Australian report warns of environmental decline

Posted: 26 June 2003

Australia's first comprehensive audit of the state of the nation's species and ecosystems has highlighted the urgent need for increased resources for conservation in that ountry. "This is a landmark report which has taken conservation science to a new level," said Dr David Butcher, head of WWF-Australia.

BandicootAccording to the audit, bandicoots are the mammal species worst affected by habitat change and loss in Australia.© WWF-Canon/Martin Harvey

Key finding of the Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002 (part of the National Land and Water Resources Audit) are that:

  • Over 2,800 of Australia's ecosystems and ecological communities are threatened.

  • Seventy-eight per cent of river and stream bank vegetation and 37 per cent of wetlands of national significance are in decline across Australia and 50 per cent of Australia's inland water birds are listed as threatened due to loss of wetland habitat.

  • Roughly half the total number of Australia's threatened regional ecosystems occur in the state of New South Wales.

  • Threatened birds are declining across most of Australia with regional extinctions in semi-arid parts of Western Australia.

  • The "wave of mammal extinctions" across Australia is continuing and unless action is taken to halt the current massive changes to mammal habitat, species will continue to be lost.

Recommendations include a national programme to improve protection of wetlands, urgent action to limit or halt vegetation clearing throughout Australia, greater resources for mammal conservation, more field research on the conservation status of eucalypts and acacias, improved management of national parks and reserves, increased community participation in threatened species recovery programmes, and a national effort to track changes in species populations and regional ecosystems.

"Biodiversity has previously been relegated to the status of a poor conservation cousin to soils and salinity," said Dr Ray Nias, WWF-Australia's Director of Conservation."This report demonstrates beyond doubt that biodiversity must be given greater prominence in natural resource management and that all sectors of the Australian community - from city office workers to farmers and rural businesses - need to take an active interest in the environment."

The report says that the highest number of threatened species occurs in parts of the Murray-Darling Basin, south-west Western Australia, developed coastal regions of eastern and southern Australia and areas of Tasmania. South-east Tasmania and the New South Wales North Coast each have more than 150 threatened species.

"While the task of conserving Australia's biodiversity - its plants, animals and ecosystems - is huge, this report shows that a highly strategic approach on a national scale can result in significant gains. The message is simple and heartening - biodiversity conservation is do-able and everyone can make a significant contribution", said Dr Nais.

Source: WWF International, 22nd April 2003.

Related links:WWF-Australia

Read the report: Australian Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002