The link below is to an article that looks at deforestation of the Amazon in Peru for more gold mining.
This is part of a major series called Advancing Australia, in which leading academics examine the key issues facing Australia in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election and beyond. Read the other pieces in the series here.
We need nature. It gives us inspiration, health, resources, life. But we are losing it. Extinction is the most acute and irreversible manifestation of this loss.
Australian species have suffered at a disproportionate rate. Far more mammal species have become extinct in Australia than in any other country over the past 200 years.
The thylacine is the most recognised and mourned of our lost species, but the lesser bilby has gone, so too the pig-footed bandicoot, the Toolache wallaby, the white-footed rabbit-rat, along with many other mammals that lived only in Australia. The paradise parrot has joined them, the robust white-eye, the King Island emu, the Christmas Island forest skink, the southern gastric-brooding frog, the Phillip Island glory pea, and at least another 100 species that were part of the fabric of this land, part of what made Australia distinctive.
And that’s just the tally for known extinctions. Many more have been lost without ever being named. Still others hover in the graveyard – we’re not sure whether they linger or are gone.
The losses continue: three Australian vertebrate species became extinct in the past decade. Most of the factors that caused the losses remain unchecked, and new threats are appearing, intensifying, expanding. Many species persist only in slivers of their former range and in a fraction of their previous abundance, and the long-established momentum of their decline will soon take them over the brink.
These losses need not have happened. Almost all were predictable and preventable. They represent failures in our duty of care, legislation, policy and management. They give witness to, and warn us about, the malaise of our land and waters.
How do we staunch the wound and maintain Australia’s wildlife? It’s a problem with many facets and no single solution. Here we provide ten recommendations, based on an underlying recognition that more extinctions will be inevitable unless we treat nature as part of the essence of this country, rather than as a dispensable tangent, an economic externality.
We should commit to preventing any more extinctions. As a society, we need to treat our nature with more respect – our plants and animals have lived in this place for hundreds of thousands, often millions, of years. They are integral to this country. We should not deny them their existence.
We should craft an intergenerational social contract. We have been gifted an extraordinary nature. We have an obligation to pass to following generations a world as full of wonder, beauty and diversity as our generation has inherited.
We should highlight our respect for, and obligation to, nature in our constitution, just as that fusty document could be refreshed and some of its deficiencies redressed through the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Those drafting the blueprint for the way our country is governed gave little or no heed to its nature. A constitution is more than a simple administrative rule book. Countries such as Ecuador, Palau and Bhutan have constitutions that commit to caring for their natural legacy and recognise that society and nature are interdependent.
We should build a generation-scale funding commitment and long-term vision to escape the fickle, futile, three-year cycle of contested government funding. Environmental challenges in Australia are deeply ingrained and longstanding, and the conservation response and its resourcing need to be implemented on a scale of decades.
As Paul Keating stated in his landmark Redfern speech, we should all see Australia through Aboriginal eyes – more deeply feel the way the country’s heart beats; become part of the land; fit into the landscape. This can happen through teaching curricula, through reverting to Indigenous names for landmarks, through reinvigorating Indigenous land management, and through pervasive cultural respect.
We need to live within our environmental limits – constraining the use of water, soil and other natural resources to levels that are sustainable, restraining population growth and setting a positive example to the world in our efforts to minimise climate change.
We need to celebrate and learn from our successes. There are now many examples of how good management and investments can help threatened species recover. We are capable of reversing our mismanagement.
Funding to prevent extinctions is woefully inadequate, of course, and needs to be increased. The budgeting is opaque, but the Australian government spends about A$200 million a year on the conservation of threatened species, about 10% of what the US government outlays for its own threatened species. Understandably, our American counterparts are more successful. For context, Australians spend about A$4 billion a year caring for pet cats.
Environmental law needs strengthening. Too much is discretionary and enforcement is patchy. We suggest tightening the accountability for environmental failures, including extinction. Should species die out, formal inquests should be mandatory to learn the necessary lessons and make systemic improvements.
We need to enhance our environmental research, management and monitoring capability. Many threatened species remain poorly known and most are not adequately monitored. This makes it is hard to measure progress in response to management, or the speed of their collapse towards extinction.
Extinction is not inevitable. It is a failure, potentially even a crime – a theft from the future that is entirely preventable. We can and should prevent extinctions, and safeguard and celebrate the diversity of Australian life.
John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University
The link below is to an article that takes a look at increased home ranges of giraffes dues to the proximity of towns and reduced food sources.
Coastal wetlands don’t cover much global area but they punch well above their carbon weight by sequestering the most atmospheric carbon dioxide of all natural ecosystems.
Termed “blue carbon ecosystems” by virtue of their connection to the sea, the salty, oxygen-depleted soils in which wetlands grow are ideal for burying and storing organic carbon.
In our research, published today in Nature, we found that carbon storage by coastal wetlands is linked to sea-level rise. Our findings suggest as sea levels rise, these wetlands can help mitigate climate change.
Sea-level rise benefits coastal wetlands
We looked at how changing sea levels over the past few millennia has affected coastal wetlands (mostly mangroves and saltmarshes). We found they adapt to rising sea levels by increasing the height of their soil layers, capturing mineral sediment and accumulating dense root material. Much of this is carbon-rich material, which means rising sea levels prompt the wetlands to store even more carbon.
We investigated how saltmarshes have responded to variations in “relative sea level” over the past few millennia. (Relative sea level is the position of the water’s edge in relation to the land rather than the total volume of water within the ocean, which is called the eustatic sea level.)
What does past sea-level rise tell us?
Global variation in the rate of sea-level rise over the past 6,000 years is largely related to the proximity of coastlines to ice sheets that extended over high northern latitudes during the last glacial period, some 26,000 years ago.
As ice sheets melted, northern continents slowly adjusted elevation in relation to the ocean due to flexure of the Earth’s mantle.
For much of North America and Europe, this has resulted in a gradual rise in relative sea level over the past few thousand years. By contrast, the southern continents of Australia, South America and Africa were less affected by glacial ice sheets, and sea-level history on these coastlines more closely reflects ocean surface “eustatic” trends, which stabilised over this period.
Our analysis of carbon stored in more than 300 saltmarshes across six continents showed that coastlines subject to consistent relative sea-level rise over the past 6,000 years had, on average, two to four times more carbon in the upper 20cm of sediment, and five to nine times more carbon in the lower 50-100cm of sediment, compared with saltmarshes on coastlines where sea level was more stable over the same period.
In other words, on coastlines where sea level is rising, organic carbon is more efficiently buried as the wetland grows and carbon is stored safely below the surface.
Give wetlands more space
We propose that the difference in saltmarsh carbon storage in wetlands of the southern hemisphere and the North Atlantic is related to “accommodation space”: the space available for a wetland to store mineral and organic sediments.
Coastal wetlands live within the upper portion of the intertidal zone, roughly between mean sea level and the upper limit of high tide.
These tidal boundaries define where coastal wetlands can store mineral and organic material. As mineral and organic material accumulates within this zone it creates layers, raising the ground of the wetlands.
New accommodation space for storage of carbon is therefore created when the sea is rising, as has happened on many shorelines of the North Atlantic Ocean over the past 6,000 years.
To confirm this theory we analysed changes in carbon storage within a unique wetland that has experienced rapid relative sea-level rise over the past 30 years.
When underground mine supports were removed from a coal mine under Lake Macquarie in southeastern Australia in the 1980s, the shoreline subsided a metre in a matter of months, causing a relative rise in sea level.
Following this the rate of mineral accumulation doubled, and the rate of organic accumulation increased fourfold, with much of the organic material being carbon. The result suggests that sea-level rise over the coming decades might transform our relatively low-carbon southern hemisphere marshes into carbon sequestration hot-spots.
How to help coastal wetlands
The coastlines of Africa, Australia, China and South America, where stable sea levels over the past few millennia have constrained accommodation space, contain about half of the world’s saltmarshes.
A doubling of carbon sequestration in these wetlands, we’ve estimated, could remove an extra 5 million tonnes of CO₂ from the atmosphere per year. However, this potential benefit is compromised by the ongoing clearance and reclamation of these wetlands.
Preserving coastal wetlands is critical. Some coastal areas around the world have been cut off from tides to lessen floods, but restoring this connection will promote coastal wetlands – which also reduce the effects of floods – and carbon capture, as well as increase biodiversity and fisheries production.
In some cases, planning for future wetland expansion will mean restricting coastal developments, however these decisions will provide returns in terms of avoided nuisance flooding as the sea rises.
Finally, the increased carbon storage will help mitigate climate change. Wetlands store flood water, buffer the coast from storms, cycle nutrients through the ecosystem and provided vital sea and land habitat. They are precious, and worth protecting.
The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of their colleagues, Janine Adams, Lisa Schile-Beers and Colin Woodroffe.
Kerrylee Rogers, Associate Professor, University of Wollongong; Jeffrey Kelleway, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Environmental Sciences, Macquarie University, and Neil Saintilan, Head, Department of Environmental Science, Macquarie University