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Our natural assets matter to the world

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Our natural assets matter to the world

With World Environment Day on June 5, it’s timely to reflect on what it means for us to live in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. WORDS: Lucinda Dean.

UNESCO designated the Sunshine Coast Local Government Area a Biosphere Reserve in 2022.

It sits south of the Noosa and Great Sandy Biosphere Reserves, making the entire Sunshine Coast the only place in the world where three UNESCO Biosphere Reserves coexist.

Collectively, they form a biosphere corridor which stretches along more than 100km of pristine coastline from Tin Can Bay, to south of Caloundra, and inland to the hinterland, as south as the Glass House Mountains.

But what exactly is a biosphere?

In essence, a biosphere is an area of natural beauty, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognises as an international site of excellence. It’s a place where people live, work and play sustainably alongside an active commitment to ecosystem conservation and preservation for future generations.

Still, it’s one of those nebulous terms which can mean different things to different people.

Deputy Mayor Maria Suarez says everyone has a role to play in our biosphere, as one small change today could create a ripple effect across our communities.

“It could be as simple as picking up litter from our beaches during your afternoon walk,” Deputy Mayor Suarez says.

“It could be giving home composting a go to get your garden thriving.

“It could be checking in on your neighbour or starting a social group to bring people in your area together.

“It could be buying local or finding interesting and creative ways to make your business more sustainable and then sharing your learnings far and wide.”

The community is invited to connect with each other and learn more about what it means to live in the Sunshine Coast Biosphere through a series of upcoming conversations to be hosted by Sunshine Coast Council: “Creating connections: exploring the Sunshine Coast Biosphere with our community”.

Biodiversity has always been our region’s beating heart

Sunshine Coast Council forged a partnership with the State Government and Unitywater in 2019 to manage the Maroochy River floodplain in an adaptive and sustainable way, now and 80 years into the future.

Called Blue Heart, the project encompasses a 640-square kilometre catchment area between the Blackall Range and the Coral Sea. Its headwater streams flow from the hills onto the floodplain and joining the Maroochy River estuary, which stretches 25km between Yandina and Maroochydore.

The project gets its name from the literal heart shape that forms when floodwater spills out onto the floodplain after major rainfall.

Deputy Mayor Suarez says the floodplain provides critical floodwater storage for the lower Maroochy River, which we saw in action during the 2022 floods. The area temporarily stored floodwater before slowly releasing it, which lowered the impacts on downstream coastal communities.

In dry times, tidal flows bring salty water up the river and into its connected waterways, and then back out again.

The science suggests that climate change and rising sea levels will impact these cycles of wet and dry, resulting in larger tracts being reclaimed by nature.

“It’s important we plan for climate change-driven challenges like increased rainfall, flooding and permanent sea level rise, and the Blue Heart is a major part of this long-term planning for the lower Maroochy River catchment,” Deputy Mayor Suarez says.

Impacts from historical use of the land and old cane farming practices are still being felt today.

From the 1900s until 2003 when the regional sugar mill closed, cane farmers would cut deep channels down to the estuaries to drain fresh water off their fields and gate them to prevent tidal waters coming back in.

Some of these drains and tidal gates have degraded over time and some have been opened in recent years, which has brought more salty water into the floodplain with rising tides.

Consequently, these areas are slowly being reclaimed as mangroves and salt marsh vegetation areas.

Deputy Mayor Suarez says Blue Heart partners were working to protect the most-critical areas of the floodplain, establish wetland and floodplain ecosystems, improve water quality in the Maroochy River, provide recreation opportunities for the community, and investigate and support new uses for rural and agricultural lands including economic opportunities for landholders such as blue carbon farming.

To find out more, visit sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/blueheart.

Dark Sky Reserve set to play a starring role in hinterland ecology and tourism

From now until June 16, Sunshine Council invites you to have your say on the proposed establishment of a Dark Sky Reserve, which would include the townships of Maleny, Mapleton, Montville, Witta, Flaxton and Conondale.

The proposed reserve area encompasses 873 square kilometres in the Mary River Catchment and connected national parks, covering 38 per cent of the Sunshine Coast local government area.

Dark skies are important for: our health and wellbeing; protecting wildlife that move and feed at night; reducing carbon emissions; and promoting astro-tourism, which supports local businesses. There are just six Dark Sky Reserve locations around the world, including central Idaho (United States), the Murray River (Australia), Mercantour (France), Aoraki Mackenzie (New Zealand), Brecon Beacons (Wales) and the Rhon Mountains (Germany).

Division 10 Councillor David Law says there will be no mandate for residents and businesses to change their lights or to switch off lights. Rather, it’s all about smarter lighting.

“There is a monumental difference a well-designed, fit-for-purpose light can make, whether it’s a public streetlight or a lamp for your garden path,” Cr Law says.

“We’re encouraging our community to get involved and consider the small changes that are in your power: making sure your outdoor lighting is useful, targeted, low-level, controlled and warm coloured wherever possible.”

Visit haveyoursay.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au.

Calling all citizen scientists

Find out how researchers across the Sunshine Coast are partnering with citizen scientists to increase scientific knowledge, collect data and share stories with the aim of monitoring and protecting our biosphere.

Hear from keynote speaker Tyson Yunkaporta – the acclaimed First Nations author of Sand Talk and Right Story, Wrong Story – about how story is at the heart of everything, and Earthwatch CEO Fiona Sutton Wilson on how global challenges are being tackled at a local level.

What: The Sunshine Coast Open Data Expo – a free interactive event.

When: Wednesday, June 19, 9am-2pm.

Where: Doonan Creek Environment Reserve, 219 Doonan Bridge Road, Verrierdale.

Registration for the expo and the citizen science workshops are essential. Visit events.sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au/.

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