Mt ETNA CAVES, REGIONAL CONSERVATION PERSPECTIVE
The area of conservation interest extends beyond the karst to the surrounding area to include the whole raised area of sub tropical vine thicket.
Traditional Aboriginal burning practices have left this area surrounded by fire tolerant species of softwood scrub and ironbark.
Human impacts include:
- Some small cropping (initially bananas, pawpaws but more recently tomatoes etc)
- Guano mining prior to 1944 (severe impacts to some cave systems)
- Limestone mining early this century, after World War II and more recently on Mt Etna since 1966
- Urbanisation and fragmentation by roads
- Direct human impact on cave systems e.g. caver impact, cave commercialisation and vandalism
The karst system is raised above the surrounding plains and therefore this area does not have the problems of watershed management that other karst systems have.
Current Planning Position
Whilst this karst area has been subject to numerous scientific papers, publications and international media coverage there is no overall management plan for the area.
The Department of Environment and Heritage (National Parks and Wildlife) has developed a draft management plan for the National Park, Central Queensland Cement Pty Ltd has commenced a mine rehabilitation plan of the Mount Etna area, the commercial caves are managed by their respective owners whilst the area has various town planning zonings implemented by the Livingstone Shire Council. There is no Development Control Plan for the area and on current indications not likely to occur within five years.
The only study into the region was completed by Elery-Hamilton Smith and Randell Champion in 1976. Whilst changes in the region, particularly increasing urbanisation, National Park extensions and expected closure of the Mount Etna Mine have occurred the basic conclusions of the report have not changed greatly over the 17 years. Additional information has obviously led to a need for change in some aspects e.g. the protection of Johannsens cave from human visitation to enhance Ghost Bat survival. This report is however still the best planning tool we have for the region.
Conservation View for the Future
We need an updated planning document to link National Park planning, mine site rehabilitation planning, commercial cave planning and town planning.
Key Issues for the region from conservation perspective include:
- Ensure protection of remaining vine thicket from encroachment by residential subdivisions
- Ensure adequate wildlife corridors between fragmented areas
- Fire control particularly at perimeter of vine thickets
- Control of noxious plants and animals e.g. rubber vine, cane toad, feral cats, dogs etc
- Protection of efflux features
National Park Area
- Upgrade cave classification system
- Complete a trip leader classification system
- Acquire Cammoo caves as an entrance to the National Park rather than Johannsens cave area (Ghost Bat and vandalism concerns)
- Extensions of National Park to include reserve near Olsens cave
Commercial Cave Systems
- Direct as many users as possible to the commercial systems
- Ensure as commercial caves are sold that new owners understand the conservation concerns of their cave systems