Community attitudes, knowledge, perceptions and use of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area in 2007

Wet Tropics

The need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the role that protected areas play in the lives of communities is as important as developing a greater understanding of the scientific aspects of protected areas. The aim here was to monitor the attitudes, perceptions, knowledge and use of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area (WTWHA) by residents of the Wet Tropics bioregion. The research builds on previous community attitude surveys that have been undertaken for the Wet Tropics Management Authority (WTMA).

The methodology used in this study parallels that used in the 2002 Community Survey (Bentrupperbäumer and Reser, 2002) enabling comparisons to be made with the earlier study. More than four thousand surveys were randomly distributed to residents using reply paid surveys distributed through private post office boxes in rural and regional areas or by delivering and collecting the survey from residents at their homes. A total of 853 valid surveys were collected, representing residents from Townsville to Cape Tribulation and west to Ravenshoe. The survey focused on awareness and importance of the WTWHA; residents’ knowledge, support, visitation and use of the Area; perceptions of management; and the role the WTWHA plays in the life of the community.

Socio-demographically, slightly more females than males completed the 2007 Community Survey. The average age of respondents was 49 years, with more than seventy percent of respondents having lived in the Wet Tropics bioregion for at least ten years. On average respondents had lived in the region for 24 years, and more than half had a technical, trade or university education. The largest group of respondents indicated their occupation as pensioners, retired or unemployed (22.8%), followed by professionals and associate professionals (17.7%).

Almost all of the respondents (92%) were aware the Wet Tropics rainforests of North Queensland were World Heritage listed. The importance of the World Heritage listing for the community has increased between 2002 and 2007. Having two World Heritage Areas (the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef) in North Queensland was rated as ‘very significant’ by 67.5% of the respondents. Respondents perceived their knowledge of the WTWHA to be moderate, and understood that the benefits of the World Heritage listing are protection, conservation and preservation of the Area (45.8%). Actual knowledge of the northern and southern boundaries of the WTWHA is low.

Interpretative signage provided at visitor sites is the most used information source provided by Wet Tropics land managers. Newspapers, word-of-mouth and television were the most popular general sources of information used to increase knowledge of the WTWHA. While almost all respondents (89%) had visited the WTWHA at least once, half of the respondents indicated they visit the WTWHA up to four times a year on average. All of the respondents had visited the WTWHA within the past two years, with the main reason for visiting being recreation. Mission Beach and the Daintree were identified as the most preferred areas to visit due to their natural beauty and ease of access.

There is strong support for the World Heritage listing by more than half of the respondents (62%) and almost all of the respondents (92%) support the general level of protection afforded by the listing. This support for both the World Heritage listing and the level of protection has increased since 2002. The inclusion of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in a future World Heritage listing is supported by 72% of the respondents and 66% support some form of Aboriginal co-management.

Just knowing that the World Heritage Area exists and that it is contributing to the community’s quality of life is perceived as the main personal benefits of living in the Wet Tropics bioregion. In 2002, the same personal benefits were indicated, now with an increased level of appreciation. From a regional perspective, enhancing environmental awareness and knowledge and the protection of rainforest plants and animals are considered the most important community benefits. Rules, regulations and restrictions, followed by feral plants and animals, are considered to be the main disadvantages of most concern to the community. Feral animals and plants are also considered to be the most serious threats to the WTWHA and the perceptions are that this threat is not being adequately addressed.

The majority of respondents expect the management agency to protect, conserve and preserve the WTWHA. However, there is some confusion as to who the management agency is and which logo identifies the Area. Overall perceptions of the management agency’s ability to manage the natural attributes of the WTWHA and the Aboriginal cultural sites have decreased slightly since 2002.

Continued monitoring of the community’s attitudes, knowledge, perceptions and use of the WTWHA allows the management agency to engage the community in decision making processes regarding the future planning and management of the Area. This report builds on baseline data collected by the WTMA since 1992 and specifically allows measurement of changing perceptions since 2002.