Twenty six thousand hectares of beautiful tall eucalypt forests were cleared on Melville Island, the largest of the Tiwi Islands, from 2001-2007 for a forestry plantation using the exotic weed Acacia mangium.
But the plantation is a financial failure, and is causing ongoing spread of the weedy wattle into wetlands and rainforest.
The Tiwi Islands lie north of Darwin and are home to the Tiwi people. The islands are ranked by scientists as a global hotspot for plant diversity and a refuge for threatened species that are now extinct or very rare on the mainland.
The Environment Centre NT urges the Tiwi people, the Tiwi Land Council and the Tiwi Shire Council to adopt an economic development strategy that diversifies income and job opportunities for Tiwi through sustaining the amazing natural and cultural heritage of the islands, rather than relying on a few large and damaging resource development projects.
Significant opportunities exist to restore some, or potentially all, of the plantation to native vegetation and earn incomes for Tiwi based on Indigenous land management, wildlife and threatened species conservation, carbon farming, protected areas and tourism.
The Environment Centre NT is committed to supporting Tiwi to develop their islands sustainably to create a strong future.
Restoring native vegetation to some or all of the plantation would be the largest revegetation project in Northern Australia, which supports the largest relatively intact tropical savanna left on Earth.
Acacia mangium has been rated as a high risk weed by the NT Natural Resources and Environment Department for at least three years, and should be declared a weed under the Weed Management Act.
The plantation was developed by Sylvatech then Great Southern Ltd, in partnership with the Tiwi Land Council.
The Federal Environment Department investigated alleged breaches of the plantation approval between 2004 and 2006 after the Environment Centre NT referred the issue for investigation.
In October 2008, the Federal Environment Minister fined Great Southern Ltd up to $2M for clearing buffer zones around wetlands and rainforest, plus a $1M bond.
In May 2009 the Managed Investment Scheme-funded Great Southern Ltd went into voluntary administration, with corporate receivers McGrathNicol advising investors in October that year that “The Tiwi Island operations are commercially unviable. The operating costs and capital expenditure requirements are extremely high.”
In October 2009, a Senate Inquiry reported serious problems facing the plantation, including the need for major investment to manage and harvest the plantation, poor quality of the trees, lower prices likely to be fetched for the woodchips if harvested, and the plantation is too small to be truly internationally competitive.