138 species near extinction are unprotected, says report

By John Pickrell 19 November 2014
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Australia’s protected areas need to keep growing to cover a raft of threatened species which are not covered by any reserves.

DESPITE A BIG increase in national parks and other reserves in Australia, the habitats of 138 threatened species remain unprotected, says a new report.

At the IUCN World Parks Congress – which wrapped up in Sydney today – federal Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt last week announced that Australia had reached an internationally agreed target of 17 per cent of its area covered by conservation reserves.

The WWF report applauds a huge increase in coverage – which has seen 200,000sq.km added to Australian national parks, indigenous protected areas and private conservation reserves since 2002 – but says much work remains to be done.

“A boost in funding over the past five years has seen tremendous progress in the expansion of Australia’s National Reserve System, growth that will make a huge difference to survival of native wildlife in the years to come,” says the report’s co-author, Dr Martin Taylor.

Protecting the range of Australian ecosystems

“Unfortunately, we are still far from protecting the full range of Australian ecosystems, and there are still many threatened species whose habitats remain outside the safety net.”

Species that remain unprotected include the northern hairy-nosed wombat, which is on the verge of extinction with just 176 remaining in the wild; the dawson yellow chat, a once widespread coastal and saltmarsh songbird, now reduced to just 200 birds; and the green sawfish, a shark relative once found along the east coast, but now only in estuaries north of Cairns.

“A protected area doesn’t just stop bad things happening, it’s also a positive obligation to manage the threats that are ongoing,” Martin told Australian Geographic.

Convention on Biological Diversity

He argues that though 17 per cent of the land area is now covered, Australia is still not meeting its requirements under the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity which calls for that land to be “ecologically representative” coverage, which includes all habitats.

To make sure our reserves tick off all habitats and all 1,613 threatened species we need to look at increasing the reserves to at least 22 per cent of the nation, which Martin describes as “a modest increase”.

For the government to meet this target it will need to find a further 250,000sq.km over the next five years at a total cost of $850 million.

We’ve had really great momentum over the last decade. There’s been a tremendous growth spurt – not just national parks but private reserves and indigenous areas – we just need to keep that momentum going,” Martin says.