Australia’s unique wildlife is on the decline as it is ravaged by bushfires, drought, human activity and global warming, according to a “shocking” government report on Tuesday, which called for calls for dramatic change.
Key findings from the five-year scientific report, released shortly before its full publication, painted a picture of widespread damage to nature, both on land and at sea.
The destruction is being accelerated by a climate that has warmed Australia’s average land temperature by 1.4 degrees Celsius since the early 20th century, the report said.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek spoke of a “shocking document”.
“It tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment,” she added.
Plibersek, a member of the centre-left Labor Party that came to power in May’s election, said her predecessor under the previous Conservative government received the report in December 2021 but never made it public.
“I’m not going to bury my head in the sand,” she said.
Australia’s 2019-2020 “Black Summer” bushfires burned more than eight million hectares of native vegetation and killed or displaced 1-3 billion animals, the report’s key findings showed.
Ocean heat waves caused massive coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, 2017 and 2020, it said. Since then, a government report in March found that the reef was once again suffering from mass bleaching.
– “Heartbreaking” –
Millions of hectares of primary forest have been cleared since 1990.
According to the report, more than seven million hectares of habitat for threatened species were cleared between 2000 and 2017 without being assessed under Australia’s environmental protection laws.
In five years, more than 200 plant and animal species of national importance have been listed as threatened species under Australia’s environmental laws.
“Australia has lost more species of mammals than any other continent,” the report says, with the number of new species classified as more threatened having increased by eight percent in five years.
Australia’s cities are also growing rapidly, according to the report, increasing urban heat, pollution and waste while water and energy resources are becoming scarce.
“Sydney has lost more than 70 percent of its native vegetation through development,” it said.
Sydney Harbor’s stormwater runoff also created hotspots of pollution 20 times higher than in the pristine harbour.
“The findings of this report are heartbreaking and the failure of leadership that has led to losses of this magnitude is devastating,” said Rachel Lowry, Deputy Executive Director of WWF-Australia.
“If we ignore the warnings in this report, iconic species like koalas across eastern Australia or our largest gliding mammal, the tall ship, will disappear under our watch forever.”
WWF-Australia said the report should be a “watershed moment” leading to greater investment and tougher legislation to protect Australia’s wildlife and wilderness.
Lowry urged the new government to act quickly and condemned existing environmental legislation for “failing miserably” to protect endangered species.
“If we allow losses of this magnitude, not only do we lose a piece of Australia’s identity, we lose the ability to maintain a healthy, prosperous economy alongside some of the world’s most valuable natural resources,” she said.
The “devastating” new report showed coasts and marine environments are deteriorating, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said.
“The well-being of Australians is linked to the health of our oceans and the marine life that lives there, but unfortunately our oceans suffer from overheating, overuse and inadequate protection,” said Society Chief Executive Darren Kindleysides.
“We must do more now or we are jeopardizing everything we rely on our oceans for – our health, our well-being, our livelihoods and our culture.”
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