Western Australia Makes History With National Park Expansions

To counter rising threats to nature, state will safeguard 12 million acres of land and sea

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Western Australia Makes History With National Park Expansions
Pilbara region
A storm forms over the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia.
Tomasz Judkowiak

Note: This analysis was updated May 31, 2019, to add a kilometre-mile conversion.

This expansion is the largest single commitment ever made to national parks on land in Australia—a historic step that shows the government’s appreciation and respect for our natural places.

Although every boundary of the commitment has not been determined, the national park and marine park opportunities identified cover an enormously diverse range of habitats. These include:

  • The waters surrounding the Buccaneer Archipelago—which would become part of the Great Kimberley Marine Park—where 1,000 islands are home to fringing reefs, vast seagrass beds, mangroves, and an abundance of marine life.
  • The Fortescue Marshes, a large flood-fed wetland complex in the far northwest of Western Australia. When full, the marshes extend over 250,000 acres and attract up to a quarter of a million water birds from more than 60 species.
  • A nearshore marine park proposed on the 1,000-mile-long (roughly 1,600-km-long) South Coast, where the wild, unpolluted waters are home to whales, sea lions, sharks, and albatrosses. The proposed park area contains globally significant breeding and feeding grounds for protected and threatened marine life such as southern right whales and blue whales, and some of the last colonies of endangered Australian sea lions.
Protections created through new national parks will benefit many Australian endangered species, such as the bilby.
Kathie Atkinson

Although the government selected the areas before making its announcement, details about their natural values emerged only recently in a report commissioned by Pew and produced by the Centre for Conservation Geography. The properties hold an extraordinary concentration of plants, animals, and places, and the parks will improve protection for three nationally important wetlands, two World Heritage sites, four national biodiversity hot spots, and almost 200 at-risk species, as well as thousands of endemic species.

Only through large-scale initiatives like this one can the government protect whole river catchments, mountain ranges, and ocean ecosystems, and maintain healthy rivers, abundant wildlife, and plentiful fisheries.

And the benefits extend beyond the environment: Better protection for nature fuels needed economic development in Western Australia’s Outback, where much of the state’s livelihood depends on a healthy environment. Industries and initiatives such as carbon farming, Indigenous land management, fishing, and tourism could significantly boost local economies while also ensuring long-term conservation outcomes. Last year, Western Australia’s parks attracted 20 million visitors from across Australia and the globe.

This announcement marks the beginning of a journey for the government to establish partnerships with landholders, communities, and Traditional Owners in these proposed protected areas. Such collaboration will be central to the effective and timely delivery of these parks and to ensuring their ongoing management to help conserve and showcase the extraordinary nature of Australia.

More than anything, the announcement shows that the Western Australia government recognizes the need to safeguard large and diverse swaths of our beautiful landscape, and to do so for the long term. Small parks cannot stand up to the real and looming threats facing our environment. Living up to its status as our country’s largest state, Western Australia is showing that Australia’s future is entwined with the fate of its natural heritage. Only by protecting our land can we hope to hand our children and grandchildren a healthy and prosperous continent.

Pepe Clarke directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Outback to oceans project, and David Mackenzie leads Pew’s work to conserve the Western Australian Outback.

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