Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte)
Riversleigh and Naracoorte, situated in the north and south respectively of eastern Australia, are among the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites. They are a superb illustration of the key stages of evolution of Australia’s unique fauna.
2017 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Extensive deposits of vertebrate fossils
Riversleigh provides exceptional, and in many cases unique, mammal assemblages spanning the period from Late Oligocene (approximately 28 million years ago) to Late Pleistocene in age (approximately 30,000 years ago). From studying these assemblages it is possible to document changes in habitat from humid, lowland rainforest to dry forests, woodlands and grasslands. These assemblages also provide the first fossil record for many distinctive groups of living mammals such as the marsupial moles and feather-tailed possums. The Naracoorte assemblages open a window into a significant period of Earth’s history from the mid-Pleistocene to present (530,000 years ago to today), a period characterised by great climatic changes. (SoOUV, 2012)
Evidence of evolutionary change
The Naracoorte assemblages span the time of arrival of humans to Australia and thus are of additional value in helping unravel the complex relationships between humans and their environment. The sites highlight the potential impacts of climatic change and humans on Australia’s mammals, including its now vanished megafauna. (SoOUV, 2012)
The National Recovery Plan for the Southern bent-wing bat shows a range of threats have been suggested as potential factors in this decline, including loss and modification of roosting and foraging habitat, human disturbance, pesticides, disease, and drought and climate change affecting food availability. Recent population monitoring indicates early population estimate methodology was flawed and that population variance has most likely been the result of normal fluctuations in climate. In 2016, the bats numbered between 30 000 and 42 000. Further research is continuing to gain a greater understanding population dynamics and impacts of human disturbance on this species.
The species is listed as Endangered in the ‘Action Plan for Australian Mammals 2012’, under the revised taxonomic name of Miniopterus orianae bassanii. (National Bat Recovery Plan, L.F. Lumsden and M.L. Jemison, 2015). The National Recovery Plan recognises an urgent need to determine the factors contributing to this decline, in order to implement the most effective and targeted management actions.
There is anecdotal evidence of small-scale disturbance at Riversleigh but it is not clear that it is an ongoing threat. The responsible management authority subsequently developed a public education campaign to ensure visitors were well informed that removal of material is not permitted. (Periodic Report, 2003). Currently this threat is considered very low (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Both acknowledge the need for some degree of structure in the research. The Naracoorte plan includes a requirement to ‘establish a research program coordinating committee’ and the Riversleigh strategy includes the requirement to ‘develop and implement a five-year Research Plan’.
Research at Riversleigh is regulated by the Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing via the (Qld) Nature Conservation Act 1992 and permit applications are evaluated in coordination with the Queensland Museum (the States statutory custodian of the excavated fossils).
Permittees are required to put in a Referral to the Department of Environment and Energy under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation 1999. This referral also considers the proposed activities impact on the World Heritage Value.
In accordance with the Australian World Heritage management principles, DEWNR developed The Naracoorte Caves Scientific Research Opportunities and Guidelines with input from the Naracoorte Caves Interagency Reference Group (IRG). DEWNR also sought expert advice from other stakeholders with a particular interest in the Naracoorte Caves including researchers, recreational cavers and community organisations.
The Commonwealth Government approved funding for the Naracoorte Caves Advisory Committee for Naracoorte for 2013-2018 (Accompanying document - AMFS Naracoorte Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement Strategy 2013-16). The Commonwealth has earmarked additional funding for World Heritage properties including AFMS Property from July 2017-June 2023.
The analysis of the fossil record is fundamental to understanding the site’s Outstanding Universal value. The excavation of fossil material for scientific purposes from the Riversleigh component of the property is undertaken sensitively and under permit, and with sensitivity to the concerns from the Waanyi Aboriginal people (Traditional Owners) (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
As previously highlighted NPSR has developed a plan to redevelop visitor facilities and significantly improve site interpretation. Once implemented these facilities should mitigate against impacts of future increases in visitation.
While permanent security cameras are currently not considered necessary at Riversleigh, improved interpretation, community awareness and close cooperation between commercial tour operators and neighbouring landholders and park rangers help to mitigate against inappropriate visitor activities (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
The Riversleigh fossil deposits are largely situated within the boundary of the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, but also extend outside the World Heritage area in both the national park and on Riversleigh Station. The Naracoorte fossil deposits are situated within the Naracoorte Caves National Park. Both sections of the Property are protected under the relevant parks legislation of the States in which they are situated. In May 2017, the South Australian Heritage Council confirmed the Naracoorte Caves Complex as a State Heritage Place in the South Australian Heritage Register. This formal recognition as an important part of South Australia’s rich non-Aboriginal heritage adds another layer of protection as State Heritage Places are protected under the Heritage Places Act 1993 and the Development Act 1993.(Notice of confirmation of entry in South Australian Heritage Register, 2017)
They are also subject to the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 under which any action that has, will or might have a significant impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Importantly, this Act also aims to protect World Heritage properties from impacts that originate outside the property. It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts. (Periodic Report)
The South Australia Heritage Act, 1993 provides for the conservation of places of heritage value and the Development Act 1993 provides for planning and regulating development, the management of land, and the design and construction of buildings.
The Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, which the Riversleigh property is a part, has a Management Strategy in place. The Riversleigh Management Strategy is scheduled for review (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Management of both components of this serial site therefore appears effective. However, once the draft AFMS Strategic Management Framework under consideration is finalised, it will significantly strengthen the management of the Property.
The Riversleigh section of the Property is contained within the boundaries of the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and the boundary is deemed to be adequate. (Periodic Report).
The DEWNR Scientific Permits Team with input from the IRG Research Subgroup, regional team and park management review all scientific research permit applications for work at Naracoorte Caves to determine the likely impacts of the research on World Heritage Values. In particular, DEWNR Permits Team assess the methods and always seek to minimise impacts of research from a conservation and aesthetic viewpoint if the area is in the public view. DEWNR developed a `Researchers Protocol' for Naracoorte covering all aspects of fossil extraction including minimum information that has to be recorded and procedures that are to be followed when conducting research.
Tourism is addressed by implementing rigid policies which prohibit access to all fossil producing caves within the park except where visitors are under the direct supervision of a park employee. (Periodic Report), (TRMS).
The Riversleigh Fossil Centre and Naracoorte Caves Fossil Centre and interpretive displays are vital aspects of this serial World Heritage Property.
The Riversleigh Fossil Centre at ‘Outback at Isa’ in Mount Isa provides an interpretation of Riversleigh’s World Heritage values and the ongoing research activities that occur. However, without adequate signage many members of the public as visitors fail to understand the importance and values of the Riversleigh fossil deposits. A plan to upgrade the site interpretation and facilities has been prepared. (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
Education has long been an integral part of the Naracoorte experience; special exhibitions and displays are an ongoing part of site presentation. While some of these take place external to the park, they mainly occur in the park’s visitor interpretive centre that hosts a sophisticated series of animatronic displays set within recreated habitats. Naracoorte has a range of informative interpretive signage that conveys information on the importance of the site. This a robust education and visitor experience will be developed incorporate findings from new research.
Improved interpretation of Riversleigh's World Heritage status and Outstanding Universal Value will enhance the sites reputation as an internationally significant World Heritage area. Existing interpretation at the site is dated. However, plans for new interpretive facilities have been prepared and are awaiting the allocation of funds (IUCN Consultation, 2017).
The Naracoorte Caves National Park is promoted as a prime visitor attraction and plays a substantial role in regional tourism. Modification of the caves to facilitate the interpretation of fossil deposits revolutionised the visitor experience as has the site’s interpretative centre which is focused specifically on the WH values. Cave tours give visitors an appreciation of the processes which formed the caves and their contents, with particular focus on the fossil deposits, the aesthetics of caves and the biology and cultural history of the caves and the region in which they occur.
It would be beneficial to promote the sites further via additional profiling in order to build upon and enhance scientific and tourism interest. This would, however, need to be carried out in conjunction with additional site surveillance at vulnerable locations. The value of additional public interest will be in the economic benefits derived from tourism as well as increased awareness of the need continued monitoring of likely impacts of any disturbance to the site’s World Heritage values.
Importantly, the Act also protects properties from impacts even if they originate outside the property. (SoOUV, 2012)
and the conversion of such knowledge to an education focused tourism product for the economic benefit of regional and isolated communities.
|№||Organization/ individuals||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||UNSW||Various palaeontological research projects|
|2||Friends of Naracoorte Caves (FONC)||Population monitoring of Southern bent-wing bats (Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii), AFMS Naracoorte|
|3||University of Adelaide School of Physical Sciences||
||Naracoorte Caves: a critical window on faunal extinctions and past climates|
|4||Flinders University School of Biological Sciences||
||Using the Naracoorte Caves fossil record to track changes in avian diversity and mammalian body sizes through time|
|5||The University of Melbourne School of Earth Sciences||
||Multi-proxy palaeoclimate investigation of speleothems at Naracoorte Caves|
|6||The Australian National University||
||Palaeopathology of Australian Mammals in the Late Pleistocene|
|№||Site need title||Brief description of potential site needs||Support needed for following years|
|1||Naracoorte Caves National Park Interpretation and Signage Upgrade||Naracoorte Caves National Park Interpretation and Signage Upgrade|
|2||Redevelop interpretive display at D-Site at Riversleigh||Redevelop interpretive display at D-Site at Riversleigh|
|3||Upgrades to Cameras in Bat Cave– Installation of new Thermal Imaging Cameras and Infrared Cameras||Upgrades to Cameras in Bat Cave– Installation of new Thermal Imaging Cameras and Infrared Cameras. Develop interpretive display in the fossil laboratory, AFMS Naracoorte. Improve education offering and guiding knowledge as new research emerges.|
|1||AMFS Naracoorte Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement Strategy 2013-16|
|2||Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee -Discussion Paper – August 2009(AWHAC, 2009)|
|3||Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee, August 2010 (AWHAC, 2010)|
|4||DEWNR Fire Management Plan|
|5||Draft Australian Fossil Mammal Site Strategic Framework (Draft AFMS SMF)|
|6||Draft National Bat Recovery Plan, L.M. Lumsden and M.L. Jemison, 2012|
|7||IUCN Consultation form (2017)|
|8||IUCN Technical Evaluation, Australian Fossil sites. (IUCN-ED)|
|9||Management of Underground Protected Areas, Steven Bourne, Manager, Naracoorte Caves National Park (Mang’t of U’ground PA’s, Bourne)|
|10||National Recovery Plan for the Southern Bent-wing Bat Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii, L.F. Lumsden and M.L. Jemison, 2015|
|11||Notice of confirmation of entry in South Australian Heritage Register, 2017|
|12||Periodic Report 2002 - Section II Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Periodic Report)|
|13||Powerful Partnerships: Involving Community in Managing Natural Resources, S. Manager, Naracoorte Caves National Park,(unpub.) (Powerful P’ships)|
|14||Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (2012) (SoOUV)|
|15||The Naracoorte Caves National Park Management Plan, 2001. (TNMP),|
|16||The Riversleigh Management Strategy (TRMS)|
|17||World Heritage Nomination - IUCN Summary (WHNom)|