Australia’s draft ‘Strategy for nature’ doesn’t cut it. Here are nine ways to fix it


Euan Ritchie, Deakin University; Bek Christensen, Queensland University of Technology; Bill Bateman, Curtin University; Dale Nimmo, Charles Sturt University; Don Driscoll, Deakin University; Grant Wardell-Johnson, Curtin University; Noel D Preece, James Cook University, and Sarah Luxton, Curtin University

Australia arguably has the worst conservation record of any wealthy and politically stable nation. Since European arrival roughly 230 years ago, 50 animal and 60 plant species have gone extinct, including the loss of some 30 native mammals – roughly 35% of global mammal extinctions since 1500.

These are not just tragedies of the distant past – the Christmas Island pipistrelle, the forest skink and the Bramble Cay melomys have all died out within the past two decades.

More than 1,800 plant, animal and ecological communities are listed as being at risk of extinction, ranging from individual species such as the orange-bellied parrot and Gilbert’s potoroo, all the way up to entire ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef. This number rises every year, in the face of threats such as climate change, rampant land clearing, mining and invasive species.

This bleak situation has been recognised by successive governments, but never successfully tackled.




Read more:
Australia’s species need an independent champion


In the midst of such a tremendous environmental challenge, the federal government has released a draft document, Australia’s strategy for nature 2018–2030, for public comment. This is a welcome step, but regrettably the strategy falls a long way short of what’s required and contains significant flaws. It contains no firm commitments or measurable targets, and overlooks a substantial amount of relevant scientific evidence.

As representatives of Australia’s peak professional ecological body, the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA), we are deeply concerned that the strategy is not fit for its purpose of protecting Australia’s biodiversity.

A bolder, science-based vision

As part of ESA’s formal submission to the public consultation, we provide an alternative, evidence-based vision. This includes nine key recommendations for nature conservation in Australia.

1. Set measurable targets. Any project needs a set of quantifiable targets, otherwise we won’t know whether it has been successful or not. Some suggestions:

  • establish a comprehensive national network of ecosystem monitoring sites by 2025
  • reverse the declines of all species that are threatened by human-caused factors by 2025.

2. Commit to preventing human-caused species extinctions. The strategy should state explicitly that human-driven species extinctions are not acceptable, and establish and maintain clear paths of accountability.

3. Adequately fund the strategy’s implementation. Australia should show international leadership in conservation by investing at the upper end of OECD and G20 averages. At present Australia allocates less than 0.8% of GDP to conservation. We suggest 2% as an urgent minimum investment, with scope to expand funding to ensure that targets can be met.

4. Focus on the intrinsic value of biodiversity. The draft strategy is supposed to represent “Australia’s biodiversity conservation strategy and action inventory”, but it does not define biodiversity, choosing instead to focus on the vague notion of “nature”. We recommend the document return its focus to biodiversity, defined in the Convention on Biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”.

5. Make specific legislative recommendations. The strategy should specify the legislative revisions that will be needed to improve conservation, with particular focus on the flagship Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. This should include:

  • requiring recovery plans for all threatened species
  • requiring threat-abatement plans to efficiently manage major threats to many species, such as impacts of feral predators and herbivores, invasive plants and new diseases
  • specifically protecting high-value ecosystems, including those of economic value such as the Great Barrier Reef, and those that are critical for species survival, and rare ecosystems.

6. Commit to establishing a comprehensive system of protected areas, including marine parks. Despite longstanding commitments to developing a fully representative network of protected areas in Australia, many bioregions remain poorly represented in the National Reserve System and the national marine protected area system.

7. Include all 20 Aichi biodiversity targets and affirm Australia’s commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity. Australia has a proud bipartisan history of national and international engagement with conservation. But the new draft strategy is poor in comparison with other countries’ equivalent documents, such as Germany’s National Strategy on Biological Diversity and New Zealands’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

8. Base the strategy on Australia’s international conservation commitments. Australia has signed more than 30 international conservation agreements, including the Convention on Biodiversity, the Apia Convention, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The domestic EPBC Act requires Australia not to defy these agreements, yet with the exception of the Convention on Biodiversity, none of them rates a mention in the new draft strategy.

9. Recognise key issues that affect Australian biodiversity conservation. Any successful strategy should specifically address new and emerging issues that can harm our environment, such as Australia’s increasing use of natural resources, environmental water flows in rivers, and overfishing.

We cannot ignore human population growth, increasing per capita consumption and subsequent resource demand as drivers of threats to healthy and resilient ecosystems.

The ConversationOur unique plants, animals and other organisms shape our national identity. They have wide-ranging benefits to our society, as well as being inherently valuable in their own right. They need a much stronger commitment to their ongoing protection.

Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University; Bek Christensen, Vice-President, Ecological Society of Australia, Queensland University of Technology; Bill Bateman, Senior Lecturer, Curtin University; Dale Nimmo, Associate professor/ARC DECRA fellow, Charles Sturt University; Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University; Grant Wardell-Johnson, Associate Professor, Environmental Biology, Curtin University; Noel D Preece, Adjunct Principal Research Fellow at Charles Darwin and, James Cook University, and Sarah Luxton, PhD Candidate, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Tackling the kraken: unique dolphin strategy delivers dangerous octopus for dinner


Kate Sprogis, Murdoch University and David Hocking, Monash University

For wild predators, catching, killing and eating prey can sometimes be a risky business. We can see this on the African savannah, where a well-aimed kick from a zebra can spell trouble for a hungry lion. The Conversation

But the same can also be true in the ocean, where some prey types are far from helpless seafood.

In particular, a large octopus can be a risky prey for predators to tackle. This is especially so for marine mammals, such as dolphins, which don’t have hands to help them keep control of this clingy, eight-armed prey.

Our new research highlights the development of complex behaviours that allow dolphins to eat octopus, thereby improving their ability to survive and reproduce.

It’s another example of a strategy that helps to drive the success of dolphins in coastal environments around Australia.

Dangers of eating octopus

In 2015 an adult male bottlenose dolphin was found dead on a beach in Bunbury, southwest Australia.

Wild dolphins face many threats in today’s oceans, yet it was a gruesome surprise when we found octopus arms hanging out of the stranded dolphin’s mouth.

An examination by a veterinary pathologist revealed that this otherwise healthy dolphin, known as “Gilligan” to the research team, had suffocated to death while trying to eat an octopus.

As strange as it sounds, this is not the first recorded case of a dolphin choking to death on an octopus in southwest Australia. There have also been several observations from around the world of dolphins facing difficulties while tackling octopus.

So what is it that makes octopus so hard to handle?

Octopus can grow quite large, with some species bearing muscular arms reaching more than a metre long. Each of their eight arms have powerful suction cup-like suckers on the underside, which are normally used to help octopus capture their own prey while crawling along the seafloor.

But when attacked by a dolphin, these suckered arms also help octopuses to defend themselves by latching onto the dolphin’s smooth skin.

When this happens, dolphins have been observed leaping rapidly out of the water before crashing onto the surface in an attempt to dislodge an octopus.

The real problem is that these arms stay active even after an octopus has been mortally wounded. So even while a dead octopus is being processed, the suckers may still be able to find something to stick onto.

Australia’s octopus-eating dolphins

But we’ve observed some wild bottlenose dolphins that have found a way to handle and feed on octopus, with the findings published today in Marine Mammal Science.

These observations were made between March 2007 and August 2013, while we were conducting boat surveys to study the dolphins living off Bunbury’s coast.

Over this time, we observed 45 octopus handling events by dolphins. Most were performed by adults (male and female), although we also saw four juveniles and two calves performing this behaviour.

Bottlenose dolphin tossing octopus off Bunbury, Western Australia.

During these events, dolphins were observed shaking and tossing octopus around at the water’s surface. In some instances, the prey was gripped in the teeth before being slapped down onto the water.

This likely helped both to kill the octopus and to tear it into smaller, more digestible pieces. In other instances, the octopus was tossed across the surface of the water before being recaptured and tossed again.

By tossing the octopus across the water, dolphins avoid letting the octopus latch onto their bodies. This behaviour also likely assists in wearing out the octopus’s reflex responses that make the suckered arms so dangerous to swallow.

Once the prey has been battered and tenderised enough that the arms are unresponsive, it is then safe for the dolphins to proceed with swallowing their catch.

It’s quite a process the dolphins have developed to deal with the octopus. They have a short, fused neck which means they have to arch their whole body to toss their prey out of the water.

Given the danger, why eat octopus at all?

When we looked closely at when these observations were made, we found that the dolphins were targeting octopus more frequently over winter and spring. These cooler times of year are also the octopus’s breeding time.

Octopus are semelparous, which means they slowly become weaker and then die in the weeks after they finish breeding. It is possible that as they become weaker, they also become easier to catch, making them a relatively easy meal for any opportunistic dolphins swimming by.

At the end of the day, octopus are just part of the broad diet eaten by wild bottlenose dolphins.

Dolphins have also been found to use several other highly specialised feeding behaviours, including processing cuttlefish by popping out the cuttlebone, stranding themselves while hunting fish, and using a marine sponge as a tool to probe the seafloor while searching for buried fish hiding in the sediment.

Octopus shaking and tossing is yet another example that illustrates how intelligent and adaptable these charismatic marine predators are.

Kate Sprogis, Research associate, Murdoch University and David Hocking, Research associate, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cape York and World Heritage Listing


The link below is to an article that looks at the strategy to World Heritage List Cape York in Queensland, Australia.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/cape-york-on-path-to-world-heritage-list.htm