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Department of the Environment and Heritage annual report 2004-05

Volume one
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2005
ISSN 1441 9335

Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Biodiversity and wildlife

Biodiversity, or biological diversity, means the variety of life at all scales, including the variety of genes, of types within species, of species, and of ecosystems. There are currently between 1.5 to 1.8 million named species in the world, about half of which are insects. No one knows how many species are still to be discovered and efforts to estimate the total number of species on the planet reflect this uncertainty. We do know that biodiversity is not evenly distributed across the different groups of plants and animals and regions. For example, some 20 per cent of described species are beetles and 70 per cent of the world’s species occur in only 12 countries. Australia is one of these ‘mega-diverse’ countries.

The Department of the Environment and Heritage aims to protect biodiversity, including wildlife and their habitats, and works to ensure that Australia's use of biological resources is ecologically sustainable.

Main responsibilities relevant to this output

Land, Water and Coasts Division

Approvals and Wildlife Division

Parks Australia Division

Objectives

Main results

Biodiversity conservation framework

At the international level the department represents Australia in the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Current priorities include negotiating an international regime on managing genetic resources (see ‘Genetic resource management’).

Within Australia, Australia’s state and territory governments are legally responsible for many activities that affect whether biodiversity is conserved. Through the Minister for the Environment and Heritage the department supports the work of the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council (a council of government ministers responsible for collective national decisions about the conservation and sustainable use of Australia’s natural resources) to develop national plans to conserve biodiversity.

Departmental project work is funded in part through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. The $3 billion Natural Heritage Trust is the Australian Government’s main programme for conserving biodiversity.

Review of engagement with the Convention on Biological Diversity

During the year the department completed a review of Australia’s interests and priorities in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The review focused on ways to handle the convention’s expanding agenda and ways to manage cross-cutting issues such as trade and the environment, and agricultural biodiversity. Out of the review the department achieved a whole-of-government strategy for engaging with relevant government departments on the Convention on Biological Diversity over the next two years.

National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan

The department worked with state and territory officials to develop detailed implementation plans to achieve the objectives of the 2004–2007 National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan. An Australia-wide inventory of government activities aimed at addressing climate change impacts on biodiversity was compiled. A report will be provided to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council in early 2006 to identify how to address any gaps in the implementation of the plan.

In June 2005 the department hosted a workshop to identify information gaps and research needs for the plan. The workshop raised awareness of the research challenges in addressing climate change impacts on biodiversity. The workshop’s report will inform Australian Government research priorities.

High Peak, Brooklyn Station

High Peak, Brooklyn Station

Photo: R Woldendorp

Maintaining Australia’s biodiversity hotspots

Biodiversity hotspots are areas that are rich in biodiversity but under threat. Australia’s 15 national biodiversity hotspots were announced in October 2003 (see biodiversity hotspots map). On 20 August 2004 the Prime Minister announced the Maintaining Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspots Programme. This programme protects biodiversity values in hotspots by providing incentives to landholders and assisting conservation groups to purchase land to be managed for conservation (see www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/hotspots). The first two initiatives funded under the programme were:

See also: biodiversity hotspots in South East Asia–Pacific region.

Threatened species recovery

The Australian Government’s main tool for protecting threatened species is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Under the Act the department is working to prevent threatened species from becoming extinct and to recover their populations. This includes addressing key threats such as pests, weeds and diseases.

As part of this work the department develops recovery and threat abatement plans. Recovery plans set out the actions needed to maximise the chances of long-term survival in the wild of a threatened species or ecological community. Threat abatement plans set out the actions needed to reduce the impacts of key threatening processes on affected native species or ecological communities. The plans must come into force within certain time limits, which are set out in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

During the year the Minister for the Environment and Heritage approved 67 recovery plans under the Act, increasing the total number of recovery plans in force to 216, covering 303 species and ecological communities. A further 514 species and communities have plans in place or in preparation. This brings the total number of species and communities covered by plans in place or in preparation to 817, or 51 per cent of the total requiring recovery plans. A priority is to complete recovery plans for species in Commonwealth areas.

A full report on the operation of the Act including progress in developing recovery and threat abatement plans appears in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

Project work for the department’s threatened species activities is funded partly through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. During 2004–05 $2.2 million was spent from the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust on developing and implementing plans to recover terrestrial threatened species, with $2.8 million spent on strategic research and the development of national approaches to abating key threats, and on control methods for invasive species.

See also: migratory and marine species; marine pests; Senate report on invasive species.

Threatened Species Network

The department supports the Threatened Species Network, a community based programme of the Natural Heritage Trust and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia. The network comprises a team of people who support projects that enable all Australians to be involved in hands-on conservation. The network’s projects are funded through the Natural Heritage Trust’s Threatened Species Network Community Grants Programme.

The network’s activities during the year benefited over 260 species and ecological communities listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This included developing 35 new projects that were funded under the grants programme. The network also provided advice on threatened species to over 70 advisory panels, recovery teams, and assessment panels. In addition, the network has been able to survey 144 492 hectares and conserve 122 116 hectares through habitat management such as fencing, revegetation, translocation and weed and predator control.

The Australian Government announced a further three years of funding for the Threatened Species Network and its community grants programme, totalling over $4.5 million.

Weeds

The department jointly manages the $40 million Defeating the Weed Menace Programme with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The Department of the Environment and Heritage is managing 18 of the 30 projects funded from the Defeating the Weed Menace Programme in 2004–05. During 2004–05 $1.1 million was spent from the programme on research and development into weed biology and potential management techniques, the development and monitoring of weed biological control agents, the development of best practice management guides for several weed species, and targeted on-ground weed control actions.

The department also managed 29 projects totalling $1.8 million funded through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. These projects supported national coordination for each of the weeds of national significance; research and development; and education and awareness activities.

Cane toads

Cane toads could invade Western Australia and spread as far south as Margaret River. The department is supporting a joint Australian–Western Australian government task force, including leading scientists, to reduce this risk. A joint work programme (including actions by the Northern Territory Government) will begin later in 2005.

To date the Natural Heritage Trust has invested over $2.7 million in developing cane toad controls, including research by CSIRO to develop a biological control agent. While work in this area is showing promising results, the Australian Government is also funding research into the development of controls that will be available within a few years and which will provide local level control measures.

Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease

The Australian Government has committed $2 million over two years (2005–2006) to accelerate research into the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease. First detected in Tasmania in the mid-1990s, the disease is a fatal cancer that has killed some 30–50 per cent of the wild population of Tasmanian devils. The cause and means of transmission are unknown. The Tasmanian Government has developed a management plan and research priorities for the disease, which will be supported by the Australian Government funding.

‘Extinct’ Tammar wallabies recovering

The department supported a South Australian Government project to return 40 Tammar wallabies from a mainland subspecies that was previously thought to be extinct to Innes National Park in South Australia. The release was possible because a population of the wallabies was established in New Zealand over 100 years ago. Following their return to South Australia a core population of wallabies was established at Monarto Zoological Park near Murray Bridge. It now stands at 84 wallabies as a result of successful breeding. The department spent $0.2 million from the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust on this project during 2004–05, bringing the total Australian Government expenditure to $0.5 million.

Threatened species protection

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 actions that are likely to have a significant impact on matters of national environmental significance, including listed threatened species and communities and listed migratory species, require approval.

Activities that may affect listed species or communities in Commonwealth areas (land and waters) may require permits. During 2004–05 the government issued 17 species and communities permits. Details of these and other activities relating to the protection and conservation of threatened species are included in the report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

The department is continuing to develop projects to support landholders in protecting matters of national environmental significance and in meeting their obligations under the Act. For example in 2004–05 the department, in collaboration with a local council, undertook a project to map and identify the threats to a listed threatened species, the leafy greenhood orchid, on the Mornington Peninsula. This project will provide improved information on best practice natural resource management to help conserve the species within the area.

Project work relating to the protection of listed threatened species and ecological communities is partly funded through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. During 2004–05 Natural Heritage Trust project expenditure for these activities was approximately $1.8 million.

Whale protection

The Australian Government takes a strong stand on protecting whales and dolphins. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 establishes the Australian Whale Sanctuary in Commonwealth waters. The Act also regulates how people should behave around whales and dolphins in Commonwealth marine areas and waters beyond the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

During the year the minister approved recovery plans for the five Australian whale species listed as threatened under the Act: blue, southern right, humpback, fin and sei whales. Recent data indicate that southern right and humpback whale populations, while still much lower than pre-whaling numbers, are increasing. The Australian southern right whale population is currently approximately 1 500 individuals and the Australian humpback whale population is approximately 18 500 individuals. Both species are increasing at around 7–11 per cent per year. There are no current estimates for the abundance of Australian blue, fin or sei whales.

The department is developing a database to record whale and dolphin sightings and strandings. During the year the department began a consultative process to update the national whale watching guidelines. The third national large whale disentanglement workshop was held to provide information and training on safe methods for disentangling large whales from fishing gear and marine debris.

Details of these and other whale and dolphin protection activities (including new draft seismic survey guidelines) are included in the report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

Project work for whale and dolphin research and conservation activities is partly funded through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. During 2004–05 approximately $0.4 million was spent to improve knowledge of distribution, abundance and habitat requirements of whales and dolphins, and on other activities such as the development of a protocol for taking scientific samples from dead stranded whales and dolphins.

See also: international whaling.

Wildlife industry regulation

The Australian Government helps to protect Australia’s native wildlife from overexploitation by regulating wildlife exports and assessing wildlife industries under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (see chart below). Imports of wildlife and wildlife products are also regulated under the Act. The Australian Government uses its regulatory powers to encourage better management practices and to promote animal welfare. A key aim is to make sure wildlife industries are ecologically sustainable.

Wildlife trade programmes approved (2002–present)

Number approved to date = 229

wildlife trade programmes approved 2002-present

Programmes are approved under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Results for 2001–02 are from January 2002. The relevant provisions of the Act commenced on 11 January 2002.

The department also conducts assessments of all fisheries whose products are exported. Since 2000 the Australian Government has used the assessment process to drive improvements in fisheries management by identifying what additional environmental protection measures need to be put in place. As required under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, strategic assessment of the 15 Commonwealth-managed fisheries and the eight Torres Strait fisheries was commenced within five years of the Act coming into force. To 30 June 2005 12 of these had received export approvals, seven in 2004–05. An additional 43 state-managed fisheries also received export approvals in 2004–05, bringing the total number of fisheries assessments undertaken in 2004–05 to 50 (see chart below).

Fisheries assessed (2002-present)

Number assessed to date = 88

fisheries assessed 2002-present

Assessments are carried out under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 regulates the import and export of specimens of species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (usually called CITES), exports of specimens of species native to Australia, and imports of live specimens, in order to protect internationally endangered wildlife and Australia’s environment. The slight reduction in the number of permits issued in 2004–05 (chart below) is due to streamlining measures being undertaken that allow more traders to take up the option of a multiple use permit. In addition the figures shown do not include personal accompanied baggage permits - 19 418 personal baggage permits were issued in 2004–05.

Wildlife export and import permits issued (2002–present)

Number issued in 2004–05 = 3 284

Wildlife export and import permits issued (2002-present)

Permits are issued under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Results for 2001–02 are from January 2002. The relevant provisions of the Act commenced on 11 January 2002.

The department works closely with other agencies to share intelligence and combat wildlife smuggling (see chart below). These agencies include state and territory wildlife authorities, the Australian Customs Service, the Australian Federal Police, the wildlife authorities of other member countries of CITES, Interpol, and some non-government organisations, such as TRAFFIC.

Seizures of illegally imported wildlife specimens (2002–present)

Number of seizures in 2004–05 = 3 902

Seizures of illegally imported wildlife specimens (2002-present)

Seizures are carried out under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Results for 2001–02 are from January 2002. The relevant provisions of the Act commenced on 11 January 2002.

Details of these and other wildlife trade activities are included in the report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports.

Project work relating to wildlife trade regulation is partly funded through the national component of the Natural Heritage Trust. During 2004–05 Natural Heritage Trust project expenditure for these types of activities was approximately $0.9 million.

Genetic resource management

The Australian Government foreshadowed regulating access to genetic resources in Commonwealth areas in its July 2000 National Biotechnology Strategy. In October 2002 the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council signed an intergovernmental agreement to:

position Australia to obtain the maximum economic, social and environmental benefits from the ecologically sustainable use of its genetic and biochemical resources whilst protecting our biodiversity and natural capital.

As part of this agreement each Australian jurisdiction is establishing a legal framework for accessing and using genetic resources. The department is working with state and territory governments to ensure jurisdictional approaches are nationally consistent. The department is responsible for developing Commonwealth Regulations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

National coordination work is funded under an agreement with Biotechnology Australia ($2 million over 2004–2008). During 2004–05 a Biodiscovery Working Group was established with members representing federal, state and territory government agencies. The working group is assisting with the coordination of jurisdictional approaches to regulating biodiscovery (taking samples from native animals, plants or microbial life to study their genetic and biochemical makeup). The department has been preparing amendments to Regulations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 concerning access to biological resources. With the states and territories proceeding with similar legislation, the working group’s task is integral to establishing effective national management of Australia’s unique genetic diversity.

The department also participated in negotiations on an international regime for managing genetic resources under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As a result of consistent international leadership on the issue Australia was chosen in February 2005 to co-chair the first round of the negotiations.

Collectively these activities are expected to result in a legal framework that will safeguard Australia’s biodiversity from unsustainable collection practices, provide legal certainty to researchers, and enable jurisdictions to share in the benefits flowing from new discoveries.

Agreement with J Craig Venter Institute

On 4 November 2004 the department signed a biodiscovery agreement with the J Craig Venter Institute to allow public-good access to Australia’s genetic resources for research and development. The agreement is significant because it provides access to Australian biodiversity in Commonwealth areas, and ensures fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from their non-commercial use. Australia’s status as a scientifically advanced, mega-diverse nation makes it the ideal partner for the institute’s quest to define the diversity of life. The agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and the Venter Institute is consistent with the forthcoming regulatory amendments under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which will facilitate future access and benefit-sharing enterprises.

Australian Biological Resources Study

(Administered item)

The Australian Biological Resources Study funds taxonomic and biogeographic research and training that lead to the scientific documentation of Australia’s biodiversity. Total expenditure under this programme was $1.8 million in 2004–05. Funding supported 61 taxonomic research projects, four scholarships, 14 student bursaries and a number of small research contracts. Results will contribute to future publications such as Flora of Australia, and expand existing online sources of information including the Australian Faunal Directory and Flora of Australia Online (see www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs).

Taxonomic investigations included research into such diverse biota as zooanthellae (miroalgae), smut fungi, sea anemones, flatworms, kangaroo beetles and orchids, and added new information to existing databases about groups of environmental or economic significance, such as wood borers, earthworms, tapeworms, reptiles and minor marine phyla.

The Australian Biological Resources Study published five books and three CD ROMs this year, and also published new and updated online biodiversity information. Work continued on the development of the Australian Biodiversity Information Facility data portal gateway that will provide real-time access to a wide range of biodiversity data held and maintained by individuals and institutions throughout Australia. An online biodiversity analysis tool was developed for this portal. The project was funded in part by a grant from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Results for performance indicators
Performance indicator 2004–05 results
Programme administration
Threatened Species Recovery (See also Natural Heritage Trust annual report)

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

15 contracts for recovery plan development and implementation

Number of agreements, plans and management arrangements put in place

67 recovery plans approved

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—identified and funded management priorities for nationally threatened species

Threat Abatement of Invasive Species (See also Natural Heritage Trust annual report)

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

20 projects

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—developed better ways to detect and control significant invasive species, raise awareness of invasive species, and develop best practices to manage invasive species impacts

National Weeds Programme (See also Natural Heritage Trust annual report)

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

29 projects

Number of agreements, plans and management arrangements put in place

29 agreements

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—contributed to the improved management of weeds of national significance

Native vegetation

Number of agreements, plans and management arrangements put in place

2 arrangements (National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan and memorandum of understanding and project implementation for the Defeating the Weed Menace Programme)

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—contributed to better management of weeds and addressing the impacts of climate change

Biodiversity Hotspots

Number of projects or activities approved under each programme

2 contracts

Degree to which projects, activities, agreements or plans contribute to the output

High—provided incentives for biodiversity conservation

All programmes

Extent to which (self-imposed, ministerial or external) timeframes are met

High—timeframes met in accordance with departmental standards

Accurate and timely approval, payment and acquittal of grants in accordance with legislation and guidelines

Funding was provided under financial agreements that reflect accountability, reporting and acquittal procedures

Accurate and timely payment of monies

100% of payments made in accordance with terms and conditions of financial agreements

Australian Biological Resources Study (Administered item)

The Australian Biological Resources Study is administered and managed according to best practice, and supports taxonomic investigations into species or ecosystems of national priority

Projects supported Australia’s national research priorities with a particular focus on lesser-known groups. Taxonomic investigations included research into marine flatworms, an important group of marine invertebrates.

Number and value of 2004–05 grants and contracts offered and funded by 30 June 2005

62 research grants were offered and 61 funded

A total of $1.827 million was spent on research grants, contracts, scholarships and bursaries

Statutory administration

Extent to which statutory timeframes are met under legislation

High—see report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Number of permits considered (granted and refused) under legislation

17 species and communities permits (none refused)

3 284 import and export permits (12 refused)

19 418 personal baggage permits

See also report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Number of referrals considered under legislation

See report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Number of plans or arrangements assessed under legislation

67 recovery plans approved (61 for terrestrial species and ecological communities, 3 for cetaceans and 3 for other marine species)

50 fisheries assessments undertaken

See also report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Extent to which stakeholders meet legislative requirements

High

International

Percentage of written pre-meeting objectives at international meetings achieved

90%—Australia’s key policy objectives under the Convention on Biological Diversity met; several non-key objectives partly met

Extent to which Australia’s strategic objectives are achieved through international forums

High—strategic objectives met for Convention on Biological Diversity; majority of objectives met for 13th Conference of the Parties for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), including nomination of the great white shark, opposition to commercial whale trade, and a review of CITES scientific committees

Stakeholder awareness

Information and education products distributed to stakeholders (measured by web site hits, information material distributed, etc)

20 000 hard copies of 2 editions of Bush Magazine distributed plus 4 993 electronic copies via web site

1 956 posters distributed on amphibian chytrid fungus, phytophthora root rot, beak and feather disease of parrots, and the impacts of other invasive species

5 000 copies of National Action Plan for Climate Change and Biodiversity distributed

2 340 copies of Introductory Weed Management Manual (2nd edition printed May 2005) distributed

33 000 copies of Weed Management Guides (series of 49 brochures) distributed to more than 500 organisations and individuals

Numerous publications and articles developed and distributed to relevant stakeholders to increase knowledge of and compliance with the wildlife trade provisions of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Sustainable Fisheries’ CatchUp newsletter published and distributed every 2 months

Responded to 600 on-line enquiries relating to international wildlife trade

Average of 66 494 user sessions per month to the biodiversity-related part of the department’s web site

Research, analysis and evaluation

Number of research reports, articles and papers prepared and publicly released

13 research and development reports on threats and threatened species

Other annual reports - more detailed results

Annual report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 included in the second volume of this set of annual reports

Annual report of the Natural Heritage Trust at www.nht.gov.au/publications. The department’s performance in administering the Natural Heritage Trust is reported on in the chapter on cross-cutting environmental work..

Legislation

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997

Resources
Element of pricing Budget prices (1) $’000 Actual expenses $’000
Departmental outputs

Sub-output: Biodiversity

Sub-output: Wildlife protection and trade

11 415

14 106

12 936

13 170

Total (=Output 1.2: Biodiversity)

25 521

26 106

Administered items

Protecting Australia’s Biodiversity hotspots

Australian Biological Resources Study Participatory Grants Programme

11 000

1 827

3 671

1 827

Total (Administered)

12 827

5 498

1Prices are the estimated full-year revenues for departmental outputs and full-year expenses for administered items that are shown in the 2004–05 portfolio additional estimates statements.

See also: summary resource tables.