While the State of the Environment report said Australia’s environment was in a poor condition and deteriorating, there are bright spots that indicate how the country could turn around its fortunes.
- Indigenous rangers are one success story providing environmental and social benefits
- Privately run conservation groups have also helped protect native species from introduced predators
- Conservation groups say stronger legislation and environmental protection are needed
One shining light is Indigenous rangers, who take care of more than 44 per cent of nationally protected natural areas.
Around 2,000 of these rangers are funded by the federal government, while more are funded through the states and other organisations.
One group, the Gamay Rangers, care for Country in Sydney’s Botany Bay and Port Hacking.
The area holds many challenges for conservation, particularly being next to the city, Sydney Airport, and the Port Botany seaport where the ‘near threatened’ Posidonia australis is found.
Robert Cooley from the Gamay Rangers said the group combined with local scientists to help save species such as the seagrass.
“[The seagrass has] declined over the years to about 10 per cent of what they used to be,” Mr Cooley told ABC Radio Sydney.
The rangers dive into the bay to replant seagrass that is occasionally ripped from the seabed by storms, dragging boat anchors, or strong ferry wash.
“We can take them back to the labs and revitalise them,” Mr Cooley said.
“And once they’re ready, we can basically go back out in the bay with the scientists and do some underwater gardening.”
The report emphasised the importance of Indigenous ranger programs as an estimated 60 per cent of threatened species existed on Indigenous people’s land. Their programs were also hailed as delivering social and economic benefits for the community.
Stable long-term funding remains a significant challenge for ranger groups.
In March 2020, some ranger programs including the Gamay Rangers were given seven years of funding by the federal government.
However, the report cites Indigenous communities and organisations that lament the short-term funding models who have called for permanent and adequately funded programs.
Private conservation groups also having an impact
Bush Heritage is a conservation group, mentioned in the report, that partners with Indigenous people and rangers.
The organisation works across 11 million hectares of land, 1.2 million hectares of which it owns.
The mostly philanthropically funded group has been successful in protecting species including the red-finned blue-eye fish in central Queensland.
Pygmy possums, honey possums, and malleefowl have also been coming back as part of a revegetation project in south-west Western Australia.
“We’ve tipped the balance in favour of our native species,” Bush Heritage CEO Heather Campbell said.
Another group mentioned in the report is Australian Wildlife Conservancy, which manages 12.9 million hectares of privately owned land.
Their projects are also funded primarily by philanthropy and partnership projects, which include creating large fenced predator-free areas to help bring back threatened species.
Senior ecologist Jennifer Pierson said the secured areas were then able to bring back native species to healthy population levels that might also be used for future reintroductions.
“What we do is we’ve identified areas where a species used to be in the landscape, but predators like feral cats and red foxes are preventing them from being there anymore,” Dr Pierson said.
Dr Pierson said some of the 22 species reintroduced by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy include the bilby, of which the conservancy looks after an estimated 10 per cent of their population.
‘You can’t just offset it by planting more trees’
While the private-led initiatives have their successes, Ms Campbell said legislative change was needed to guarantee biodiversity progress.
She said mining and exploration trumping conservation was one of the biggest threats to the efforts of her organisation — Bush Heritage.
“We need a good strong EPA [Environmental Protection Agency],” Ms Campbell said.
“We need to stop the land clearing and particularly stop it in the areas where we’ve got these amazing pristine spots still left.
“You can’t just offset it by planting more trees.”