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Normanby catchment story

The catchment stories present a story using real maps that can be interrogated, zoomed in and moved to explore the area in more detail. They are used to take users through multiple maps, images and videos to provide engaging, in-depth information.

Quick facts

This map journal
is part of a series of catchment stories prepared for Queensland.

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Normanby catchment story – Natural values

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A landscape is bound by the connections between soil types, topography, rainfall and water movement. In turn all these elements coming together affect what vegetation grows in a particular place, and these physical features and the vegetation growing in a location combine to determine what animals will inhabit that area.

Main image. The West Normanby River - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.


Water that falls as rain, or moves over the land as run-off, is slowed by vegetation, which then allows it to filter down into the soil and sub-soil. Slowing the flow of surface water helps to retain it longer on the land which in turn allows it to filter down through the soil and bedrock to recharge groundwater aquifers. Water moving slowly across the surface of the land also reduces the potential for erosion to occur and reduces the associated issues with water quality and sedimentation further downstream. Reducing the speed of run-off also plays a role in protecting banks and parts of the landscape prone to gully and rill erosion.

Poplar gum flats, Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

Historically, eucalypt woodlands and forests grew across most of the catchment, together with melaleuca woodlands, tussock grasslands and forblands (low-growing vegetation), other coastal communities including heaths, rainforests and scrubs and mangroves and saltmarshes. There were also small areas of mixed species woodlands and wet eucalypt forest. These different vegetation types combine to make up the preclearing vegetation of the Normanby Catchment.*

Vine scrub growing on Basalt Hill - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

The catchment supports several important plants and communities, including Eucalyptus acroleuca** along the lower Laura River and Eucalyptus phoenicea woodland*** in the Melsonby (Gaarraay) National Park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land, CYPAL). The upper West Normanby River supports rainforest systems that feature vegetation of the Wet Tropics bioregion.****

There are many groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs) across the catchment, including along the Princess Charlotte Bay coastline (protected littoral rainforest and sand dunes****) and springs associated with Lakeland basalt, Springvale basalt, Laura sandstone and Kings Plains limestone. There are extensive wetlands across the catchment, including estuarine wetlands that extend into Princess Charlotte Bay. Estuarine wetlands support seagrass, mangroves, saltmarsh, migratory birds, fisheries species (crustaceans and fish), crocodiles, turtles and dolphins. Princess Charlotte Bay contains extensive seagrass meadows that support large marine turtle and dugong populations. Palustrine wetlands of Kings Plains - provided by Tim Hughes.

Main image. Melaleuca woodland - provided by Andrew Brooks.

Linked image. Ninda Creek GDE, Lakeland - provided by Jeff Shellberg.

*Broad Vegetation Groups derived from Regional Ecosystems (REs), which are vegetation communities in a bioregion that are consistently associated with a particular combination of geology, landform and soil.

**Rare endemic species in ‘of concern’ RE - see links at the end of this map journal for more information about classification of REs.

***‘Of concern’ RE Eucalyptus phoenicea ± Corymbia nesophila woodland on wetter sandstone - see links at the end of this map journal for more information about classification of REs.

****Commonwealth EPBC protected communities

Special feature – freshwater wetlands

Wetland vegetation provides habitat for a wide range of important flora and fauna. Freshwater wetlands provide habitat for aquatic plants such as the rare red lily, and protected frogs, crocodiles, turtles, birds and platypus.

Extensive wetlands across the catchment provide an important filter for suspended sediment moving down the catchment towards Princess Charlotte Bay and the GBR. Large areas of floodplain wetland (tree swamps and grass, sedges and herb swamps) are held up in the alluvium underlain by hard rock types (mostly mudrock).

Jack Lakes is an inland freshwater lake system that flows south into the Jack River. It is one of the most extensive wetland systems on the southeastern Cape York Peninsula, and provides important dry season refuge for migratory waterbirds such as the magpie goose. Two hundred and forty-four species were recorded during a recent survey, including the protected bare-rumped sheathtail bat, estuarine crocodile and grey goshawk.*

There are also wetlands at higher elevations, such as Kings Plains and Laura Sandstone.

Kings Plains wetlands flow into the East Normanby River. The eastern-most section of Kings Plains is a large and near-permanent waterbody bounded or dammed by a hard chert ridge system. This large waterbody feeds the western section of Kings Plains, which is ephemeral or not permanent. When the Normanby River is in flood, riverine water backs up at the wetlands and water also comes from localised rainfall and groundwater.

Kings Plains wetland - provided by Tim Hughes.

The Laura Sandstone wetlands are perched at the top of Shepherd Creek in the headwaters of the Little Laura River, along the northwestern edge of the Laura Sandstone plateau. The seasonal nature of the wet-dry climate results in the groundwater springs of the Laura Sandstone being important dry season refuges for a wide variety of mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles and amphibians.**

Godmans rock wallaby on Kings Plains, which is known from across the catchment including Laura Sandstone wetlands - provided by Bruce Thomson.

Main image. Floodplain wetland - provided by Andrew Brooks.

Linked image. Kings Plains eastern-most section and western section wetlands - provided by Tim Hughes.

Linked videos. Aquatic and riparian vegetation of Kings Plains, including lilies, sedges and melaleuca trees; Large waterbody of eastern-most Kings Plains; Ephemeral reaches of western Kings Plains - provided by Tim Hughes.

*Jack Lakes Wetlands Biodiversity Assessment, November 2007 and June 2008 (CYMAG Environmental Inc. 2009) - see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

**Normanby Catchment Water Quality Management Plan (Howley et al 2014) - see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

Vegetation clearing

Most of the native vegetation (remnant*) across the catchment is intact, however small areas have been cleared for mostly farming (around Lakeland, Lakefield and Laura) and linear infrastructure such as roads, tracks and fencelines. Small areas of regrowth** have occurred since initial clearing.

Explore the Swipe Map using either of the options below.***

  • Interactive Swipe App where you can zoom into cleared areas and use the swipe bar (ESRI version)
  • Interactive Swipe App where you can use the swipe bar. Use the white slide bar at the bottom of the map for a comparison (HTML version)

Clearing and activities change the shape of the landscape and can modify surface and groundwater flow patterns.

Vegetation on Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

Main image. Clearing for historic cattle grazing on Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

*The 2011 remnant vegetation mapping was undertaken at a map scale of 1:100,000 and 1:50,000 in part (including the Wet Tropics and Southeastern Queensland) and based on the Landsat imagery for 2011. It does not show all clearing, particularly relatively thin linear infrastructure.

**Smaller areas of regrowth are not shown in this mapping. This dataset was prepared to support certain category C additions to the Regulated Vegetation Management Map under the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. This dataset is described as: The 2013 areas of non-remnant native woody vegetation that have not been cleared between 1988 and 2014 that are homogenous for at least 0.5 hectare and occur in clumps of at least 2 hectares in coastal regions and 5 hectares elsewhere.

***Depending on your internet browser, you may experience issues with one or the other. Please note this application takes time to load.

Vegetation and fire

Fire can be a threat to vegetation and biodiversity (see Threats tab), however it is also an integral part of this landscape and the associated ecosystems. It is essential to their ongoing survival; some Cape York plants rely on fire and smoke for germination such as tall spear grass.

Every fire behaves differently, depending on physical factors such as geology, soil, aspect, slope, moisture levels, season, time of year, time of day and wind patterns; natural features such as woody debris, fuel loads, flora and fauna within the fire and surrounding vegetation communities; and considerations such as past fire history, on-ground or aerial burning and ignition points (single, multiple or linear). All of these variables play a role in determining how a fire will behave and therefore the impact it will have on the landscape and ecosystems.*

Main image. Fires across the landscape - provided by Andrew Brooks. *Cape York NRM Fire Knowledge (Cape York Natural Resource Management undated) - see links at the end of this map journal for further information.


The catchment provides important habitat for many species of protected fauna, some of which are rare and endemic to the area.*

The diverse wetland habitats associated with many parts of the catchment support waterbird roosting, feeding and breeding areas and are important for both abundance and species diversity. Waterbirds of the catchment include the comb-crested jacana, green pygmy-goose, cotton pygmy-goose, magpie goose, Radjah shelduck, brolgas and black-necked stork.

Freshwater ecosystems also support a diverse fish community including the rare freshwater sawfish; freshwater crocodiles; and several frog species including the protected common mist frog. Springs provide key refugia for fish and other species; springs and waterholes along the Laura River contain endangered Regional Ecosystems (REs) that provide refuge areas for protected platypus.

The estuarine reaches provide important feeding areas for the estuarine crocodile, and support marine turtles, dolphins, and fisheries species such as barramundi and mud crab. The rare speartooth shark is known from only four geographically distinct locations within Australia, including the adjoining Bizant River and is likely to occur in the Normanby Catchment.

There are disjunct populations of protected white-bellied crimson finch along the Normanby River at Lakefield. Other protected birds of the catchment include the southern cassowary, red goshawk and a variety of waterbirds.

The catchment supports several protected marsupial and mammals, including the northern and spotted-tailed quoll, spectacled flying-fox and several bat species (see special feature).

Small limestone karst systems outcrop on Kings Plains. There are four threatened bat species in the karst area, and at least two of which are found along the river itself. The catchment includes the largest remaining colony of ghost bats in Queensland.

Main image. Waterbirds of Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) - provided by Graham Herbert ©Queensland Government.

Linked images. Green pygmy goose and comb crested jacana, both from Kings Plains - provided by Bruce Thomson. Barramundi - provided by Graham Herbert ©Queensland Government. Ghost bat - provided by Bruce Thomson.

*Threatened Species (Department of Environment and Science 2017) – see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

Special feature – acoustic bat

Large-footed myotis (Myotis macrtopus) hunts small fish, prawns and aquatic insects, catching insects from the water surface or very close to it. For insects on the water surface and small fish that cause ripples, the bat gaffs the prey with its big feet. Sometimes several bats follow each other while foraging along similar flight paths. These bats use echolocation to detect the small ripples made by the prey on the water surface.

A sonograph shows this amazing echolocation in use by a large-footed bat foraging on the West Normanby River. It shows the bat using echolocation to chase and capture an insect in the air and then keep flying.

The sequence is slowed down by about ten times so you can hear the ultrasound as audio. Make sure your speaker volume is turned up. This means the time length of the clip is ten time longer than real time, which would be about one second!

There is a counter on the time axis (slowed); on the vertical axis is the sound frequency. The individual echolocation pulses or chirps change with the bat's behaviour; mostly get shorter in duration (five milliseconds or less) and the rate increases considerably (pulses per second, pps) during approach and capture phases of hunting.

Audio is sync'ed to the moving white line and it is quite obvious what is happening. Insect is tracked, pulses get faster as the bat approaches, ending in a rapid buzz sound, called a 'terminal buzz'. The 'silent' gap' after the terminal buzz is when the bat gets the prey from its feet and eats it, and rapidly resumes echolocating without crashing.

Notice the stripes or notches in the echolocation pulses. This occurs because the bat is so close to the water surface that the primary pulse is recorded but a second, almost perfect copy is reflected off the water only a few centimetres from the bat's mouth and is delayed by a fraction. So you get a spectacular (acoustic) interference pattern.

This sonograph records the primary pulse and an echo on the ground at some distance from the bat. From the bat's perspective, it is not listening to this echo but a returning echo from anywhere, which we do not record. The bat will have returning echoes from anywhere in the environment so it can navigate, but it is also tracking a moving 'flying insect-like' echo in front of it, coming from the flying object. Bats have perfect 3D spatial acoustic map of what's going on (limited by distance, typically maybe 20 to 25 metres away in this case) and rely entirely on feedback (very quickly indeed) from the echoes to modify their flight path so they can chase and catch stuff to eat, and avoid obstacles, and find their way home of course.

To see this by filming is very difficult indeed, you need specialised high speed video and good footage is normally staged somewhere. In nature, this type of feeding sequence takes place hundreds to thousands of times per night for an individual bat, and occurs anywhere in the air space.

Sonograph and narrative provided by Roger Coles.

Protected areas

Large parts of the catchment are protected by national park many of which are CYPAL and jointly managed by the Traditional Owners and Queensland Government. The catchment also includes the Princess Charlotte Bay Fish Habitat Area (FHA), wetlands listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands of Australia (DIWA), nature refuges and World Heritage Areas (WHAs). Protected areas provide important habitat for a variety of flora and fauna.

Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) is the largest protected area of the catchment (see special feature below). It adjoins the Muundhi (Jack River) National Park (CYPAL), which protects most of the Jack Lakes wetlands which is an extensive permanent lake system associated with the Jack River.

Ngalba Bulal National Park is one of the smaller national parks within the catchment. It adjoins Springvale Station Nature Refuge and extends eastward to the coast. The park is within the Wet Tropics WHA and is recognised for its exceptional natural beauty and the importance of its biological diversity and evolutionary history, including habitats for numerous threatened species.

The Princess Charlotte Bay FHA protects barramundi habitat and the associated wetlands including mixed mangrove forests that are predominantly red and yellow and river mangroves, extensive salt pans, tidal sand and mud flats, and seagrass beds.*

Princess Charlotte Bay coastal plain - provided by Amanda Hogbin.

The DIWA-listed Princess Charlotte Bay includes the most extensive saline flats on the Cape York Peninsula, and provides important fish habitat. Other DIWA-listed wetlands of the catchment include Marina Plains–Lakefield Aggregation, The Jack Lakes Aggregation and Laura Sandstone, and the adjacent Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The catchment also includes the large nature refuges of Springvale Station and Kings Plains-Alkoomie (see special feature below), together with Kalpowar, Melsonby (Gaarraay) and South Endeavour nature refuges.

Looking northward over the Springvale Nature Refuge to the Kings Plains-Alkoomie Nature Refuge - provide by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

Main image. Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) Nifold Plain - provided by Paul Candlin ©Queensland Government.

*Declared Fish Habitat Area summary - Princess Charlotte Bay (Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing 2012) – see links at the end of this map journal for more information.

Special feature – Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL)

‘Rinyirru’ is the name for the culturally-significant area of Jeanette Hill and a bora ground near Blue Lagoon in the north of the park. Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) represents the transfer to Aboriginal ownership of the largest and most iconic national park in the Cape York Peninsula region and the second largest park in Queensland.

Magnetic termite mounds on Nifold Plain, Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) - provided by John Augusteyn ©Queensland Government.

Open woodlands of eucalypts and paperbarks cover the floodplains, while extensive grasslands, with patches of the unique corypha palm, cover the marine plain. Riparian rainforest grows along parts of the Normanby and Kennedy rivers and salt flats and fringing mangroves are common in the tidal zones around Princess Charlotte Bay.

Red Lily Lagoon is one of many lagoons in the park’s extensive floodplain. It is part of a huge wetland system made up of billabongs, swamps and lakes. Catfish Waterhole is one of many deep permanent waterholes found along the North Kennedy River. During the dry season, as water becomes scarce elsewhere, large numbers of wildlife congregate here for food and shelter. Visitors to the day-use area at Catfish Waterhole can see waterbirds, turtles and crocodiles.

The park is home to a number of threatened species including the golden-shouldered parrot, star finch, red goshawk, estuarine crocodile and speartooth shark.*

Main image. Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) salt pans with Jane Table Hill in the background - provided by Matt Wallace ©Queensland Government.

Linked image. Corypha forest of Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) with Jane Table Hill in background - provided by Matt Wallace ©Queensland Government.

*About Rinyirru (Lakefield) (Department of National Parks, Sports and Racing 2017) – see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

Special feature – Kings Plains-Alkoomie Nature Refuge

The Kings Plains-Alkoomie area has been declared a nature refuge. It has been recognised as worthy of preservation based on its connectivity or connections with the broader landscape, the complex mosaic of vegetation types on the site, protection for the Marina Plains-Lakefield Aggregation (DIWA-listed wetland), habitat for protected species and significant geological features and landforms.

The Kings Plains-Alkoomie Nature Refuge provides connectivity to the adjoining South Endeavour Nature Refuge and via remnant vegetation to the nearby Ngalba Bulal National Park, Black Mountain National Park, Annan River (Yuku Baja-Muliku) National Park and Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL). The refuge includes nine REs with ‘of concern’* status.

The wetlands and remnant vegetation provide suitable habitat and movement corridors for wildlife, for example, the critically endangered bare-rumped sheathtail bat.

This area contains habitat known to support at least 24 protected species, and range restricted species endemic to Cape York Peninsula. For example, the area contains essential habitat and known breeding sites for several species of cave dwelling bats and the only known breeding site for the large-eared horseshoe bat in Australia.

The area also contains diverse geological features and landforms that provide outstanding scenery and unique micro-climates and habitat niches. These areas support protected species and provide areas of refuge that help species survive or cope with to extreme climatic events.

Main image. View over Springvale Station to Kings Plain-Alkoomie - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

*See links at the end of this map journal for more information about classification of REs as ‘of concern’.

Springvale Station

Springvale Station, located 15km east of Lakeland and 40km south-west of Cooktown, is one of the Queensland Government’s important protected area acquisitions. It adjoins the Ngalba Bulal National Park to the east and the Kings Plains-Alkoomie Nature Refuge to the north.

Springvale Station was declared a nature refuge under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 with the longer-term intent being to dedicate the property as a higher class of protected area, for example, Conservation Park. This process will be subject to a negotiated native title outcome through the Cape York Tenure Resolution Program.

Springvale Station Nature Refuge is rich with outstanding diversity and is valuable habitat for protected flora and fauna. It was declared a Nature Refuge in 2017 in recognition of its biophysical values which include vegetation types falling into 52 RE types across six land zones and three bioregions. Of these REs, some are barely represented anywhere else in the State’s other protected areas and four are not represented, or protected, elsewhere at all. Two REs are identified as having ‘endangered’* biodiversity status and 18 have been labelled as ‘of concern’*.

Palms growing on eastern slope of Mount Amy - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

Springvale Station Nature Refuge is also much needed habitat for some of the State’s most vulnerable or endangered flora and fauna. Plants and animals like these have limited areas that suit their breeding and living requirements, making Springvale Station Nature Refuge a very special place.

A Statement of Management Intent** outlines the vision and management direction for the nature Refuge and the Queensland Government will continue to actively engage with Aboriginal peoples, adjoining landowners and local communities regarding ongoing management.

Old farming infrastructure on Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

To manage Springvale Station Nature Refuge effectively and sustainably, various management strategies have been developed and are being implemented, for example, a fire strategy, a destocking strategy to remove cattle left over from the previous lease, a weed management strategy and an erosion management plan*** (see special feature on next slide).

Erosion on Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

Main image. View across the old holding paddock on Springvale Station to Kings Plains - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

*See links at the end of this map journal for more information about classification of REs as ‘endangered’ and ‘of concern’.

**Statement of Management Intent (Department of Environment and Science 2017) - see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

***Springvale Station Erosion Management Plan (Department of Environment and Science 2017) - see links at the end of this map journal for further information.

Special feature – Springvale Station

Erosion Management Plan Erosion has been identified as a significant problem on Springvale Station Nature Refuge with erosion causing large gullies and wash-outs causing sediment to flow into the Normanby River. As responsible land managers, the Queensland Government, through the Department of Environment and Science, has developed an erosion management plan to undertake works to minimise erosion and the subsequent flow of sediments through the catchment. Addressing this land management problem will also contribute to improved water quality in the waterways of the catchment and any flow into Princess Charlotte Bay and the GBR lagoon.

These historic land uses of the Springvale Station have substantially impacted the landscape in some locations. Continuously high cattle grazing pressure, inappropriate fire regimes, road and fence line clearings, broad scale tree clearing, dam construction, weed invasion and feral animals (pigs) have all contributed to accelerated soil erosion on the station and impact biodiversity in some locations.*

The clearing of land for cattle grazing and mining has changed rates of water infiltration, flow patterns and runoff. Heavy wet season rain can erode the fragile soils, sending sediment-laden runoff down the catchment towards Princess Charlotte Bay.

Alluvial and colluvial soils have the highest current soil erosion rates and most extensive gully erosion. Roads and fence lines are the most substantial human-associated impact on soil and gully erosion.*

The Springvale Station Erosion Management Plan** outlines remediation and operational activities such as road and track management, fire management and feral animal management in an effort to minimise and remediate these impacts.

Main image. Gully erosion on Springvale Station - provided by Robbie Burns ©Queensland Government.

*Technical Report to the Springvale Station Erosion Management Plan (Cape York Natural Resource Management 2017) – see links provided at the end of this map journal for further information.

**Springvale Station Erosion Management Plan (Department of Environment and Science 2017) – see links provided at the end of this map journal for further information.

Last updated: 13 October 2017

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, Queensland (2017) Normanby catchment story – Natural values, WetlandInfo website, accessed 18 March 2024. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment, Science and Innovation