FOR most of us, the word “coffee” conjures up tantalising aromas and frothy cappuccinos, but for a group of north Queensland volunteers, coffee is an evil they are doing their best to root out.
In the Crater Lakes National Park on the Atherton Tablelands, the coffee plant forms up to 75 per cent of the critically endangered Mabi Forests, impacting their diversity and taking away wildlife food sources.
A long-term project that has been working towards the eradication of coffee from the Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine sections of the park was last week rewarded with the 2015 Weed Society of Queensland George N Batianoff Award for team excellence.
Simon Burchill received the award on behalf of the Tablelands National Park Volunteers at a dinner in Longreach during the biennial Queensland Weed Symposium.
Since 1993 the group has consistently contributed between 1500 and 2000 volunteer hours a year in overall pest management, environmental education and threatened species research.
In 2014 alone, members contributed 377 hours to the coffee control program.
For Mr Burchill, who told the audience he now drank more tea than coffee, the eradication project has many challenging aspects.
Being a commercial crop, coffee is very high fruiting, producing 800-1000 seeds per plant.
“And coffee is a rainforest plant that’s growing in a rainforest environment, which is ideal for its growth,” he said.
The forests harbour many similar species, posing an identification challenge for new volunteers with unknown skills.
Another fear is that it could harbour the dangerous coffee leaf rust if it were introduced to Australia.
“There’s no better time to get rid of coffee, before rust has a chance to threaten the industry,” Mr Burchill said. “Weed plants could harbour the disease.”
Coffee is not a declared pest and not a priority for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service but it has been classed as an environmental weed by the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
The group is some time away from being able to claim eradication, thanks to reinfestations taking place from private gardens nearby and the spread of seeds by birds.
To counter this, it has conducted a public awareness campaign to encourage nearby landholders to consider removing coffee from their gardens.
According to Queensland Weed Society representative John Clarkson, the volunteers are also involved in numerous other projects in the region, including lantana control work at 40 Mile Scrub National Park, removal of weedy vines from the Halloran’s Hill Regional Park in Atherton, and Turbina and Madeira Vine eradication programs at the Curtain Fig National Park near Yungaburra.
“They also regularly attend public events providing information on environmental issues and run the highly popular Lake Eacham Nature Kids Club,” he said.
“Tablelands National Park Volunteers has more than adequately demonstrated the extraordinary level of commitment and on-ground results expected of recipients of the award.”