Feature

Top End tourism threatened by climate change

G Magazine

Climate change

kakadu national park

Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory

Credit: iStockphoto

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Want to get close to a spectacular array of Australian wildlife and top up on some Aboriginal culture to boot? Then Kakadu National Park, 150 km east of Darwin in the Northern Territory, is the place to go.

It's home to more than 30 per cent of Australia's 280 species of birds and around a quarter of our native mammals - and it also has thousands of rock art sites.

The region has been continuously inhabited by people for 50,000 years and it's one of very few places on the planet that is included on the World Heritage list for both its natural and cultural values.

"It is a unique example of a complex of ecosystems, including tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateaux, and provides a habitat for a wide range of rare or endemic species of plants and animals," says UNESCO's World Heritage inscription for the park. "The cave paintings, rock carvings and archaeological sites record the skills and way of life of the region's inhabitants, from the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times to the Aboriginal people still living there."

There are a range of ecotourism operators who can help you sustainably experience the park in all its splendour - one of the best is the Kakadu Culture Camp which won Ecotourism Australia's Indigenous Culture Tour of the Year in 2009 and which was recently listed in Australian Traveller magazine's top 20 Australian tours.

Rising sea levels

While you're there though, spare a thought for the impact of rising sea levels. A 2009 report from the government's Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre found that Kakadu is one of five Australian tourism icons most at threat from the impacts of climate change.

It's a significant issue for both the environment and the economy of the Northern Territory; Kakadu is a huge tourism drawcard, and was responsible for bringing in more than 165,000 tourists during 2004/2005 alone.

"There's no doubt that Kakadu faces a serious threat from sea rise. A large percentage of Kakadu's floodplains aren't far above sea level now," says tour operator Andy Ralph. "A 30 to 60 cm sea level rise could have significant impact on the environmental and cultural values of the region. This worries not only the locals who call Kakadu home, but also all people with an interest in Kakadu's World Heritage values."

Ralph co-manages Kakadu Culture Camp with his National Park ranger wife Jenny Hunter and her family of the local Bolmo Deidjrungi clan.

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