This area, which stretches along the north-east coast of Australia for some 450 km, is made up largely of tropical rainforests. This biotope offers a particularly extensive and varied array of plants, as well as marsupials and singing birds, along with other rare and endangered animals and plant species.
This area, which stretches along the north-east coast of Australia for some 450 km, from just south of Cooktown to just north of Townsville, is made up largely of tropical rainforests. This biotope offers a particularly extensive and varied array of plants, as well as marsupials and singing birds, along with other rare and endangered animals and plant species.
The site provides an unparalleled living record of the ecological and evolutionary processes that shaped the flora and fauna of Australia over the past 415 million years when first it was part of the Pangaean landmass, then the ancient continent Gondwana, and for the past 50 million years an island continent. During these 415 million years of evolution, the processes of speciation, extinction and adaptation have been determined by history, particularly continental drift and cycles of climatic change. The rainforests which constitute about 80% of the property have more taxa with primitive characteristics than any other area on Earth.
The area contains a unique record of a mixing of two continental floras and faunas. This mixing occurred following the collision of the Australian and Asian continental plates about 15 million years ago. This collision was a unique event in that it mixed two evolutionary streams of both flora and fauna, in some cases of common origin, which had been largely separated for at least 80 million years.
The ancestry of all Australia's unique marsupials and most of its other animals originated in rainforest ecosystems of which the Wet Tropics of Queensland still contains many of the closest surviving members. The site contains one of the most important living records of the history of marsupials and songbirds. The Riversleigh fossil deposits (Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte) World Heritage site) are rich in marsupial fossil taxa closely related to those still living in the rainforests of the Wet Tropics of Queensland, which represent the best surviving equivalent of the Oligo-Miocene rainforests of Riversleigh. Today the main vegetation type is wet tropical rainforest but this is fringed and to some extent dissected by sclerophyll forests, woodlands, swamps and mangrove forests. The rainforests of the site have been classified into 13 main structural types, including two that have sclerophyll components and have the richest fauna in Australia. The mammal fauna includes monotremes, marsupials, rodents and bats. Nine species are endemic: these include four species of ringtail possum, Australia's only two tree kangaroo species, and the musky rat-kangaroo, which is the smallest and in many respects the most primitive of the macropods. The last two of the endemics, the Thornton Peak rat and Atherton antechinus , have very restricted distributions which have been used as the basis for defining two centres of endemism for flightless mammals. A notable presence is the flightless Australian cassowary, one of the largest birds in the world.
Aboriginal occupation in the area between Cooktown and Cardwell is thought to date back at least 40,000 years. The northern tribes (Barrineans) are considered to represent the first wave of the Aboriginal occupation of Australia, making theirs the oldest rainforest culture in the world. Rainforest culture differed markedly from that of most other Australian Aboriginal tribes, with its heavy dependence on arboreal skills, everyday use of toxic plants and unique weapons. Major centres of survival of this culture are at the Bloomfield River and Murray Upper.
About 185,OOOha is reserved in 41 national parks designated by the Queensland State Government over the last 50 years. They have been managed by the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service since its inception in 1975. Previously, they were managed by the Queensland Forestry Department. State forests, timber reserves and reserves were established over a similar period. Yarrabah Aboriginal and Islander Reserve was created in 1892. Details for individual protected areas are appended. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1988.