Candidates urged to back Abrolhos tourism

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian
Beacon Island is one of the 122 islands in the Abrolhos, and is where the violent Batavia mutiny took place in 1629.
Camera IconBeacon Island is one of the 122 islands in the Abrolhos, and is where the violent Batavia mutiny took place in 1629. Credit: Jon Solmundson, The Geraldton Guardian

A proposed national park covering 90 per cent of the Abrolhos Islands is one part of the City of Greater Geraldton’s plan to open the Mid West to more tourism.

The City has urged candidates for the State election on March 11 to support the $18.5 million Abrolhos Islands tourism project proposal, outlined in the City’s Election Priorities 2017 document.

Managed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the national park would cover the unoccupied islands and would feature camping zones and upgraded infrastructure.

According to the City’s pitch, the project will “overcome historical barriers to tourism development at the islands”.

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More than 90 species of seabird and more than 140 species of native flora have been identified on the 122 islands.

A DPaW spokesperson said a national park was the best way to protect the islands, while also providing tourism opportunities.

“The Abrolhos Islands have high biodiversity, conservation and heritage significance and are worthy of the highest level of statutory protection,” the spokesperson said.

“The national park will create the right environment to encourage and facilitate sustainable tourism development, and has the potential to deliver significant tourism opportunities and economic benefits to the Mid West.

“It’s the most appropriate land management instrument to ensure tourism can occur without adverse impacts on the natural landscape and heritage values.”

In August last year, Premier Colin Barnett reaffirmed that a Liberal-led State Government would push for a national park on the islands.

“The Abrolhos are the jewel in the crown of the Mid West coast, but have been largely untapped for tourism purposes,” Mr Barnett said. “This new arrangement will ensure better access and also lead to better visitor facilities on the islands.”

The Abrolhos Islands are also home to several shipwrecks, including the Dutch East India Company ship Batavia, which sunk in 1629.

If funded, world-class interpretive material would be developed in partnership with the Museum of Geraldton, including an augmented reality experience.

Local maritime historian Dr Howard Gray said he would like to see tourism on the islands focus on more than just the Batavia.

“The Batavia has overwhelmed so many other amazing stories at the islands,” he said.

“There are so many untapped things, such as the bird life, which is spectacular during the summer months.

“That’s a very large tourism sector that if tapped into could bring people to the islands the same way people do to the Galapagos Islands.”

Other aspects of the project include designated tourism zones, reliable public telecommunications and the repurposing of fishermen’s shacks for short-stay accommodation.

The project coincides with the Mid West Development Commission’s Regional Blueprint, which hopes to see one million overnight visitors a year by 2050.

The blueprint noted natural features in the Mid West, such as the Abrolhos Islands, “provide opportunities for authentic, nice and experiential tourism”.

DPaW is preparing an Abrolhos business case, requesting funding from the State Government.

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