Crocodiles hurting reputation of region's beaches: Community


Mark Murray


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Michael Joyce from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection responds to a question at the public meeting on crocodile management yesterday in Port Douglas. IMAGE: Mark Murray - Newsport.
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STAFF from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) were taken to task today by the Douglas Shire community at a public meeting on crocodile management.

Businesses, organisations and members of the community from Port Douglas, Mossman and the Daintree voiced their concerns at the increasing risk of large crocodiles and the diminishing safety of the regions beaches.

EHP was represented by Lindsay Delzoppo and Michael Joyce, the two men who decide which reported crocodiles are removed. The meeting was chaired by Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu and the Director of the Daintree Marketing Cooperative, Sheena Walshaw.

Numerous businesses from the Daintree and Cape Tribulation were present, while the increase of crocodiles along Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas sparked heated discussion.

Walshaw said the impact crocodiles could have on the reputation of beaches in the region was a concern. She said rest, relaxation and our beaches were among the top three motivations for travelling to the Douglas Shire, which has a tourism industry of $489 million.

“Throughout the Douglas Shire, it’s indisputable that our beaches are at the heart of what attracts visitors to our region and they form the basis of much of the leisure time spent holidaying here,” Walshaw said.

“As a community we have to consider the long term affect and an appropriate and sustainable response (to crocodiles). With regards to the tourism industry, I believe that the key impacts facing us, should our beaches be considered unsafe in the future, would be loss of some tourism product which would definitely diminish the strength of our industry.

“A potential decrease in tourists from our existing markets, and I believe most critically, if beaches are removed as a motivation for travel, we would face a potentially devastating decrease in length of stay in both the Douglas and Daintree regions. This would affect every part ofour industry and community.

The current length of stay in the region, on average, is just over five days.

Wendy Crossman, who owns By The Sea Port Douglas, believes the famed Four Mile Beach was ‘on the cusp’ of losing its perception of being a safe place to swim. She said two of her guests came across a pair of crocodiles lying in the shallows of the beach just this morning.

“I would like to know, what do I tell those guests?” she asked the EHP officers at the Port Douglas Community Hall.

“If they didn’t have their shoes on, and were wading (in the water), what was the chance of them being attacked? Just how safe are they, because I’m rather concerned about someone getting hurt by a crocodile before it’s removed.”

Crossman, who has been in the tourism industry for 25 years, said she'd never seen as many crocodiles than in the last 12 months.

“Once Four Mile Beach becomes known that it’s a place where it is not safe to get into the water as a general perception, then the affects on the Port Douglas economy are going to be major,” she said.

“The majority (of people) especially from accommodation complexes, actually come from those escaping the cold domestically from down south, they’re the ones paying the high rates, and its those higher rates that pay staff.

“They’re looking first and foremost, as was indicated (by the Daintree Marketing Cooperative) for rest, to lie on the beach and by implication, be able to swim. If there is a perception that they are not safe on that beach, then there are many more beaches that (tourists) can actually go to, and not the one in Port Douglas.”

Peter Wright, who owns Windswell Kitesurfing and Standup Paddle in Port Douglas, said more proactive steps should be introduced to ensure crocodiles were spotted more easily on Four Mile Beach.

“When I first arrived 25 years ago I skippered the Lady Douglas up the river. We used to go looking for crocodiles, now they come down the creek looking for us,” Wright said.

“I think its time we had something better than some signs put up, after all I don’t believe all crocodiles can read, and there is a few solutions that could be easily adapted.”

One of his suggestions involved allowing more boats, such as the Lady Douglas and Shaolin, to cruise along the Four Mile Beach coastline. 

“It would put more eyes on the beach,” he said.

Port Douglas Surf Life Saving President Michael Bolt spoke at length about the impact crocodiles were having on participation on Four Mile Beach.

The meeting featured an impassioned plea from Port Douglas resident Steve Doble, who tragically lost his five-year-old son to a crocodile attack in the Daintree in 2009. He called for a more holistic approach to crocodile management.

“Everyone wants to point the finger at the crocodiles and say that it’s there problem, (but) I think we all agree that we are looking for other ways to manage them.”

* More issues arising from the crocodile management meeting will feature on Newsport tomorrow and Friday.