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New tourism activities in national parks threatens natural heritage
With State and Territory Governments encouraging a growing number of commercial activities in national parks, conservation groups are raising fears of the affect tourism will have on Australia's natural heritage and wildlife.
With the Northern Territory, NSW and Tasmania looking to follow Queensland and Victoria in allowing new commercial enterprise and development in national parks for the first time in generations, conservationists have questioned the need for such development, fearing that they will erode the protection of natural heritage that national parks are supposed to provide.
One of the first projects being considered for national parks is a zipline tour that would travel above the Obi Obi Gorge (pictured below) at Kondalilla National Park in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland.
The company developing the tour already runs one zip line operation, at Hollybank in Tasmania, and is also developing another at Toolangi north of Melbourne.
It uses platforms called cloud stations, which are clamped onto large trees for people to stand on.
The company says the specifications of its proposal are still being determined and that the forest will not be harmed by the installation process.
Four other proposals have been deemed fit to proceed by the Queensland Government but are yet to engage in the permit process, while a further 11 proposals have been referred to government departments for further progress.
The Queensland Government changed the state's Nature Conservation Act last year to allow new business ventures in its parks.
The first tourism venture to take advantage of the move is a solar-powered boat cruise up Lawn Hill Gorge in Boodjamulla National Park in the Gulf country.
Like Queensland did, the Northern Territory Government is now calling for expressions of interest.
In a statement, it said it is opening up 86 parks and reserves "to unlock the full visitor potential in these areas while contributing to the conservation of the Territory's natural environment".
Victoria announced it would make the same move in 2012, amending legislation to allow 99-year leases over parts of parks.
This has allowed development proposals to be put forward for some of the state's most significant natural areas, like the Grampians.
Most recently, the Victorian Government announced it will allow development within the Point Nepean National Park on a former quarantine station.
Conservationists “ideology” is driving the changes, with Australian Conservation Foundation Campaign Director Paul Sinclair recently telling the ABC "national parks are held in trust for the people of Australia. They're not owned by any state government or any business, so their primary function is to act as a park for the protection of nature.
"Fundamentally I think a lot of it is just driven by ideology.
"I think there's a sense from some people, who just don't get it, that they resent the idea that there are some parts of our country that are protected for wildlife."
The Queensland Government does not have economic modelling for what it hopes to gain from increasing commercial activity in the parks, but said it based the policy on recommendations from a steering group and the tourism industry and an unpublished evaluation of the previous Government's nature-based tourism initiative.
It said the success of ecotourism businesses in Tasmania was an inspiration for its policy decision.
A spokesperson for Queensland National Parks Minister Steve Dickson told the ABC "ecotourism, through Queensland's huge diversity of landscapes and marine life, is a key competitive tourism advantage that has the potential to become an important driver to help achieve this target."
The Queensland National Parks Association is among a number of groups that has opposed the move since it was first proposed, with Executive Director Paul Donatiu saying the change threatened the key purpose of national parks, which is to protect landscapes from human interference.
Donatiu explained "elevation of commercial use of national parks to one of the key objects of the Nature Conservation Act directly threatens the very natural values that national parks seek to conserve.”
Critics have also highlighted a lack of information from the Queensland Government about the project.
Click here to view the full ABC report from Eric Tlozek.
Main image shows Victoria's Grampians.
2nd September 2014 - CONSERVATIONISTS OBJECT TO SUNSHINE COAST ZIP LINE TOUR
23rd August 2014 - TASMANIA LOOKS TO BOOST TOURISM IN ITS NATURAL AREAS
10th April 2014 - CONSERVATIONISTS OUTRAGED AT HORSE RIDING TRIAL IN NSW WILDERNESS AREAS
23rd February 2014 - RECREATIONAL DIVERS CONCERNED OVER RETURN OF FISHING IN NSW MARINE PARKS
22nd August 2013 - CONSERVATION AND TOURISM NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE IN VICTORIA’S NATIONAL PARKS
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