Rare Plants Threatened By Coffs Harbour Bypass

The last Fontainea Coffs Harbour on the planet.


CONSERVATIONISTS have long argued that rainforests that are being destroyed may contain as-yet-undiscovered plants that could possess the potential to cure diseases such as cancer.

The discovery of two types of rare plant along the approved route of the Coffs Harbour bypass has raised this issue locally.

A company called Qbiotics has isolated a chemical from a plant called fontainea picrosperma, or blushwood tree, which it claims can heal cancer tumours in dogs.

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A Transport for NSW spokesperson told News Of The Area that as part of early work on ecological surveys for the Coffs Harbour Bypass project, two probable new species have been discovered, a Fontainea allied to Fontainea oraria (Lennox Head Fontainea), and a species of Pittosporum that differs in several characteristics from other known species from that genus.

The plants were discovered by Dr Andrew Benwell, who works for Sandpiper Ecological Surveys, the company engaged by the project to carry out the ecological investigations.

According to local ecologist Mark Graham, the bypass had already been approved at all levels before the plants were discovered, so, currently, there is virtually no legal protection for them.

While the other endangered plant, the Coffs Harbour Pittosporum, has individual plants away from the bypass route, the entire Fontainea Coffs Harbour population is covered by the route.

There is only one female plant, which is essential for the species to survive, growing in a remnant of rainforest that originally extended from Boambee to Moonee.

Mr Graham said that this lush rainforest was almost completely removed by the 1920’s because settlers wanted the best land.

Less than half a hectare remains, and, under current plans, the bypass will remove that patch.

Transport for NSW said it is committed to protecting and minimising impacts to the probable new species which will include looking at feasible translocations, propagation or protecting the probable species in-situ.

Mr Graham says that any solution other than moving the bypass around the plants is fraught with risks.

He said that the plant depends on the moisture, shelter and darkness of this patch of rainforest in which it has dwelt for millions of years.

The Transport for NSW spokesperson said they were confident there will be sufficient time to ensure management measures to protect the new species are implemented without delaying the construction timeline.

Regardless of the medicinal possibilities of Fontainea Coffs Harbour, ecologists insist that its survival should be ensured.


By Andrew VIVIAN

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