Environmental issue in Australia describes a number of environmental issues which affect the environment of Australia. There are a range of such issues, some of the relating to conservation in Australia while others, for example the deteriorating state of Murray-Darling Basin, have a direct and serious effect on human land use and the economy.
Many human activities including the use of natural resources have a direct impact on the Australian environment.
These issues are the primary concern of the environmental movement in Australia.
Climate change is now a major political talking point in Australia in the last two decades. Persistent drought, and resulting water restrictions during the first decade of the twenty-first century, are an example of natural events' tangible effect on economic and political realities .
Australia ranks within the top ten countries globally with respect to greenhouse gas emissions per capital.
The current federal and state governments have all publicly stated their belief that climate change is being caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Vocal minority groups within the population campaign against mining and coal-fired power stations in Australia, and such demonstrations are widely reported by the mainstream media. Similarly, vocal minority groups concurrently oppose wind energy schemes, despite being 'carbon neutral', on the grounds of local visual and noise impact and concern for the currently high cost and low reliability of wind energy.
Despite the publication of the Garnaut report and the Green Paper on the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, public belief in anthropogenic climate change has noticeably eroded following the leaking of e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.
There is claimed to be a net benefit to Australia in stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450ppm CO2 eqin line with the prevailing political stance. Public disagreement with this opinion is generally dismissed as expression of vested interests, for example from the coal industry.
Australia is a major exporter and consumer of coal, the combustion of which liberates CO2. Consequently, in 2003 Australia was the eighth highest emitter of CO2 gases per capita in the world liberating 16.5 tonnes per capital.Australia is claimed to be one of the countries most at risk from climate change according to the Stern report.
Most of Australia's demand for electricity depends upon coal-fired thermal generation,[ citation needed ] owing to the plentiful indigenous coal supply, limited potential electric generation and political unwillingness to exploit indigenous uranium resources (although Australia accounted for the world's second highest production of uranium in 2005[ citation needed ] to fuel a 'carbon neutral' domestic nuclear energy program.
Conservation in Australia is an issue of state and federal policy. Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, with a large portion of species endemic to Australia. Preserving this wealth of biodiversity is important for future generations.
A key conservation issue is the preservation of biodiversity, especially by protecting the remaining rainforests. The destruction of habitat by human activities, including land clearing, remains the major cause of biodiversity loss in Australia. The importance of the Australian rainforests to the conservation movement is very high. Australia is the only western country to have large areas of rainforest intact. Forests provide timber, drugs, and food and should be managed to maximize the possible uses. Currently, there are a number of environmental movements and campaigners advocating for action on saving the environment, one such campaign is the Big Switch.
Land management issues including clearance of native vegetation, reafforestation of once-cleared areas, control of exotic weeds and pests, expansion of dryland salinity, and changed fire regimes. Intensification of resource use in sectors such as forestry, fisheries, and agriculture are widely reported to contribute to biodiversity loss in Australia. Coastal and marine environments also have reduced biodiversity from reduced water quality caused by pollution and sediments arising from human settlements and agriculture. In central New South Wales where there are large plains of grassland, problems have risen from—unusual to say—lack of land clearing.
The Daintree Rainforest, a tropical rainforest near Daintree, Queensland covering around 1200 square kilometres, is threatened by logging, development, mining and the effects of the high tourist numbers.
There are some government programs in Australia which are the opposite of conservation (such as killing wildlife); an example of this is shark culling, which currently occurs in New South Wales and Queensland.
Over a hundred species of fauna are currently under serious threat of extinction. The plight of some of these species receives more attention than others and recently the focus of many conservation organisations has been the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat, the endangered Tasmanian devil,northern tiger quoll, south eastern red-tailed black cockatoo, southern cassowary, Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, Leadbeater's possum and southern corroboree frog.
Australia has a poor record of conservation of native fauna. The extinction of Australian megafauna is attributed to the arrival of humans and since European settlement, 23 birds, 4 frogs, and 27 mammal species are also known to have become extinct.
One of the notable issues with marine conservation in Australia is the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef's environmental pressures include water quality from runoff, climate change and mass coral bleaching, cyclic outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, overfishing, and shipping accidents. The government of Queensland currently kills sharks in the Great Barrier Reef using drum lines, causing damage to the marine ecosystem.
In 2021 Australia announced the creation of 2 national marine parks in size of 740,000 square kilometers. With those parks 45% of the Australian marine territory will be protected.
Whaling in Australia took place from colonisation in 1788. In 1979 Australia terminated whaling and committed to whale protection. The main varieties hunted were humpback, blue, right and sperm whales.
Western Australia culled sharks in 2014, killing dozens of tiger sharks and causing public protest.Later that year it was abandoned, and the government of Western Australia continued to shoot and kill sharks it believed to be an "imminent threat" to humans from 2014 to 2017; this policy was criticized by senator Rachel Siewart for being environmentally damaging.
From 1962 to the present, the government of Queensland has killed sharks on drum lines and shark nets, a process that also kills other animals such as dolphinsand dugongs. From 1962 to 2018, Queensland's "shark control" program killed roughly 50,000 sharks, including sharks in the Great Barrier Reef. Queensland's shark-killing program has been called "outdated, cruel and ineffective".
New South Wales has a shark net program that kills sharks as well as other marine life.Between 1950 and 2008, 352 tiger sharks and 577 great white sharks were killed in the nets in New South Wales – also during this period, a total of 15,135 marine animals were killed in the nets, including whales and turtles. There has been a very large decrease in the number of sharks in eastern Australia in recent years, and the shark-killing programs in Queensland and New South Wales are partly responsible for this decrease.
Jessica Morris of Humane Society International calls shark culling a "knee-jerk reaction" and says, "sharks are top order predators that play an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems. We need them for healthy oceans."
While there have been no oil spill environmental disasters of the scale of the Exxon Valdez in the country, Australia has a large oil industry and there have been several large oil spills . Spills remain a serious threat to the marine environment and Australian coastline. The largest spill to date was the Kirki tanker in 1991 which dropped 17,280 tonnes of oil off the coast of Western Australia.
In March 2009, the 2009 southeast Queensland oil spill occurred, where 200,000 litres were spilled from the MV Pacific Adventurer spilling more than 250 tonnes of oil, 30 tonnes of fuel and other toxic chemicals on Brisbane's suburban beaches. Premier Anna Bligh described the spill as "worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen".
A serious issue to the Australian marine environment is the dumping of rubbish from ships. There have been a number of cases,particularly involving the navy of Australian and other countries polluting Australian waters including the dumping of chemical warfare agents. Recently documented cases include the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in 2006 which was found to be dumping rubbish off the shores of Moreton Island. In Victoria, a large number of toxic drums containing 1,2-Dichlorobenzene xylenol, a substance very toxic to aquatic creatures washed up on beaches during May 2009 presumably fallen off a passing container ship.
Australia's geographical isolation has resulted in the evolution of many delicate ecological relationships that are sensitive to foreign invaders and in many instances provided no natural predators for many of the species subsequently introduced. Introduced plants that have caused widespread problems are lantana and the prickly pear bush. The introduction and spread of animals such as the cane toad or rabbit can disrupt the existing balances between populations and develop into environmental problems. The introduction of cattle into Australia and to a lesser extent the dingo, are other examples of species that have changed the landscape. In some cases the introduction of new species can lead to plagues and the extinction of endemic species.
The introduced species red fox has single-handedly caused the extinction of several species. Tasmania takes the threat of red fox introduction so seriously that it has a government sponsored taskforce to prevent fox populations from taking hold on the island.
According to Jared Diamond, "Australia's number-one environmental problem [is] land degradation".Land degradation results from nine types of damaging environmental impacts:
Clearcutting of old growth forests is continuing in parts of Australia. This often involves the destruction of natural ecosystems and the replacement with monoculture plantations.
Australia had a 2018 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 7.22/10, ranking it 46th globally out of 172 countries.
In the prehistory of Australia the Indigenous Australians used fire-stick farming which was an early form of land clearing which caused long term changes to the ecology. With European colonisation land clearing continued on a larger scale for agriculture – particularly for cattle, cotton and wheat production. Since European settlement a total of 13% of native vegetation cover has been lost. The extinction of 20 different mammals, 9 bird and 97 plant species have been partially attributed to land clearing. Land clearing is a major source of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, and contributed to approximately 12 percent of Australia's total emissions in 1998.
The consequences of land clearing include dryland salinity and soil erosion. These are a major concern to the landcare movement in Australia.
The clearing of native vegetation is controlled by Federal laws (indirectly), State law and local planning instruments. The precise details of regulation of vegetation clearing differ according to the location where clearing is proposed.
Soil salinity affects 50,000 km² of Australia and is predominantly due to land clearance.
The protection of waterways in Australia is a major concern for various reasons including habitat and biodiversity, but also due to use of the waterways by humans.
The Murray-Darling Basin is under threat due to irrigation in Australia, causing high levels of salinity which affect agriculture and biodiversity in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. These rivers are also affected by pesticide run-off and drought.
Rivers and creeks in urban areas also face environmental issues, particularly pollution.
Water use is a major sustainability issue in Australia. Water is becoming a very very big problem for not only Australia but worldwide as where there are droughts occurring more often and only having limited use of the water and then there are even places that don't have any water at all such as India etc, we need conserve our water for the future and get more access to the water since we only have roughly 5% access to it.[ citation needed ]
Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world. Many Australian cities have large urban footprints and are characterised by an unsustainable low density urban sprawl. This places demand on infrastructure and services which contributes to the problems of land clearing, pollution, transport related emissions, energy consumption, invasive species, automobile dependency and urban heat islands.
The urban sprawl continues to increase at a rapid rate in most Australian cities, particularly the state capital cities, all of which (with the exception of Hobart) are metropoleis. In some centres, such as Sydney and Greater Western Sydney,Greater Melbourne and South East Queensland large metropolitan conurbations threaten to extend for hundreds of kilometres and based on current population growth rates are expected to become megacities in the 21st century. Most Australian cities population growth is a result of migration in contrast to the Birth rate and fertility rate in Australia, which is contributing to the ongoing trend of urbanisation.
In recent years, some cities have implemented transit-oriented development strategies to curb the urban sprawl. Notable examples include Melbourne 2030,South East Queensland Regional Plan and the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy. There are also population decentralisation programs at state and federal levels aimed at shifting populations out of the major centres and stemming the drivers to rapid urbanisation. Albury-Wodonga was part of the federal government's program of decentralisation begun in the 1970s, which has at times had relocation policies for immigration. The Victorian government has run a decentralisation program since the 1960s, having had a ministerial position appointed and ongoing promotional and investment programs for stimulating growth in Regional Victoria. However policy has swung over the decades, primarily due to local development priorities and agendas and a lack of federal co-ordination to the problem.
Issues include large quantities of e-waste and toxic waste going into landfill. Australia does not have restrictions on the dumping of toxic materials that are common in other countries, such as dumping Cathode Ray Tubes which leach heavy metals into water catchments. Due to the lack of sufficient sites for toxic waste disposal large quantities of toxic waste are trucked between states to remote dumping grounds or exported overseas in ships.
Australia has the largest reserves of uranium in the world and there has been a number of enquiries on uranium mining. The anti-nuclear movement in Australia is actively opposing mining as well as preventing the construction of nuclear power plants.
At least 150 leaks, spills and licence breaches have occurred at the Ranger uranium mine between 1981 and 2009.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2009)
The following is a list of controversial development projects due to concerns of environmental effects. This list includes projects required to submit an Environmental Effects Statement.
|British nuclear tests at Maralinga||Nuclear testing||South Australia||1955–1963||Massive radioactive contamination. Continual cleanup operations. Long-term health effects on the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land and former personnel.|
|Uranium mining in Australia||Uranium mining||1980–||Possible contamination of land with radioactive mine tailings. Ranger mine contained within Kakadu National Park.|
|Franklin Dam||Damming||Tasmania||1983||Damming of forested area, watercourse damage, reduced water flow. Catalyst for the foundation of the Australian Greens.|
|Yarra Valley||Logging||Victoria||1993–||Deforestation. Threatening of a major water catchment. Threatening the endangered Leadbeater's possum.|
|Tiwi Islands||Deforestation and woodchipping||Northern Territory||2001||Deforestation approved by the Howard government. Operators significantly breached environmental laws resulting in excessive irreparable land clearing.|
|Nowingi toxic waste proposal||Toxic waste||Victoria||2004||Toxic waste disposal plant. Threat to surrounding settlements, Murray River and environment.|
|Bell Bay Pulp Mill||Logging||Tasmania||(proposed) 2006||Deforestation. Threatening of old growth forests in the Tamar Valley. Claims effluent could harm of Bass Strait marine life.|
|Styx Valley||Logging and woodchipping||Tasmania||2006||Deforestation. Destruction of old growth forests.|
|Wonthaggi desalination plant||Desalination||Victoria||2007||Uneconomic. Pollution of the Bass Coast. Accusations of government/private entity corruption. Lack of consultation with community. No justification for perceived requirement. Insufficient initial assessment. Insufficient EES.|
|Port Phillip Channel Deepening Project||Dredging||Victoria||2008–||Dredging in heavy metal-laiden shipping ports posed contamination concerns. Destruction of marine environments. Catalyst for the foundation of the Blue Wedges community group.|
|Oyster Point||Land use||Queensland|
|Magellan Metals||Lead poisoning|
|Carmichael coal mine||Coal mining||Queensland||2019–||potential impact upon the Great Barrier Reef, groundwater at its site and its carbon emissions.|
These glimpses suggest that it is in Australia's interest to seek the strongest feasible global mitigation outcomes – 450 ppm as currently recommended by the science advisers to the UNFCCC and accepted by the European Union.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometres (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labelled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world in 1997. Australian World Heritage places included it in its list in 2007. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland in 2006.
Conservation in Australia is an issue of state and federal policy. Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, with a large portion of species endemic to Australia. Preserving this wealth of biodiversity is important for future generations.
The Coral Sea is a marginal sea of the South Pacific off the northeast coast of Australia, and classified as an interim Australian bioregion. The Coral Sea extends 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) down the Australian northeast coast. The sea was the location for the Battle of the Coral Sea, a major confrontation during World War II between the navies of the Empire of Japan, and the United States and Australia.
Wildlife conservation refers to the practice of protecting wild species and their habitats in order to maintain healthy wildlife species or populations and to restore, protect or enhance natural ecosystems. Major threats to wildlife include habitat destruction/degradation/fragmentation, overexploitation, poaching, pollution and climate change. The IUCN estimates that 27,000 species of the ones assessed are at risk for extinction. Expanding to all existing species, a 2019 UN report on biodiversity put this estimate even higher at a million species. It is also being acknowledged that an increasing number of ecosystems on Earth containing endangered species are disappearing. To address these issues, there have been both national and international governmental efforts to preserve Earth's wildlife. Prominent conservation agreements include the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). There are also numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) dedicated to conservation such as the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.
Marine pollution occurs when harmful effects result from the entry into the ocean of chemicals, particles, industrial, agricultural and residential waste, noise, or the spread of invasive organisms. Eighty percent of marine pollution comes from land. Air pollution is also a contributing factor by carrying off iron, carbonic acid, nitrogen, silicon, sulfur, pesticides or dust particles into the ocean. Land and air pollution have proven to be harmful to marine life and its habitats.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) is an Australian environmental not-for-profit organisation. It was founded in 1965 as the Queensland Littoral Society before changing its name to the Australian Littoral Society and then finally in 1995 to its current title. It works on protecting the health and vitality of Australia's coasts and oceans.
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.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef systems, stretching along the East coast of Australia from the northern tip down to the town of Bundaberg, is composed of roughly 2,900 individual reefs and 940 islands and cays that stretch for 2,300 kilometres (1,616 mi) and cover an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia. A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The environmental impact of fishing includes issues such as the availability of fish, overfishing, fisheries, and fisheries management; as well as the impact of industrial fishing on other elements of the environment, such as by-catch. These issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. According to a 2019 FAO report, global production of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals has continued to grow and reached 172.6 million tonnes in 2017, with an increase of 4.1 percent compared with 2016. There is a growing gap between the supply of fish and demand, due in part to world population growth.
In ecology, resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. Such perturbations and disturbances can include stochastic events such as fires, flooding, windstorms, insect population explosions, and human activities such as deforestation, fracking of the ground for oil extraction, pesticide sprayed in soil, and the introduction of exotic plant or animal species. Disturbances of sufficient magnitude or duration can profoundly affect an ecosystem and may force an ecosystem to reach a threshold beyond which a different regime of processes and structures predominates. When such thresholds are associated with a critical or bifurcation point, these regime shifts may also be referred to as critical transitions.
Land clearing in Australia describes the removal of native vegetation and deforestation in Australia. Land clearing involves the removal of native vegetation and habitats, including the bulldozing of native bushlands, forests, savannah, woodlands and native grasslands and the draining of natural wetlands for replacement with agriculture, urban and other land uses.
A fishery is an area with an associated fish or aquatic population which is harvested for its commercial value. Fisheries can be marine (saltwater) or freshwater. They can also be wild or farmed.
The geography of Australia encompasses a wide variety of biogeographic regions being the world's smallest continent, while comprising the territory of the sixth-largest country in the world. The population of Australia is concentrated along the eastern and south-eastern coasts. The geography of the continent is extremely diverse, ranging from the snow-capped mountains of the Australian Alps and Tasmania to large deserts, tropical and temperate forests, grasslands, heathlands and woodlands.
The natural environment, commonly referred to simply as the environment, includes all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth.
The Western Australian shark cull is the common term for a former state government policy of capturing and killing large sharks in the vicinity of swimming beaches by use of baited drum lines. The policy was implemented in 2014 to protect human swimmers from shark attack following the deaths of seven people on the Western Australian coastline in the years 2010 to 2013. National public demonstrations opposing the policy attracted international attention to the issue. In September 2014 the seasonal setting of drum lines was abandoned following a recommendation made by the Western Australian Environment Protection Authority. From December 2014 to March 2017, the special deployment of drum lines was permitted in cases where sharks were deemed to present a serious threat to public safety. This policy allowed the government of Western Australia to kill "high-hazard" sharks it found to be a threat to humans; the policy was criticized by senator Rachel Siewart for damaging the environment. In March 2017 the use of drum lines was abandoned by the newly elected West Australian state government. In August 2018 following continual shark attacks the West Australian state government reversed their position and announced a 12-month trial of "SMART" drumlines along Western Australia's South West coast, near Gracetown.
Cape Byron Marine Park is one of four marine parks in New South Wales, Australia, and is the most recently sanctioned. The Cape Byron Marine Park is located in Northern NSW and extends 37 kilometres (23 mi) from the Brunswick River to Lennox Head. The marine park extends out to 3 nautical miles which dictates the border between state and federal jurisdiction. The marine park covers an area of 220 square kilometres (85 sq mi) and includes a variety of marine terrain including beaches, rocky shores, open ocean and the tidal waters of the Brunswick River and its tributaries, the Belongil Creek and Tallow Creek. The Cape Byron Marine Park was declared in 2002 and the zoning plan was implemented in April 2006. Of the 15 distinct marine ecosystems identified within the Tweed-Moreton bioregion, the Cape Byron Marine Park supports 10 of these.
Shark culling is the deliberate killing of sharks by government authorities, usually in response to one or more shark attacks. The term "shark control" is often used by governments when referring to culls. Shark culling has been criticized by environmentalists, conservationists and animal welfare advocates—they say killing sharks harms the marine ecosystem and is unethical. Government officials often cite public safety as a reason for culling. The impact of culling is also minor compared to bycatch with 50 million sharks caught each year by the commercial fishing industry.