 142°32′E / 10.683°S 142.533°E / -10.683; 142.533 Cape York Peninsula is a large peninsula located in Far North Queensland, Australia. This remote peninsula contains some of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth,[1] though about half of the land area is used for grazing cattle and much has been damaged by feral pigs, weeds, and other introduced species.[2][3] Its relatively undisturbed tropical rainforests and savannas are now recognized for their global environmental significance.[4] A nomination for World Natural Heritage is currently being considered by the Queensland and Australian Federal governments.[5]

The Cape York Peninsula region encompasses an area of approximately 137,000 km² north of 16°S latitude.[6] It has a population of only about 18,000, of which a large percentage (~60 %) are Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.[7][8]

At the tip of the peninsula lies Cape York, the northernmost point on the Australian continent. It was named by Lieutenant James Cook on 21 August, 1770 in honour of Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of York and Albany, who was a brother of King George III of the United Kingdom, and died from illness in 1767 when he was only 20 years old:

"The point of the Main, which forms one side of the Passage before mentioned, and which is the Northern Promontory of this Country, I have named York Cape, in honour of his late Royal Highness, the Duke of York."[9]

From the tip of the peninsula, it is about 160 kilometres (99 mi) to New Guinea across the island-studded Torres Strait. The west coast borders the Gulf of Carpentaria and the east coast borders the Coral Sea.

Contents

Geography and geology

As a peninsula, Cape York is bordered on three sides (north, east and west) by water. There is no clear demarcation to the south. The official boundary of the Cape York Peninsula Region as referred to in the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 of Queensland runs along approximately 16°S latitude.[10] The entire region covers an area of approximately 137,000 km².[6] At the peninsula’s widest points, it is 430 km from the Bloomfield River, in the southeast, across to the west coast (just south of Kowanyama), and some 660 km from the southern border of Cook Shire, to the tip of Cape York.

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Geological history

Around 40 million years ago, the Indo-Australian tectonic plate began to split apart from the ancient supercontinent Gondwana. As it collided with the Pacific Plate on its northward journey, the high mountain ranges of central New Guinea emerged around 5 million years ago.[6] In the lee of this collision zone, the ancient rock formations of what is now Cape York peninsula remained largely undisturbed.

Throughout the Pleistocene epoch Australia and New Guinea have been alternately land-linked and separated by water on a number of occasions. During periods of glaciation and resulting low sea levels, Cape York Peninsula provided a low-lying land link.[4] Another link existed between Arnhem Land and New Guinea, at times enclosing an enormous freshwater lake (Lake Carpentaria) in the centre of what is now the Gulf of Carpentaria.[7] In this way, Australia and New Guinea remained connected until the shallow Torres Strait was last flooded around 8,000 years ago.[1]

Landforms

The tropical landscapes of Cape York are among the most stable in the world.[4] Long undisturbed by tectonic activity, Cape York is an extremely eroded, almost level plain, with some very low hills on the eastern side.

The backbone of Cape York is the Peninsula Ridge, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. This mountain range is made up of ancient (1,500 million year-old) Precambrian and Palaeozoic rocks and rises to some 800m elevation in the McIlwraith Range around Coen.[4][6] To the East and West of the Peninsula Ridge lie the Carpentaria and Laura Basins, themselves made up of ancient Mesozoic sediments.[6] Those lowlands are dominated by mighty meandering rivers and vast floodplains.

There are also several outstanding landforms on the Cape York Peninsula: the large expanses of undisturbed dunefields at the eastern coast around Shelburne Bay and Cape Bedford-Cape Flattery; the huge piles of black granite boulders at Black Mountain National Park and Cape Melville; and the limestone karsts around Palmerston in the Cape’s far south.[4]

Rivers

The Peninsula Ridge forms the drainage divide between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Coral Sea. To the west, a series of large, winding river systems including the Mitchell, Coleman, Holroyd, Archer, Watson, Wenlock, Ducie and Jardine catchments empty their waters into the Gulf of Carpentaria. During the Dry season, those rivers are reduced to a series of waterholes and sandy beds. Yet, with the arrival of torrential rains in the Wet season, they swell to mighty waterways, spreading across extensive floodplains and coastal wetlands and giving life to a vast array of freshwater and wetland species.[6]

On the Eastern slopes, the shorter, faster-flowing Jacky Jacky Creek, Olive, Pascoe, Lockhart, Stewart, Jeannie and Endeavour Rivers flow towards the Coral Sea, providing important freshwater and nutrients to the healthiest section of the Great Barrier Reef. On their way, those wild, undisturbed rivers are lined with dense rainforests, sand dunes or mangroves.[6]

The floodplains of the Laura Basin, which are protected in the Lakefield and Jack River National Parks, are crossed by the Morehead, Hann, North Kennedy, Laura, Jack and Normanby Rivers.

Cape York’s river catchments are noted for their exceptional hydrological integrity. With little disturbance on both water flows and vegetation cover throughout entire catchments, Cape York has been identified as one of the few places where tropical water cycles remain essentially intact.[4] Cape York Peninsula contributes as much as a quarter of Australia's surface runoff. Indeed, with only about 2.7 percent of Australia's land area it produces more runoff than all of Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Tapping those heavy tropical rainfalls, Cape York’s rivers are also of particular importance for replenishing central Australia’s Great Artesian Basin.[4] The Queensland Government is currently poised to protect 13 of Cape York’s wild rivers under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.[11]

Soils

The soils on Cape York are remarkably infertile even compared to other areas of Australia, being almost entirely laterised and in most cases so old and weathered that very little development is apparent today (classified in USDA soil taxonomy as Orthents). It is because of this extraordinary soil poverty that the region is so thinly settled: the soils are so unworkable and unresponsive to fertilisation that attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed.

Climate

The climate on Cape York Peninsula is tropical and monsoonal, with a wet season extending from November to April and a dry season from May to October. The temperature across it is warm to hot, with a cooler climate in higher areas. The mean annual temperatures range from 18 °C at higher elevations to 27 °C on the lowlands in the far south-west. Temperatures over 40 °C and below 5 °C are rare.

Annual rainfall is high, ranging from over 2000 mm. in the Iron Range and north of Weipa to about 700 mm. at the southern border. Almost all this rain falls between November and April, and only on the eastern slopes of the Iron Range is the median rainfall between June and September above 5mm (0.2 inches). Between January and March, however, the median monthly rainfall ranges from about 170mm (6.5 inches) in the south to over 500mm (20 inches) in the north and on the Iron Range.

Climate data for Cape York
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 29.8
(86)
29.6
(85)
29.6
(85)
29.5
(85)
28.8
(84)
28.1
(83)
27.6
(82)
27.8
(82)
28.5
(83)
29.9
(86)
30.9
(88)
30.8
(87)
29.2
(85)
Average low °C (°F) 24.0
(75)
23.9
(75)
23.8
(75)
23.7
(75)
23.0
(73)
22.3
(72)
21.5
(71)
21.6
(71)
22.2
(72)
22.9
(73)
23.8
(75)
24.2
(76)
23.1
(74)
Precipitation mm (inches) 370.6
(14.59)
352.1
(13.86)
370.9
(14.6)
255.5
(10.06)
69.1
(2.72)
26.1
(1.03)
19.7
(0.78)
9.5
(0.37)
6.4
(0.25)
14.9
(0.59)
56.7
(2.23)
194.6
(7.66)
1,744.7
(68.69)
Source: [12]

Ecology and biology

Ecosystems

Sand dunes around Cape Flattery

Cape York Peninsula supports a complex mosaic of intact tropical rainforests, tropical savannas, heath lands, wetlands, wild rivers and mangrove swamps.[4] Almost the entire area of Cape York (99.6%) still retains its native vegetation and is little fragmented.[13] Therefore, parts of the Peninsula have been noted for their exceptionally high wilderness quality.[14]

The majority of Cape York is covered in tropical savannas. On Cape York, this ecosystem consists typically of a tall dense grass layer and varying densities of trees (dominantly eucalypts), making it a tropical savanna woodland.[7] Although abundant and fully functioning on Cape York, tropical savannas are now rare and highly degraded in other parts of the world.[4]

Cape York’s tropical rainforests cover an area of 748,000 ha, or 5.6 percent of the total land area.[15] Rainforests depend on some level of rainfall throughout the long Dry season, climatic conditions that are mostly found on the eastern slopes of the Cape’s coastal ranges. Being almost exclusively untouched, old-growth forests and supporting a disproportionately high biodiversity, all those forests are of high conservation significance.[14] The largest contiguous rainforest area on the Cape occurs in the McIllwraith Range-Iron Range area.[7] This area contains at least 1000 different plants, including 100 rare or threatened species, supports 16% of Australia's orchid species and 200 species of butterfly including 11 endemic butterflies.

On poor, dry soils tropical heathlands can be found. North-east Cape York supports Australia’s largest areas of this highly diverse ecosystem.[7]

The extensive wetlands on Cape York Peninsula are “among the largest, richest and most diverse in Australia”.[14] 19 wetlands of national significance have been identified, mostly on the large floodplains and in coastal areas. Important wetlands include the Jardine Complex, Lakefield, and the estuaries of the great rivers of the western plains.[14] Many of these wetland come into existence only during the Wet season and support rare or uncommon plant communities, provide important fish habitat, crocodile habitat and drought refuge.[15]

Cape York’s coastal areas and river estuaries are lined with mangrove forests. Australia’s largest mangrove forest can be found at Newcastle Bay. They are noted for their importance as a fish nursery and crocodile habitat.[7][14]

Flora and fauna

The Cape harbours an extraordinary biodiversity, with more than 700 vertebrate land animal species and about 3300 species of flowering plants.[13] As a result from its geological history, “the flora and fauna of Cape York Peninsula are a complex mixture of Gondwanan relics, Australian isolationists and Asian or New Guinean invaders” (p. 41).[6] Cape York Peninsula also contains one of the highest rates of endemism in Australia, with more than 260 endemic plant species and 40 terrestrial vertebrate animal species found so far.[4][14][16]

The rainforests of the Iron Range support species that are also found in New Guinea, including the Eclectus Parrot and Southern Common Cuscus.

People and culture

Aboriginal culture

Some of the world's most extensive and ancient rock painting galleries surround the town of Laura, some of which are available for public viewing. There is also a new Interpretive Centre from which information on the rock art and local Aboriginal culture is available and tours can be arranged.

Settlements

The administrative and commercial centre for much of Cape York Peninsula is Cooktown, located in its far south-eastern corner. The Peninsula’s largest settlement is the mining town Weipa on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The remainder of the Cape is extremey sparsely populated. Along the Peninsula Developmental Road, there are small service centres at Lakeland, Laura and Coen. At the tip of Cape York, there is a sizeable service centre on nearby Thursday Island. Aboriginal communities are at Hopevale, Pormpuraaw, Kowanyama, Aurukun, Lockhart River, Napranum, Mapoon, Injinoo, New Mapoon and Umagico. Torres Strait Islander communities on the mainland are at Bamaga and Seisia.[4][8]

Economy

Land tenure

Pastoral land leases occupy about 57% of the total area, mostly located in central and eastern Cape York. Indigenous land comprises about 20%, with the entire West coast being held under Native title. The remainder is mostly declared as [National Park] and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Land uses include broad acre pastoralism, bauxite and silica sand mining, nature reserves, tourism and fishing (Sattler & Williams, 1999).[17]

Infrastructure

A completely sealed inland road links Cairns and the Atherton Tableland to Lakeland Downs and Cooktown. The road north of Lakeland Downs to the tip of the Peninsula is sometimes cut after heavy rains during the wet season (roughly December to May).

Tourism

The Peninsula is a popular destination in the Dry Season for camping, hiking, birdwatching and fishing enthusiasts. Many people make the adventurous, but rewarding, drive to the tip of Cape York, the northernmost point of mainland Australia.

Major national parks include the Jardine River National Park in the far north, Mungkan Kandju National Park near Aurukun, and Lakefield National Park, in the southeast of the bioregion.

Mining

There are extensive deposits of bauxite along the west or Gulf of Carpentaria coast. Weipa is the centre for this mining activity.

References

  1. ^ a b Mittermeier, R.E. et al. (2002). Wilderness: Earth’s last wild places. Mexico City: Agrupación Sierra Madre, S.C.
  2. ^ Wynter, Jo and Hill, John. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development. The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mackey, B. G., Nix, H., & Hitchcock, P. (2001). The natural heritage significance of Cape York Peninsula. Retrieved January 15, 2008, from http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/register/p00582aj.pdf.
  5. ^ Valentine, Peter S. (2006). Compiling a case for world heritage on Cape York Peninsula. Retrieved February 7, 2008, from http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/publications/p02227aa.pdf/Compiling_a_case_for_World_Heritage_on_Cape_York_Peninsula_Final_report_for_QPWS_/_compiled_by_Peter_S_Valentine_James_Cook_University.pdf.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Frith, D.W., Frith, C.B. (1995). Cape York Peninsula: A Natural History. Chatswood: Reed Books Australia. Reprinted with amendments in 2006. ISBN 0-7301-0469-9.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Woinarski, J., Mackey, B., Nix, H., Traill, B. (2007). The nature of northern Australia: Natural values, ecological processes and future prospects. Canberra: ANU E press.
  8. ^ a b Cape York Peninsula Development Association. Homepage. Accessed April 23, 2008, http://www.cypda.com.au/front_page.
  9. ^ From Cook's Journal
  10. ^ Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel. (2007). Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/C/CapeYorkPHA07.pdf
  11. ^ Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel. (2005). Wild Rivers Act 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/ACTS/2005/05AC042.pdf.
  12. ^ "BOM". http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_027004.shtml. 
  13. ^ a b Neldner, V.J., Clarkson, J.R. (1994). Vegetation Survey of Cape York Peninsula. Cape York Peninsula Land Use Study (CYPLUS). Office of the Co-ordinator General and Department of Environment and Heritage, Government of Queensland: Brisbane.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., Bugg, A. (1995). Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula. Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy. Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland,Australian Heritage Commission. Accessed January 15, 2008, http://www.environment.gov.au/erin/cyplus/lup/index.html.
  15. ^ a b Cofinas, M., Creighton, C. (2001). Australian Native Vegetation Assessment. National Land and Water Resources Audit. Accessed April 20, 2008, http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/vegetation/pubs/native_vegetation/nat_veg_contents.html.
  16. ^ Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland. (2000). Queensland Museum. ISBN 0-7242-9349-3.
  17. ^ Australian Government. Australian Natural Resource Atlas. Accessed April 20, 2008, http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/rangelands/overview/qld/ibra-cyp.html.

Further references

  • Hough, Richard. 1994. Captain James Cook: a biography. Hodder and Stroughton, London. ISBN 0-340-58598-6.
  • Pike, Glenville. 1979. Queen of the North: A Pictorial History of Cooktown and Cape York Peninsula. G. Pike. ISBN 0-9598960-5-8.
  • Moon, Ron & Viv. 2003. Cape York: An Adventurer's Guide. 9th edition. Moon Adventure Publications, Pearcedale, Victoria. ISBN 0-9578766-4-5
  • Moore, David R. 1979. Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 'Rattlesnake' Journals of O. W. Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra. ISBN 0-85575-076-6 (hbk); 0-85575-082-0 (pbk). USA edition ISBN 0-391-00946-X (hbk); 0-391-00948-6 (pbk).
  • Pohlner, Peter. 1986. gangaurru. Hopevale Mission Board, Milton, Queensland. ISBN 1-86252-311-8
  • Trezise, P.J. 1969. Quinkan Country: Adventures in Search of Aboriginal Cave Paintings in Cape York. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney.
  • Trezise, Percy. 1973. Last Days of a Wilderness. William Collins (Aust) Ltd., Brisbane. ISBN 0-00-211434-8.
  • Trezise, P.J. 1993. Dream Road: A Journey of Discovery. Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, Sydney.
  • Haviland, John B. with Hart, Roger. 1998. Old Man Fog and the Last Aborigines of Barrow Point. Crawford House Publishing, Bathurst.
  • Premier's Department (prepared by Connell Wagner). 1989. Cape York Peninsula Resource Analysis. Cairns. (1989). ISBN 0-7242-7008-6.
  • Roth, W.E. 1897. The Queensland Aborigines. 3 Vols. Reprint: Facsimilie Edition, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, W.A., 1984. ISBN 0-85905-054-8
  • Ryan, Michelle and Burwell, Colin, eds. 2000. Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland: Cooktown to Mackay. Queensland Museum, Brisbane. ISBN 0-85905-045-9 (set of 3 vols).
  • Scarth-Johnson, Vera. 2000. National Treasures: Flowering plants of Cooktown and Northern Australia. Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association, Cooktown. ISBN 0-646-39726-5 (pbk); ISBN 0-646-39725-7 Limited Edition - Leather Bound.
  • Sutton, Peter (ed). Languages of Cape York: Papers presented to a Symposium organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. (1976). ISBN 0-85575-046-4
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2000. Nomads of the 19th Century Queensland Goldfields. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-875998-89-6
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2003. Cape York Peninsula: A History of Unlauded Heroes 1845-2003. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-876780-43-6
  • Wynter, Jo and Hill, John. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development. The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Oceania : Australia : Queensland : Cape York Peninsula
Contents

The Cape York Peninsula region is the northenmost tip of Queensland, Australia.

Stay safe

Saltwater Crocodiles (crocodylus porosus) are very common anywhere in the Cape York Peninsula and are known as man-eaters. Swimming is not advised anywhere other than hotel pools. Freshwater Crocodiles are also present but they are relatively small and harmless to humans, although they can inflict a deep, painful bite if harassed. The Box Jellyfish occurs in the waters of all of Northern Australia from October to May and can be extremely lethal.

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Simple English

This article is about the peninsula located in the Australian state of Queensland; not the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, or Cape York, Greenland.

Coordinates: 10°41′S 142°32′E / 10.683°S 142.533°E / -10.683; 142.533 Cape York Peninsula is a large remote peninsula in the far north of Queensland, Australia. It is the largest unspoilt wilderness in eastern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth.[1] The area is mostly flat and about half is used for grazing cattle. Much of the wildlife is threatened by introduced species and weeds. However, the eucalyptus wooded savannah, tropical rainforests, and other types of habitat are now recognized as being globally important. [2] [[File:‎|thumb|330px|alt=Map of Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland, Australia|Map of Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland, Australia]]

Contents

Geography and geology

The Cape York Peninsula region covers an area of about 137,000 km² north of 16°S latitude.[3] From the tip of the peninsula, Cape York, it is about 160 kilometres (99 mi) to New Guinea across the island and coral reefs of Torres Strait.

The west coast is bordered by the Gulf of Carpentaria and the east coast by the Coral Sea. There is no clear border to the south, but the boundary in the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 of Queensland follows the 16°S latitude[4]).

At the peninsula’s widest point, it is 430 km from the Bloomfield River, on the east coast, to the Aboriginal community of Kowanyama on the west coast. It is some 660 km from the southern border, to the tip of Cape York. The largest islands in the Torres Strait include Prince of Wales Island, Horn Island, Moa, and Badu Island.

Cape York is the northern most point on the Australian continent. It was named by Lieutenant James Cook on 21 August, 1770, after Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany. The Duke was a brother of King George III of the United Kingdom, and died from illness in 1767 when he was only 20 years old:

"The point of the Main, which forms one side of the Passage before mentioned, and which is the Northern Promontory of this Country, I have named York Cape, in honour of his late Royal Highness, the Duke of York."[5]

The tropical landscapes are among the most stable in the world.[2] There has been no tectonic activity for millions of years. The peninsula is an extremely eroded, almost level, low plain with mighty meandering rivers and vast floodplains. There are some very low hills, about 800m above sea level in the McIlwraith Range on the eastern side around Coen.

Part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range, the Peninsula Ridge, is like a backbone along the peninsula. This mountain range is made up of ancient (1,500 million year-old) Precambrian and Palaeozoic rocks. [2][3] To the east and west of the Peninsula Ridge lie the Carpentaria and Laura Basins, themselves made up of ancient Mesozoic sediments.[3] There are several important landforms on the peninsula: the large area of undisturbed sand dunes on the east coast around Shelburne Bay and Cape Bedford-Cape Flattery; the huge piles of black granite boulders at Black Mountain National Park and Cape Melville; and the limestone karsts around Palmerston in the south.[2]

The soils are poor, even compared to other areas of Australia. They are ancient and weathered, not suitable for ploughing and do not respond to fertilizers. Because of the poor soil, the region is thinly settled. Attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed.

The climate on Cape York Peninsula is tropical and monsoonal. The heavy monsoon season is from November to April, during which time the forest becomes almost inhabitable. The dry season is from May to October. The temperature is warm to hot, with a cooler climate in higher areas. The mean annual temperatures range from 18 °C at higher elevations to 27 °C on the lowlands in the drier south-west. Temperatures over 40 °C and below 5 °C are rare.

Annual rainfall is high, ranging from over 2000 mm. in the Iron Range and north of Weipa to about 700 mm. at the southern border. Most of this rain falls between November and April. Only on the eastern slopes of the Iron Range is the median rainfall between June and September above 5mm (0.2 inches). Between January and March, however, the median monthly rainfall ranges from about 170mm (6.5 inches) in the south to over 500mm (20 inches) in the north and on the Iron Range.

Rivers

The Peninsula Ridge forms the drainage divide between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Coral Sea. To the west, large, winding river systems including the Mitchell, Coleman, Holroyd, Archer, Watson, Wenlock, Ducie and Jardine flow into the Gulf of Carpentaria. During the Dry season, those rivers become a series of waterholes and sandy beds. Yet, with the heavy rains in the Wet season, they become mighty waterways, spreading across huge floodplains and coastal wetlands and giving life to many freshwater and wetland species.[3]

On the Eastern slopes, the shorter, faster-flowing Jacky Jacky Creek, Olive, Pascoe, Lockhart, Stewart, Jeannie and Endeavour Rivers flow towards the Coral Sea. These provide important freshwater and nutrients to the healthiest section of the Great Barrier Reef. Along their banks, those wild, undisturbed rivers are lined with dense rainforests, sand dunes or mangroves.[3]

The floodplains of the Laura Basin are now protected in the Lakefield and Jack River National Parks. The plains are crossed by the Morehead, Hann, North Kennedy, Laura, Jack and Normanby Rivers.

The Peninsula’s rivers are famous for their hydrological integrity. This means that they are still in their natural state, with water flows and vegetation unchanged. Cape York Peninsula is one of the few places where tropical water cycles remain unchanged.[2] Cape York Peninsula has as much as a quarter of Australia's surface runoff. With less than 3% of Australia's land area it produces more run-off than all of Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The peninsula’s rivers are also important as they put water back into central Australia’s Great Artesian Basin.[2] The Queensland Government is planning to protect 13 of Cape York Peninsula’s wild rivers under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.[6]

Geological history

Around 40 million years ago, the Indo-Australian tectonic plate began to split apart from the ancient supercontinent Gondwana. As it crashed into the Pacific Plate on its northward journey, the high mountain ranges of central New Guinea were made around 5 million years ago.[3] Protected from this collision zone, the ancient rocks of what is now Cape York Peninsula were did not move.

During the Pleistocene epoch Australia and New Guinea have been land-linked and separated by water a number of times. During the ice ages with their low sea levels, Cape York Peninsula was a low-lying land bridge.[2] Another link existed between Arnhem Land and New Guinea, at times making a big freshwater lake, Lake Carpentaria, in the centre of what is now the Gulf of Carpentaria.[7] In this way, Australia and New Guinea were joined until the shallow Torres Strait was last flooded around 8,000 years ago.[1]

Ecology

Plants

Cape York Peninsula has a range of intact tropical rainforests, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannahs, and shrublands, tropical savannahs, heath lands, wetlands, wild rivers and mangrove swamps.[2] These are home to about 3300 species of flowering plants.[8] Almost all of the Cape York Peninsula (99.6%) still has its native vegetation.[8] Cape York Peninsula also contains one of the highest rates of endemism in Australia, with more than 260 endemic plant species found so far.[2][9][10] Becaues of this, parts of the Peninsula have been noted for their very high wilderness quality.[9] The plants of the peninsula includes original Gondwanan species, plants that have developed since the breakup of Gondwana and species from Indo-Malaya and from across the Torres Strait in New Guinea. Most variety is found in the rainforest areas. Most of the Cape York Peninsula is drier than New Guinea which stops the rainforest plants of that island from moving across to Australia. [11]

Most of the Cape York Peninsula is covered in grass and woodlands. These have a tall, thick grass layer and scattered trees, mostly eucalypts. The most common tree is the Darwin stringybark.[7] Although common and complete on the peninsula, tropical savannahs are now rare and in poor condition in other parts of the world.[2]

Tropical rainforests cover an area of 748,000 ha, or 5.6 percent of the total land area of Cape York Peninsula.[12] Rainforests need some rainfall during the long Dry season. These conditions are mostly found on the eastern slopes of the Cape’s coastal ranges. These are old-growth forests and support a huge range of plants. These rainforests are of high conservation significance.[9] The largest rainforest area on the Cape is in the McIllwraith Range-Iron Range area.[7] The Gondwanan plants of this area includes Araucariaceae and Podocarpaceae conifers and Arthrochilus, Corybas, and Calochilus orchids. This rainforest has at least 1000 different plants, including 100 rare or threatened species, and 16% of Australia's orchid species.

On poor, dry soils tropical heathlands can be found. North-east Cape York Peninsula has Australia’s largest areas of this highly diverse ecosystem.[7]

The big wetlands on Cape York Peninsula are “among the largest, richest and most diverse in Australia”.[9] 19 wetlands of national significance have been identified, mostly on the large floodplains and in coastal areas. Important wetlands include the Jardine River National Park, Lakefield National Park and the estuaries of the great rivers of the western plains.[9] Many of these wetland only happen during the Wet season and have rare or uncommon plant types.[12]

The Peninsula’s coastal areas and river estuaries are lined with mangrove forests of kwila and other trees. Australia’s largest mangrove forest can be found at Newcastle Bay.

Animals

The Cape has lots of animals, with more than 700 vertebrate land animal species . Of these 40 are are found are only found here. Because of its geological history, the plants and animals "of Cape York Peninsula are a complex mixture of Gondwanan relics, Australian isolationists and Asian or New Guinean invaders” (p. 41).[3] Birds include Buff-breasted Buttonquail (Turnix olivii), Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotus chrysopterygius), Lovely Fairywren (Malurus amabilis), White-streaked Honeyeater (Trichodere cockerelli), and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater (Meliphaga notata). Some such as Pied Oystercatcher are found in other parts of Australia but have important populations on the peninsula. The Cape is also home to the Eastern brown snake, one of the world's most venomous snakes. Mammals include the endangered rodent Bramble Cay Melomys, found only on Bramble Cay in the Torres Strait.

The rainforests of the Iron Range have species that are also found in New Guinea, including the Eclectus Parrot and Southern Common Cuscus. Other rainforest animals includes 200 species of butterfly including 11 endemic butterflies one of which is the huge Green Birdwing, the Green Tree Python and the Northern Quoll. Number of this forest marsupial have dropped because they have tried to eat the introduced poisonous cane toads.

The riverbanks of the lowlands are home to specific wildlife of their own. The rivers including the Jardine, Jackson, Olive, Holroyd and the Wenlock are rich in fish. The wetlands and coastal mangroves are noted for their importance as a fish nursery and crocodile habitat, providing important drought refuge [7][9]. The Great Barrier Reef lies off the east coast and is an important marine habitat.

Threats and preservation

Cattle farms use about 57% of the total area, mostly in central and eastern Cape York Peninsula. Indigenous land comprises about 20%, with the entire West coast being held under Native title. The remainder is mostly National Park and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. Land uses include broad acre pastoralism, bauxite and silica sand mining, nature reserves, tourism and fishing. There are big deposits of bauxite along the west or Gulf of Carpentaria coast. Weipa is the centre for mining. [13][14] Much has been damaged by overgrazing, mining, fires, wild pigs, cane toads, weeds, and other introduced species.[15][16] But Cape York Peninsula remains fairly unspoilt with intact and healthy river systems and no recorded plant or animal extinction since European settlement.

The "Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy" study, by the Australian government in 1990, created plans to protect the wilderness. A nomination for World Natural Heritage is currently being looked at by the Queensland and Australian Federal governments.[17] Major national parks include the Jardine River National Park in the far north, Mungkan Kandju National Park near Aurukun, and Lakefield National Park in the southeast of the bioregion.

People and culture

The first known contact between Europeans and Aborigines took place on the west coast of the peninsula in 1606. It was not settled by Europeans until the 19th century when fishing communities, then cattle ranches and later mining towns were started. European settlement led to the displacement of Aboriginal communities and the arrival of Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland. Today the peninsula has a population of about 18,000, of which a large percentage (~60 %) are Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.[7][18]

The administrative and commercial centre for much of Cape York Peninsula is Cooktown, located in its far south-eastern corner. The peninsula’s largest settlement is the mining town Weipa on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Most of the Peninsula has few people, with half the population living in very small settlements and cattle ranches. Along the Peninsula Developmental Road, there are small service centres at Lakeland, Laura and Coen. At the tip of Cape York, there is a sizeable service centre on nearby Thursday Island. Aboriginal communities are at Hopevale, Pormpuraaw, Kowanyama, Aurukun, Lockhart River, Napranum, Mapoon, Injinoo, New Mapoon and Umagico. Torres Strait Islander communities on the mainland are at Bamaga and Seisia.[2][18] A completely sealed inland road links Cairns and the Atherton Tableland to Lakeland Downs and Cooktown. The road north of Lakeland Downs to the tip of the Peninsula is sometimes cut after heavy rains during the wet season (roughly December to May).

The Peninsula is a popular with tourists in the Dry Season for camping, hiking, birdwatching and fishing. Many people make the adventurous, but rewarding, drive to the tip of Cape York, the northernmost point of mainland Australia.

Some of the world's most extensive and ancient Aboriginal rock painting galleries surround the town of Laura, some of which are available for public viewing. There is also a new Interpretive Centre from which information on the rock art and local culture is available and tours can be arranged.

Solar eclipse

As weather permits, the next total eclipse of the sun should be visible from Cape York, Australia, as well as some northern islands of New Zealand. This eclipse will occur on November 13, 2012.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Mittermeier, R.E. et al. (2002). Wilderness: Earth’s last wild places. Mexico City: Agrupación Sierra Madre, S.C.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 Mackey, B. G., Nix, H., & Hitchcock, P. (2001). The natural heritage significance of Cape York Peninsula. Retrieved January 15, 2008, from http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/register/p00582aj.pdf.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Frith, D.W., Frith, C.B. (1995). Cape York Peninsula: A Natural History. Chatswood: Reed Books Australia. Reprinted with amendments in 2006. ISBN 0-7301-0469-9.
  4. Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel. (2007). Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/CURRENT/C/CapeYorkPHA07.pdf
  5. From Cook's Journal
  6. Office of the Queensland Parliamentary Counsel. (2005). Wild Rivers Act 2005. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/LEGISLTN/ACTS/2005/05AC042.pdf.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Woinarski, J., Mackey, B., Nix, H., Traill, B. (2007). The nature of northern Australia: Natural values, ecological processes and future prospects. Canberra: ANU E press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Neldner, V.J., Clarkson, J.R. (1994). Vegetation Survey of Cape York Peninsula. Cape York Peninsula Land Use Study (CYPLUS). Office of the Co-ordinator General and Department of Environment and Heritage, Government of Queensland: Brisbane.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., Bugg, A. (1995). Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula. Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy. Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland,Australian Heritage Commission. Accessed January 15, 2008, http://www.environment.gov.au/erin/cyplus/lup/index.html.
  10. Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland. (2000). Queensland Museum. ISBN 0-7242-9349-3.
  11. Terrestrial Ecoregions - Cape York Peninsula tropical savanna (AA0703)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Cofinas, M., Creighton, C. (2001). Australian Native Vegetation Assessment. National Land and Water Resources Audit. Accessed April 20, 2008, http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/vegetation/pubs/native_vegetation/nat_veg_contents.html.
  13. (Sattler & Williams, 1999)
  14. Australian Government. Australian Natural Resource Atlas. Accessed April 20, 2008, http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/rangelands/overview/qld/ibra-cyp.html.
  15. Wynter, Jo and Hill, John. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development. The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.
  16. Rangelands - Overview - Cape York Peninsula
  17. Valentine, Peter S. (2006). Compiling a case for World Heritage on Cape York Peninsula. Retrieved February 7, 2008, from http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/publications/p02227aa.pdf/Compiling_a_case_for_World_Heritage_on_Cape_York_Peninsula_Final_report_for_QPWS_/_compiled_by_Peter_S_Valentine_James_Cook_University.pdf.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Cape York Peninsula Development Association. Homepage. Accessed April 23, 2008, http://www.cypda.com.au/front_page.

Further references

  • Hough, Richard. 1994. Captain James Cook: a biography. Hodder and Stroughton, London. ISBN 0-340-58598-6.
  • Pike, Glenville. 1979. Queen of the North: A Pictorial History of Cooktown and Cape York Peninsula. G. Pike. ISBN 0-9598960-5-8.
  • Moon, Ron & Viv. 2003. Cape York: An Adventurer's Guide. 9th edition. Moon Adventure Publications, Pearcedale, Victoria. ISBN 0-9578766-4-5
  • Moore, David R. 1979. Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848-1850 'Rattlesnake' Journals of O. W. Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra. ISBN 0-85575-076-6 (hbk); 0-85575-082-0 (pbk). USA edition ISBN 0-391-00946-X (hbk); 0-391-00948-6 (pbk).
  • Pohlner, Peter. 1986. gangaurru. Hopevale Mission Board, Milton, Queensland. ISBN 1-86252-311-8
  • Trezise, P.J. 1969. Quinkan Country: Adventures in Search of Aboriginal Cave Paintings in Cape York. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Sydney.
  • Trezise, Percy. 1973. Last Days of a Wilderness. William Collins (Aust) Ltd., Brisbane. ISBN 0-00-211434-8.
  • Trezise, P.J. 1993. Dream Road: A Journey of Discovery. Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, Sydney.
  • Haviland, John B. with Hart, Roger. 1998. Old Man Fog and the Last Aborigines of Barrow Point. Crawford House Publishing, Bathurst.
  • Premier's Department (prepared by Connell Wagner). 1989. Cape York Peninsula Resource Analysis. Cairns. (1989). ISBN 0-7242-7008-6.
  • Roth, W.E. 1897. The Queensland Aborigines. 3 Vols. Reprint: Facsimilie Edition, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, W.A., 1984. ISBN 0-85905-054-8
  • Ryan, Michelle and Burwell, Colin, eds. 2000. Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland: Cooktown to Mackay. Queensland Museum, Brisbane. ISBN 0-85905-045-9 (set of 3 vols).
  • Scarth-Johnson, Vera. 2000. National Treasures: Flowering plants of Cooktown and Northern Australia. Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association, Cooktown. ISBN 0-646-39726-5 (pbk); ISBN 0-646-39725-7 Limited Edition - Leather Bound.
  • Sutton, Peter (ed). Languages of Cape York: Papers presented to a Symposium organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. (1976). ISBN 0-85575-046-4
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2000. Nomads of the 19th Century Queensland Goldfields. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-875998-89-6
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2003. Cape York Peninsula: A History of Unlauded Heroes 1845-2003. Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-876780-43-6
  • Wynter, Jo and Hill, John. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development. The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.


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