Environment of Australia

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Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere.
Relief map showing major rivers of Australia
Climate of Australia

The Australian environment ranges from virtually pristine Antarctic territory and rainforests to degraded industrial areas of major cities. Forty distinct ecoregions have been identified across the Australian mainland and islands. Central Australia has a very dry climate. The interior has a number of deserts while most of the coastal areas are populated. Northern Australia experiences tropical cyclones while much of the country is prone to periodic drought. This dry and warm environment and exposure to cyclones, makes Australia particularly vulnerable to climate change -- with some areas already experiencing increases in wildfires and fragile ecosystems.

The island ecology of Australia has led to a number of unique endemic plant and animal species, notably marsupials like the kangaroo and koala. Agriculture and mining are predominant land uses which cause negative impacts on many different ecosystems. The management of the impact on the environment from the mining industry, the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, forests and native animals are recurring issues of conservation.

The protected areas in Australia are important sources of ecotourism, with sites like the Great Barrier Reef and World Hertiage sites like Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area or the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park draw both national and international tourism. Clean Up Australia Day was an initiative developed in 1989 to collaboratively clean up local areas and is held on the first Sunday of autumn (in March).

Protected areas[edit]

Protected areas cover 895,288 km2 of Australia's land area, or about 11.5% of the total land area. Of these, two-thirds are considered strictly protected (IUCN categories I to IV), and the rest is mostly managed resources protected area (IUCN category VI). There are also 200 marine protected areas, which cover a further 64.8 million hectares.[1] Indigenous Protected Area have been established since the 1990s, the largest of which covers part of the Tanami Desert in the Northern Territory.[2]

The protected natural areas include world heritage listed properties, such as the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh/Naracoorte), Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves, Fraser Island, Great Barrier Reef, Greater Blue Mountains Area, Heard and McDonald Islands, Lord Howe Island, Macquarie Island, Purnululu National Park, Shark Bay, and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.

Protected mixed World Heritage listed areas include Tasmanian Wilderness, Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Willandra Lakes Region and Kakadu National Park. Ningaloo Reef and Cape Range peninsula are submitted and on the Tentative List for World Heritage listing and are Australian National Parks.

Conservation[edit]

Map of Australian vegetation

Although most of Australia is semi-arid or desert, it covers a diverse range of habitats, from alpine heaths to tropical rainforests, and is recognised as a megadiverse country. Because of the great age and consequent low levels of fertility of the continent, its extremely variable weather patterns, and its long-term geographic isolation, much of Australia's biota is unique and diverse. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, more than 45% of birds, and 89% of in-shore, temperate-zone fish are endemic.[3] Many of Australia's ecoregions, and the species within those regions, are threatened by human activities and introduced plant and animal species. The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is a legal framework for the protection of threatened species. Numerous protected areas have been created under the national Biodiversity Action Plan to protect and preserve unique ecosystems; 65 wetlands are listed under the Ramsar Convention, and 16 World Heritage Sites have been established. Australia was ranked 13th in the world on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index.[4]

Most Australian woody plant species are evergreen and many are adapted to fire and drought, including many eucalyptus and acacias. Australia has a rich variety of endemic legume species that thrive in nutrient-poor soils because of their symbiosis with Rhizobia bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. Well-known Australian fauna include monotremes (the platypus and echidna); a host of marsupials, including the kangaroo, koala, wombat; and birds such as the emu and kookaburra. The dingo was introduced by Austronesian people who traded with Indigenous Australians around 3000 BCE.[5] Many plant and animal species became extinct soon after first human settlement, including the Australian megafauna; others have become extinct since European settlement, among them the thylacine.[6][7]

Water[edit]

Australia is the second driest continent (after Antarctica), and frequent droughts have led to the introduction of water restrictions in all parts of Australia. This has led to concern about water security in Australia by environmentalists, irrigators and state and federal governments. Diversion and capture of natural water flows for irrigation in Australia has been responsible for dramatic changes in environmental water flows, particularly in the Murray–Darling basin. The major part of Snowy River flows was diverted by the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

Australia's urban areas use wastewater treatment plants.[8] Both stormwater and treated sewerage flow into rivers, estuaries, nearshore waters and beaches.[8]

Water supply[edit]

Flag of Australia.svg

As Australia's supply of freshwater is increasingly vulnerable to droughts, possibly as a result of climate change, there is an emphasis on water conservation and various regions have imposed restrictions on the use of water.

In 2006, Perth became the first Australian city to operate a seawater desalination plant, the Kwinana Desalination Plant, to reduce the city's vulnerability to droughts. A plant at Kurnell has also been built and supplies Sydney metropolitan area with water during droughts and low dam levels. More plants are planned or are under construction in Gold Coast, Melbourne, and Adelaide. The use of reclaimed water is also increasingly common.

However, some desalination plants were put in stand-by modes in 2010 following above average rainfall levels and floods in 2010.

Governments of Australian states and territories, through state-owned companies, are in charge of service provision in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, while utilities owned by local governments provide services in parts of Queensland and Tasmania. In Victoria, New South Wales and Southeast Queensland, state-owned utilities provide bulk water which is then distributed by utilities owned by either local or state governments. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is responsible for water policies at the federal level.

Issues[edit]

Mountains near Queenstown, Tasmania, completely denuded of vegetation through effects of mining

Major environmental issues in Australia include whaling, logging of old growth forest, irrigation and its impact on the Murray River, Darling River and Macquarie Marshes, acid sulfate soils, soil salinity, land clearing, soil erosion, uranium mining and nuclear waste, creation of marine reserves,[9] air quality in major cities and around polluting industries and infrastructure, pesticide and herbicide impacts and growing of genetically modified food.

There is also a large savana called the great Australian savana.

Increased coal mining in Australia is contentious because of the effects of global warming on Australia, emissions to air from coal burning power stations, dust, subsidence, impact on rivers like the Hunter River and other water users, failure to adequately restore mined areas, and lack of sustainability. As an example, in 1999 Australia's energy consumption of coal and coal products was 47,364 thousand metric tons oil equivalent,[10] compared to that of the world's energy consumption of coal and coal products which totalled 2,278,524 (also measured in thousand metric tons oil equivalent).

Climate change and global warming are of particular concern because of the likely effects of global warming on agriculture, the Great Barrier Reef and tourism industry, human health through mosquito-borne crydiologicyticlogy.[11] Sea level rise could also have a profound impact on low-levelled[clarification needed] and poorer communities and waterfront suburbs. The range of rises forecast by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report would be sufficient to have impacts in many areas, and if the Greenland ice cap melts faster than forecast, it could have a disastrous impact.[citation needed]

In urban areas, noise and odour are major sources of complaints to environmental protection authorities.

Climate change[edit]

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of bushfires, as evidenced by the 2019-20 Australian bushfires.

Climate change in Australia has been a critical issue since the beginning of the 21st century. Australia is becoming hotter, and more prone to extreme heat, bushfires, droughts, floods and longer fire seasons because of climate change. Since the beginning of the 20th century Australia has experienced an increase of over 1.4 °C in average annual temperatures,[12] with warming occurring at twice the rate over the past 50 years than in the previous 50 years.[13] Recent climate events such as extremely high temperatures and widespread drought have focused government and public attention on the impacts of climate change in Australia.[14] Rainfall in southwestern Australia has decreased by 10–20% since the 1970s, while southeastern Australia has also experienced a moderate decline since the 1990s. Rainfall is expected to become heavier and more infrequent, as well as more common in summer rather than in winter. Water sources in the southeastern areas of Australia have depleted due to increasing population in urban areas coupled with persistent prolonged drought.

Climate change is negatively impacting the continent's environment, economy, and communities. Australia is vulnerable to the effects of global warming projected for the next 50 to 100 years because of its extensive arid and semi-arid areas, an already warm climate, high annual rainfall variability, and existing pressures on water supply. The continent's high fire risk increases this susceptibility to change in temperature and climate. Additionally, Australia's population is highly concentrated in coastal areas, and its important tourism industry depends on the health of the Great Barrier Reef and other fragile ecosystems. The impacts of climate change in Australia will be complex and to some degree uncertain, but increased foresight may enable the country to safeguard its future through planned mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation may reduce the ultimate extent of climate change and its impacts, but requires global solutions and cooperation, while adaptation can be performed at national and local levels.[15]

Analysis of future emissions trajectories indicates that, left unchecked, human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) will increase several fold during the 21st century. Consequently, Australia's annual average temperatures are projected to increase 0.4–2.0 °C above 1990 levels by the year 2030, and 1–6 °C by 2070. Average precipitation in southwest and southeast Australia is projected to decline during this time period, while regions such as the northwest may experience increases in rainfall. Meanwhile, Australia's coastlines will experience erosion and inundation from an estimated 8–88 cm increase in global sea level. Such changes in climate will have diverse implications for Australia's environment, economy, and public health.[16] Future impacts will include more severe floods, droughts, and cyclones. Reaching zero emissions by 2050 possibly would not be enough for preventing 2 degrees temperature rise.[17]

The exposure of Indigenous Australians to climate change impacts is exacerbated by existing socio-economic disadvantages which are linked to colonial and post-colonial marginalisation.[18] Climate issues include wild fires, heatwaves, floods, cyclones, rising sea-levels, rising temperatures, and erosion.[18][19][20] The communities most affected by climate changes are those in the North where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 30% of the population.[21] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities located in the coastal north are the most disadvantaged due to social and economic issues and their reliance on traditional land for food, culture, and health. This has raised the question for many community members in these areas, "Should we stay or move away?"[21]

State of the Environment reports[edit]

Commonwealth of Australia[edit]

The State of the Environment (SoE) section has responsibility for environmental reporting and implements two key interrelated initiatives: the State of the Environment report and the Essential Environmental Measures for Australia program.

State of the Environment report

The SoE section leads the development and production of the Australia: State of the Environment. The report is a comprehensive national assessment of the state of our environment produced every five years based on the best available evidence. It is tabled in accordance with section 516B of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conversation Act 1999, by the Minister for the Environment and Energy. The SoE report provides a vital resource for policy makers, industry and NGOs, educational institutions, the science community and the general public.[22]

Essential Environmental Measures for Australia

The section also leads the development of the Essential Environmental Measures (EEM) program to strengthen environmental reporting. The EEM program aims to improve our capacity to track trends in the State of Australia's environment and engages with environmental experts to:

  • identify measures that are essential for tracking change in the state of the environment and
  • make measure-related data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR).

Over time, it is anticipated that information provided through the program will become a core component of the evidence used to inform national state of the environment reporting and environmental-economic accounting.

Sydney

Victoria[edit]

South Australia[edit]

Western Australia[edit]

The southwest coastal area has a Mediterranean climate and was originally heavily forested, including large stands of the karri, one of the tallest trees in the world.[citation needed] This agricultural region of Western Australia is in the top nine terrestrial habitats for terrestrial biodiversity, with a higher proportion of endemic species than most other equivalent regions. Thanks to the offshore Leeuwin Current the area numbers in the top six regions for marine biodiversity, containing the most southerly coral reefs in the world. Average annual rainfall varies from 300 millimetres (12 in) at the edge of the Wheatbelt region to 1,400 millimetres (55 in) in the wettest areas near Northcliffe, but in the months of November to March evaporation exceeds rainfall, and it is generally very dry. Plants must be adapted to this as well as the extreme poverty of all soils. A major reduction in winter rainfall has been observed since the mid-1970s, with a greater number of extreme rainfall events in the summer months.[citation needed] The central four-fifths of the state is semiarid or desert and is lightly inhabited with the only significant activity being mining. Annual rainfall averages 200–250 millimetres (8–10 in), most of which occurs in sporadic torrential falls related to cyclone events in summer months. An exception to this is the northern tropical regions. The Kimberley has an extremely hot monsoonal climate with average annual rainfall ranging from 500 to 1,500 millimetres (20–60 in), but there is a very long almost rainless season from April to November. Eighty-five percent of the state's runoff occurs in the Kimberley, but because it occurs in violent floods and because of the insurmountable poverty of the generally shallow soils, the only development has taken place along the Ord River.

The black swan is the state bird of Western Australia.

The red-and-green kangaroo paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia.

Occurrence of snow in the state is rare, and typically only in the Stirling Range near Albany, as it is the only mountain range far enough south and with sufficient elevation. More rarely, snow can fall on the nearby Porongurup Range. Snow outside these areas is a major event; it usually occurs in hilly areas of southwestern Australia. The most widespread low-level snow occurred on 26 June 1956 when snow was reported in the Perth Hills, as far north as Wongan Hills and as far east as Salmon Gums. However, even in the Stirling Range, snowfalls rarely exceed 5 cm (2 in) and rarely settle for more than one day.[citation needed] The highest observed maximum temperature of 50.5 °C (122.9 °F) was recorded at Mardie Station on 19 February 1998. The lowest minimum temperature recorded was −7.2 °C (19.0 °F) at Eyre Bird Observatory on 17 August 2008.[citation needed]

Tasmania[edit]

Mild climate

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

Northern Territory[edit]

Low relative humidity, wind and lack of rain from hot and dry in the interior to the milder, wetter climates of the south.

Environment organizations[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Australia's protected areas". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. February 2012. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  2. ^ Caddie Brain (11 July 2012). "Australia's biggest protected area declared". ABC Rural. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  3. ^ "About Biodiversity". Department of the Environment and Heritage. Archived from the original on 5 February 2007. Retrieved 18 September 2007.
  4. ^ "2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (pg.112)" (PDF). Yale University. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 June 2007. Retrieved 20 May 2007.
  5. ^ Savolainen, P. et al. 2004. A detailed picture of the origin of the Australian dingo, obtained from the study of mitochondrial DNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 101:12387–12390 PMID
  6. ^ "Additional Thylacine Topics: Persecution". The Thylacine Museum. 2006. Retrieved 27 November 2006.
  7. ^ "National Threatened Species Day". Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Government. 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2006.
  8. ^ a b Harvey, Nick; Caton, Brian (2010). "Human Impact on the Australian Coast.". Coastal Management in Australia. University of Adelaide Press. p. 128.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 October 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 October 2008. Retrieved 2 November 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 February 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Australia's changing climate".
  13. ^ Lindenmayer, David; Dovers, Stephen; Morton, Steve, eds. (2014). Ten Commitments Revisited. CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 9781486301676.
  14. ^ Johnston, Tim (3 October 2007). "Climate change becomes urgent security issue in Australia". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  15. ^ Pittock, Barrie, ed. (2003). Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia: Australian Greenhouse Office. ISBN 978-1-920840-12-9.
  16. ^ Preston, B. L.; Jones, R. N. (2006). Climate Change Impacts on Australia and the Benefits of Early Action to Reduce Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions: A consultancy report for the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change (PDF). CSIRO.
  17. ^ Perkins, Miki (13 November 2020). "Climate change is already here: major scientific report". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  18. ^ a b Green, Donna (November 2006). "Climate Change and Health: Impacts on Remote Indigenous Communities in Northern Australia". S2CID 131620899. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ Nursey-Bray, Melissa; Palmer, R.; Smith, T. F.; Rist, P. (4 May 2019). "Old ways for new days: Australian Indigenous peoples and climate change". Local Environment. 24 (5): 473–486. doi:10.1080/13549839.2019.1590325. ISSN 1354-9839.
  20. ^ Ford, James D. (July 2012). "Indigenous Health and Climate Change". American Journal of Public Health. 102 (7): 1260–1266. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2012.300752. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 3477984. PMID 22594718.
  21. ^ a b Zander, Kerstin K.; Petheram, Lisa; Garnett, Stephen T. (1 June 2013). "Stay or leave? Potential climate change adaptation strategies among Aboriginal people in coastal communities in northern Australia". Natural Hazards. 67 (2): 591–609. doi:10.1007/s11069-013-0591-4. ISSN 1573-0840. S2CID 128543022.
  22. ^ "SoE 2016 : The Australia State of the Environment (SoE) 2016 Overview was tabled in Parliament on 7 March 2017". Environment.gov.au. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 December 2006. Retrieved 17 February 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 September 2007. Retrieved 17 February 2007.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading[edit]