More than 40 percent of Australia has been found in a new study to qualify as unspoilt wilderness, confirming the country's status as among the five most significant wild areas on Earth with areas in size and quality equivalent to the Amazon Forest, the Antarctic and the Sahara Desert.
Conducted by scientists for the international conservation organisations the Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy, the Wild Australia Program study identified 12 major regions of Australia that remain almost completely undamaged by humans.
“As the world's last great wilderness areas disappear under pressure from human impact, to have a continent with this much remaining wilderness intact is unusual and globally significant,” said Dr. Barry Traill, co-author of the study and director of the Wild Australia Program, a collaborative project of the two international organizations.
Covering more than 40 percent of Australia, the study examined some of Australia's most iconic landscapes, from the stark treeless plains of the Nullabor to the savannas of Northern Australia and lush rainforests of Cape York Peninsula.
However, the study also found that the wilderness regions of Australia face serious threats, including from feral animals such as pigs and foxes and invasive weeds, which are degrading the environmental quality of the country and are causing well-documented losses of habitat and wildlife. The report also found that it was important to manage wildfires to ensure healthy habitat.
The Wild Australia study recommends active management to counter these pervasive problems.
Australia has the highest number of endemic mammal (378) and reptile (869) species in the world, but also the worst rate of species extinction.
The Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy have joined forces to scan the world for the last great remaining wilderness areas and chose to work in Australia together with local organisations to help improve protection for Australia's unique and globally significant places.
“These wild natural areas are an important part of Australia's heritage,” said Dr. Traill. “They need to be actively managed and cared for so that all Australians can visit these globally significant and beautiful areas, and learn what it is that makes Australia truly unique.”
The goal of this project is to conserve and successfully manage large natural areas in Australia, both on land and sea. The Wild Australia Program will work with landowners, conservation organisations and community groups in many of the identified wilderness areas to achieve their conservation goals.
“This study shines a spotlight on the best wilderness areas to protect. Our Wild Australia program will focus on these areas and will work with local organisations and landowners to give them the support they need to address the threats to these amazing areas. By marrying overseas resources with local expertise, we aim to make a big difference in looking after our outback,” Dr. Traill said.