4WD convoy through Simpson Desert during wet years. Photo: M Turner
Tourism is an important and rapidly growing industry in the Basin, especially adventure tourism in remote outback areas like the Simpson Desert, and cultural tourism to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous places of interest.
Several million people visit the towns and landscapes of the Lake Eyre Basin (LEB) every year. The channel country in Queensland attracts over 200,000 visitors annually, accounting for about $82 million to the economy. It is estimated that 40,000 - 50,000 tourists pass through Birdsville each year, a town with only 295 permanent residents (at 2011 Census). In 2011, over 24,000 tourists visited Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre to marvel at the flooding of the lakes and the explosion of flora and fauna.
National and international visitation provides much needed livelihoods to communities and local businesses in the Basin, especially important in a region which often ranks poorly in all four socio-economic indices used by the Australian Buruea of Statistics to describe the wellbeing of the nation.
This growth in visitation, however, can present several challenges for natural and cultural land mangement of the region. Damage to sacred sites by off-road vehicles, dumping of rubbish and effluent at sensitive waterholes, use of standing timber for firewood, erosion of sensitive claypans and waterhole banks, disturbance of bird breeding sites, damage to fences designed to protect sensitive conservation areas and potential weed introductions are just a few of the potential pressures created by growing visitor numbers.
Cruising the Cooper Creek at Innamincka. Photo: V Norris
In addition to government agencies managing parks and reserves, there are numerous organisations, landholders and communities who share an interest in the management of visitor impacts, in particular to the more sensitive environments of the Basin during wet years when visitor numbers peak.
The LEB Five Year Plan recognises the importance of tourism to the local economies of the Basin and the role of tourism in improving awareness of the natural, cultural and historical values of the Basin. The Plan also acknowledges the potential damaging impacts of tourist activity on sensitivie natural assets, such as permanent waterholes, and seeks to work with tourism stakeholders to monitor and mitigate these pressures in a collaborative way.
The tourism sector is represented on the LEB Community Advisory Committee by Joc Schmiechen (2014).