THORNTON PEAK LANDSLIDE IN THE HEART OF REFUGIA
1 JULY 2018
Heavy, unseasonal rainfall brought a tumultuous 137-mm in a relatively short period overnight, precipitating the slumping of a significant portion of the oldest rainforest in the world. After a dry June, an exceptional downpour of 137-mm on the first night of July initiated a landslide from the top of Thornton Peak (Wundungu.) A large swathe, estimated, to be about 10 hectares in area was totally denuded from the peak to the lowland rainforest. It was on the eastern face of the mountain, acknowledged as the centre of significance in a rainforest that has endured for 180-million years.
IN TERMS OF RARITY, PRIMITIVENESS AND ENDEMISM, IT IS HARD TO COMPREHEND THE MAGNITUDE OF LOSS!
Thornton Peak (Wundungu) attracts by far the highest rainfall in Australia. In the coastal lowlands of the Cooper Valley, we average 5.5-metres/year and merely doubling this average, which is a very conservative allowance, puts the Peak’s average at 11-metres/year. This average annual rainfall is more than 2.5-metres higher than that of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt. Bartle-Frere. Thornton Peak has provided refuge to the last fragment of the oldest-surviving rainforest in the world and the values that specialise in the higher altitudes are so restricted in their distributions that is is hard to reckon how catastrophic the landslide was.
Two swathes of collapsed landscape have brought down innumerable plants and their corresponding inhabitants. An island of retained habitat hangs precariously between the two swathes and will likely collapse with the next significant deluge. The loss of life and integrity is nothing short of catastrophic. The awesome power of Nature puts humans into the position of knowing their place of relative insignificance, but also of understanding their responsibilities as the apex species.
“I never imagined that such a thing would occur within my lifetime. Against all other places, Thornton Peak has long established itself into biological legend for its enduring qualities and then this unexpected disaster!”
What is most perplexing, is how the collapse could have been triggered, when the mountain’s vegetative mantle has worn the ravages of time longer than any other, and yet, in this unseasonal deluge, it fell.