Protecting Australia’s Nature


Protecting Australia’s Nature
From the tropical north to the red centre and the surrounding oceans, Australia is one of the wildest and most intact places on Earth.

An ancient place of stark extremes and exquisite beauty, Australia for tens of thousands of years has hosted the world’s oldest living civilisation—the First Nations communities. The continent’s seas, lands, and rivers are indispensable to the livelihood, well-being, and traditions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been stewards of these national resources for more than 65,000 years. It’s also a landscape rich in culture and biodiversity, with some of the world’s most unusual plants and animals and an array of communities, cultures, and stories.

The only nation that also spans a continent, Australia is exceptionally biodiverse, joining the United States as the only developed countries considered “megadiverse.” Australia owes a large part of this definition to the Outback, which covers roughly 1.4 million square miles of the country’s nearly 1.9 million square-mile landmass—more than 70% of the continent. A vast tapestry of deeply interconnected landscapes, the Outback remains largely untouched by industrialisation. Rivers still flow unchecked to the sea and wildlife still moves over long distances, as it has for eons.

The oceans surrounding Australia are equally exceptional. As an island continent, Australia’s roughly 3.45 million-square-mile ocean area gives it jurisdiction over the world’s third-largest marine environment. From the tropics to temperate and sub-Antarctic seas, there are coral reefs and atolls, seagrass and mangroves, deep sea canyons and undersea mountains, including the world’s largest coral and rocky reef systems and 50% of the world’s seagrass species.

The waters off Australia’s northwestern Kimberley coast provide a large and healthy haven for sharks, dolphins, turtles, whales, and dugong (a mammal closely related to the manatee). And up to 90% of an array of marine species are found only where the wild Southern Ocean meets the coastline that was once connected to Antarctica, having evolved in isolation for 50 million years. Australia’s northerly Top End coast is one of the last remaining intact tropical coastlines in the world.

Australia’s landscapes, seascapes, and freshwater habitats—like those around the world—still face multiple threats. Principal culprits include overfishing and use of harmful gear by global fleets; land clearing for industrial agriculture; mining; decades of overgrazing; alteration and pollution of rivers; and invasive species. The situation is exacerbated by climate change, which is fuelling an increase in extreme weather across Australia, threatening to make recent wildfires, flooding, and drought more common.

The loss or damage to valuable habitat has taken its toll on the species that are dependent on it; in fact, Australia holds the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s capital for mammal extinction. Many of the country’s marine species—including sea turtles, large sharks and rays, and dugongs—are also legally listed as threatened or endangered. In addition, research has found that Australian freshwater fish species have declined sharply in recent decades, and as many as one-third may now meet criteria as threatened.

Pew seeks to support the work of Indigenous communities, scientists, conservation organizations, regional townships, industry, and government agencies in ensuring that these unique and important intact landscapes, rivers, and seas remain in good shape and able to support healthy ecosystems and the communities that rely on them. We do this in ways that help create sustainable opportunities for local people and communities, particularly for the Traditional Owners. 

Our Work

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