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“Nature has a right to exist”: an interview with Rainforest Rescue on the power and importance of The Daintree

Daintree Rainforest in Australia

Welcome to the oldest rainforest in the world: Daintree is a beautiful and wonderfully biodiverse rainforest in Australia. And for World Tourism Day this year, we’re giving it our full attention. Affected by centuries of colonisation and the worsening symptoms of global warming, the world’s oldest rainforest needs help. Luckily for us, Rainforest Rescue have dedicated themselves to this very cause.

Their mission is simple: to protect, restore, and inspire. The team works together to buy back land and repopulate it with Indigenous species in order to heal the rainforest and allow it to propagate and thrive once more. Two of their big projects have been curating and distributing their seed nursery, and the Kurranji Bubu plot – where they have already had great success.

Part of our commitment to nature-based solutions 

Contiki has partnered with Rainforest Rescue as part of our mission to MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® for local people, wildlife and the wonderful planet we all share. And in this case, Daintree is relevant to all three.

Part of Contiki’s Climate Action Plan, and our mission to reach Net Zero by 2050 if not before, is to invest in nature-based solutions around the world. I.e. initiatives that don’t just avoid carbon, but actually work to remove it from the atmosphere. (And who does a better job of removing carbon than trees?) This is made possible by our Carbon Fund – an industry-first initiative that lets us put our money where our mouth is when it comes to sustainability and the initiatives we’re most passionate about.

A visit to Daintree Rainforest is packed with MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences on Ultimate Australia – so if you want to experience the magic for yourself (and in doing so, contribute towards the restoration efforts) then this is the trip for you! 

To find out more about Daintree – which Sir David Attenbrough himself called “the most extraordinary place on Earth” – I sat down with Branden Barber from Rainforest Rescue to discuss everything from reforestation to the Bennett Tree Kangaroo. (Safe to say our conversation was an interesting one…)

Hey Branden, can you tell me a little bit about Daintree Rainforest and its history?

“Hello there! Well, this rainforest has existed ever since all of the world’s continents were together as one. People talk about how impressive it is that the Amazon is 60 million years old, but Daintree is estimated to be way older. We understand Daintree to be between 120 and 185 million years old – which is pretty old! The world’s oldest, in fact.”

“It’s also Australia’s largest and most biodiverse rainforest, so it’s pretty important.”

Daintree Rainforest in Australia

Image source:Martin Stringer

What makes Daintree so unique? 

“I’ve always been really affected by nature’s complexity, and its simplicity at the same time. Daintree is one of the most profound examples of complex simplicity in nature. It’s been going for so long and everything just works in harmony.”

“You’ll find things in Daintree that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. This is where the first flowers began, the first flowering plants; you can find those plants in other parts of the world in fossil records, but they’re still here in Daintree, alive and thriving. The Daintree also has a living dinosaur: the Cassowary, which are the chillest creatures.”

“It’s home to so many animals – butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, birds. It’s actually home to 30% of Australia’s reptiles. So there’s a lot going on.”

Why is it so important to save rainforests like Daintree?

“Daintree is very much a biodiversity hotspot, it’s Australia’s most biodiverse rainforest. This is a place where systems are producing the benefits that help us all survive, like clean water and oxygen. Rainforests are the lungs of the planet. The planet actually has thousands of bones, and those lungs provide life for all of us.”

“The Daintree is magnificent in that it’s such a complete whole system. There’s so much to learn from it. Researchers are still just scratching the surface; there are cures to disease, there are superfoods, there are amazing relationships that will teach us about our own bodies and how our bodies work.”

“Nature has a right to exist. Just because it can’t talk and can’t fight for itself doesn’t mean that it isn’t tremendously important. It’s one of the reasons why I love The Lorax…”

Daintree Rainforest in Australia

Image source:Martin Stringer

Can you tell me about a typical day at Rainforest Rescue HQ?

“So, we’re based across two different places. We have a main HQ in New South Wales, but with a focus on the North Queensland area too. In the past five years, we’ve built a massive seed nursery which has helped us go from planting 12,000 trees each year to 150,000!”

“We have two teams: one working across propagation and horticulture, the other on restoration. We have five folks working on the land, putting trees in the ground, maintaining, helping them grow, creating the rainforest habitat. We’re growing as rapidly as we can too – that’s why partnerships are so important to us, because that financial power allows us to continue growing. We want to sustain a stable growth, but also to push hard because the planet is burning.”

Tell me about the support you get from outside partners? 

“So, again in the last five years, we’ve gone from a budget of roughly $750,000 a year to $2.5 million.”

“We have managed to captivate enough partners and supporters and donors so that we can implement a plan to increase reclamation and protection in Daintree, while also engaging more people in the celebration of this great good that we’re doing.”

“If it weren’t for our partners… if it weren’t for the individual donors with significant means – for example, some people who can write a check for $100,000(!)… if it weren’t for the thousands of people who each write us a check for ten bucks… if it weren’t for the person who made a few donations over time and then added us to their will, and then all of a sudden $300,000 comes through the door… If it weren’t for all these amazing people, we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do – especially on this scale.”

“Like, it all works to make us better, bigger, stronger. And the only way we can do that is to be transparent and respectful and collaborative. To have integrity, and really walk the walk.” 

Cassowary bird in Daintree Rainforest

Image source:Martin Stringer

How did you come to be so passionate about Daintree, rainforests and nature in general? 

I remember early in my life, my thinking was: if someone’s getting picked on, you go help them. And if someone’s picking on nature, you know, you go help nature.”

“To me, a meaningful life means that you’re doing something that matters to you, and a meaningful life is what you make of it. All it takes is you identifying what’s meaningful to you and following that path.”

“I’m very grateful that I lead a meaningful life, working for nature, working for the rainforest or working for the Daintree, trying to engage as many people as possible in loving it and therefore wanting to protect it. It’s neat. It’s awesome. I feel very lucky, I have a very cool job.”

If our readers want to help out, how can they do that? 

“There are lots and lots of ways to help out. Firstly,tell your friends about our work. You can also use your own birthday as a chance to raise funds towards our work.”

“The simplest way to support us is just to follow us on Youtube, Instagram, LinkedIn and X. And of course, if you’re able, you can join us here in Daintree and help plant some trees.”

Noah Creek in the Daintree Rainforest in Australia

Image source:Martin Stringer

And last but not least: of all the wildlife that lives in Daintree, which is your favourite? 

“Okay so we have the living dinosaur. Plus the birds, reptiles, amphibians… but I think my favourite is the Bennett’s tree-kangaroo. They’re really elusive; they’re so gentle, so beautiful, so rare and so vulnerable. And yet, you know, they’re still doing their thing and they’re making it happen.”

“There’s also the fruit bat. Actually, that’s my favourite creature… without a doubt. They’re also so sweet – and so so gentle!” 

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