Protester's Falls, Australia and putting a price on ecosystems

Two years ago I had the great fortune of studying abroad at Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia. I didn’t have a blog then, so I’ll be posting retrospectives of some of my travel experiences in Australia and from around the world here from time to time. It’s fun to share photos, but only when people are actually interested in looking at them. I hope that you enjoy!

One place that I fell in love with while I was in Australia was a place called Protester’s Falls. Pretty much all waterfalls hold a certain sense of majesty and beauty, but Protester’s Falls holds special meaning because of it’s history. Were it not for a relatively small group of dedicated environmentalists, Protester’s Falls wouldn’t exist anymore. The site was home to the first successful anti-logging protest in Australia (maybe in the world?) during the 1970s–hence the name. 

The Falls was named in honor of the activists who fought to save the Falls and the surrounding

 lush bangalow palm forests. The activists fought for years, risking their lives, at times, from the threat of angry loggers trying to fulfill their livelihoods, to save a place that they loved, which is now a portion of the  World Heritage listed Nightcap National Park. 

There’s still a lot of controversy surrounding the tension between loggers and environmentalists. It’s important to have empathy for the loggers who are trying to make a living, but also important to realize that forests are extremely important and productive as living ecosystems. The emerging field of environmental economics helps us to determine the real cost of forests and other ecosystems as in-tact living ecosystems, and the massive price of clear-cutting. 

“Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a report released this past May, told BBC News that the costs from destruction of ecosystems dwarfs the current banking crisis. “

“Deforestation and degradation is costing the world economy $2 to $5 trillion per year — an amount greater than Wall Street losses during the current financial crisis — said the lead author of a study that estimated the cost of environmental damage in terms of services provided by healthy ecosystems.”

“It’s not only greater but it’s also continuous, it’s been happening every year, year after year,” he was quoted as saying. “So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today’s rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.” 

“Nature provides human society with a vast diversity of benefits such as food, fibers, fuel, clean water, healthy soil, protection from floods, protection from soil erosion, medicines, storing carbon (important in the fight against climate change) and many more,” the report stated.

 “Though our well being is totally dependent upon these “ecosystem services” they are predominantly public goods with no markets and no prices, so they often are not detected by our current economic compass. As a result, due to the pressures coming from population growth, changing diets, urbanization and also climate change, biodiversity is declining, our ecosystems are being continuously degraded and we, in turn, are suffering the consequences.”  (quoted from

Deforestation also has significant impacts on the oceans. When trees are removed and their roots no longer hold soil in place, the soil erodes into streams, rivers and, eventually, coastal waters. This, in turn, effects the workings of coastal ecosystems, the most ecologically productive in the ocean. Deforestation has has some serious climatological effects, including reduced evaporation (remember learning about the impor
tance of the water cycle?) and increased surface temperatures. 

To learn more about this, have a look at The long-term impact of global deforestation on climate

Before seeing Protesters Falls you walk on a winding boardwalk, shaded by the surrounding rainforest. A shadow of green casts over everything from the lush canopy overhead. About a quarter of the way there, the boardwalk ends and you begin a slow ascent up a bouldery pathway, over a steam and up a carved rocky staircase. The walk up to the falls is meditative and beautiful– so quiet (if you’re lucky enough to be there alone), wet, and alive. You walk with anticipation, not knowing exactly at which moment you’ll first see the falls, because the water sometimes falls so lightly. For me, finally getting a full glimpse of the falls was like seeing water for the first time. The falls itself is,  a gentle wispy flow of water falling 25-30m, soft, but strong. Though the water seems to fall so gently, you can see the power of its persistence in the rock face–places eroded and smoothed from small steady drips of water.

Knowing the history of the Fall’s illuminates it’s beauty even more—knowing that, had this particular forest been almost anywhere in the world, it likely would have been destroyed by the logging industry. Because of it’s proximity to Australia’s Rainbow Region (a region in NSW that was home to the Aquarius Festival, the Australian Woodstock equivalent, which led to the area being settled by environmentally aware hippie-types) Protester’s Falls is now permanently protected as a a national park for everyone to sustainably enjoy. 

If you are interested in working to prevent or counter the far-reaching effects of deforestation, check out AIR (Alliance for International Reforestation), a non-profit started by one of my favorite professors at Stetson University, Dr. Anne Hallum. They work primarily in Guatemala and employ all Guatemalan staff, who are trained in agro-forestry. Since 1993, AIR has trained over 1,500 Guatemalan farmers, constructed over 700 fuel-efficient stoves, and planted over 3 million trees! They are dedicated to sustainably improving the lives of people in developing nations.

*all photos by me

1 Comment

  1. We visited the falls in late June. It had rained heavily for a week prior. After a moderately easy hike through the tranquil rainforest I heard my two young children gasp in awe. I looked up at a two metre falls gushing into rock pools and smiled at how little things can amaze young children. Then I rounded the bend and involuntarily gasped in the same way. It certainly was amazing and the water was really flowing/gushing. I’ve seen Victoria falls and Niagara Falls etc but this was just so beautiful in it’s simplicity … And so refreshing to see something this majestic not too far from where we live these days. I was curious about the name and appreciate the information. Thanks. I don’t need a response but thought you might be interested in how forceful the flow was when we visited. Ta. K.

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