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Report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Covering the period 16 July 2000 to 30 June 2001
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4770 X

2. Conserving biodiversity

The Act provides a substantially improved and integrated framework for the conservation of Australia's biodiversity. In addition to environment protection measures for matters of national environmental significance, the Act increases protection for species and communities in Commonwealth areas and for significant protected areas.

As provided for in Section 516 of the Act, the Director of National Parks will provide a separate annual report on Commonwealth reserve matters.

Information on referrals and approvals under Chapter 4 of the Act relating to threatened species and communities, migratory species, World Heritage properties and wetlands of international importance is in Part 1.1

2.1 Protecting species and communities

Threatened species and communities

In this area, the major focus of work since commencement of the Act has been the nomination and listing of threatened species and ecological communities and the making of recovery plans. This major task has proceeded smoothly and statutory timeframes specified in the Act have almost always been met.

Under the Act there were 66 nominations for threatened species, 16 nominations for threatened ecological communities and nine nominations for threatening processes during 2000-01. In addition, 21 nominations for threatened species, 40 nominations for threatened ecological communities and nine nominations for threatening processes were submitted under the former legislation and these required re-working before consideration under the Act.

The Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised the Minister on 23 species nominations, 26 ecological communities nominations and seven threatening process nominations. This resulted in 17 amendments to the list of threatened species (including two delistings), five amendments to the list of threatened ecological communities (including one delisting), and four amendments to the list of key threatening processes.

The committee provided its advice to the Minister within the timeframe specified in the Act. The Minister also met timeframe requirements in considering that advice and making decisions on amendments to lists, except on one occasion where he required further consultation with stakeholders. A table of nominations, advice and amendments is in Appendix 1.

Recovery plans and threat abatement plans are referred by the Department to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee for their consideration and advice to the Minister. During 2000-01, the committee considered 98 draft recovery plans for 158 species and one draft threat abatement plan. It advised the Minister on the adoption of 95 recovery plans and the advisability of developing threat abatement plans for five key threatening processes. Fifty-six recovery plans were adopted and it was decided to develop a threat abatement plan for one key threatening process.

The 55 adopted recovery plans for terrestrial species cover a range of animal and plant species including the Tasmanian burrowing crayfish, the eastern barred bandicoot, the flame spider flower, orange bellied parrot and the Frankston spider orchid.

For endangered or threatened species in the marine environment, one recovery plan is in place for the spotted handfish and draft recovery plans have been prepared for marine turtles (six species), grey nurse shark, white shark, southern right whales and blue whales.

The requirement under Section 273 of the Act to have a recovery plan in force for listed threatened species and listed threatened ecological communities that occur only in Commonwealth areas was not met in all cases due to resource constraints, the need to redraft recovery plans to be fully compliant with the Act, and the need to seek further information for some recovery plans. All other timeframes relating to listed threatened species and ecological communities were met.

Four applications for permits were received under Section 200 of the Act for taking of a listed threatened species or ecological community in a Commonwealth area. Two permits were granted, one for the translocation of colonies of endangered black-eared miners as part of the recovery plan, and the other for mowing a firebreak at the former Australian Defence Industries site at St Marys in Sydney. The remaining two permits were being considered as at 30 June 2001. No permits were suspended or cancelled under section 206 of the Act.

Financial assistance of approximately $3.568 million was provided under Section 281 of the Act. This included assistance for developing and implementing recovery plans, comprising $0.11 million to Commonwealth bodies, $2.883 million to State/Territory Governments, $0.155 million to local government and $0.420 million to community groups.

A total of $1.889 million was provided for developing threat abatement plans. This comprised $0.579 million to Commonwealth agencies, $0.886 million to State/Territory Governments and $0.424 million to community groups.

The following priorities are anticipated over the coming year:

Migratory species

The Act provides significantly improved protection and conservation for listed migratory species. A list of migratory species was established under Section 209 of the Act when it came into force on 16 July 2000. No amendments have since been made to the list. No permits relating to migratory species were issued under Section 216.

During 2001-02, work under the Act on migratory species will concentrate on:

Whales and other cetaceans

The Act establishes the Australian Whale Sanctuary covering Australia's exclusive economic zone. The sanctuary provides strict protection for all whales, dolphins and porpoises.

One permit was issued during 2000-01 under Sub-section 238(3)(a) of the Act (specified actions which will contribute significantly to the conservation of cetaceans) and three permits were issued under Sub-section 238(3)(b) (interference incidental to, and not the purpose of, the taking of the action). No permits have been issued under Sub-section 238(3)(c) (whale watching).

In all cases to date, assessment was made on preliminary documentation.

Listed marine species

A list of marine species under Section 248 was gazetted on 15 August 2000. There have been no amendments to the list.

Two permits were issued under Section 258(3)(a), both for sea snakes of various species. No permits have been issued under Section 258(3)(b).

During 2001-02, priority will be given to:

2.2 Protecting significant areas

World Heritage properties

The Act has enhanced the protection and management of Australia's World Heritage properties. Australia currently has 14 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. All of these are automatically a matter of national environmental significance so receive the full protection of the Act.

The Greater Blue Mountains Area became Australia's 14th World Heritage property on 29 November 2000 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List at the 24th Ordinary Session of the World Heritage Committee in Cairns, Australia. The nomination for listing was supported by the New South Wales Government. Notice of this addition was published in the Commonwealth Government Gazette as required under Section 315(e) of the Act.

Principles for the management of Australia's World Heritage properties were prescribed in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations, (Regulation 10.01, Schedule 5), as required by Section 323 of the Act. The Australian World Heritage management principles ensure the primary purpose of management of the natural and cultural heritage of a declared World Heritage property is in accordance with Australia's obligations under the World Heritage Convention. Under the management principles, at least one management plan should be prepared for each property, and the likely impacts of actions on the World Heritage values of a property should be assessed under a statutory environmental impact assessment and approval process.

The Act sets out a number of requirements relating to the preparation of management plans for World Heritage properties (Section 316). Analyses of existing management plans in relation to the World Heritage management principles have been completed for all properties. It is proposed that the management plans will be amended where necessary to achieve consistency with the World Heritage management principles and the World Heritage Convention. This work will be undertaken in cooperation with the relevant States.

Financial assistance is provided annually by the Commonwealth for the management of Australia's declared World Heritage properties located in the States. This assistance is provided to ensure Australia's obligations under the World Heritage Convention are met, and is consistent with Section 324 of the Act. Assistance provided to the States during 2000-01 included funding of $7.6 million under the Natural Heritage Trust for all World Heritage properties, and a separate funding appropriation of $5.2 million for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Separate funding appropriations administered by the Director of National Parks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Australian Antarctic Division assist in meeting Australia's World Heritage obligations. These funding appropriations are also consistent with Section 324 of the Act.

Priorities for 2001-02 in implementing the World Heritage provisions in the Act include:

Wetlands of international importance

The Act is of great significance for wetlands, Australia being the first country in the world to enshrine its responsibilities under the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran 1971)) in legislation. The Act provides for the protection and management of Australia's wetlands of international importance.

On 5 January 2001 the Minister designated three new Ramsar wetlands in Western Australia (Muir Byenup, Lake Gore and Becher Point Wetlands) for inclusion in the Ramsar list and extended the boundaries of four existing Ramsar sites (Ord River Floodplain, Peel-Yalgorup, Lake Toolibin, and Vasse-Wonnerup) in Western Australia. Notice was provided in the Commonwealth Government Gazette on 7 February 2001. There are now a total of 56 Ramsar sites in Australia.

Management plans have been completed for 36 Ramsar sites (64 per cent), including all Commonwealth sites. Seventeen of these plans are being reviewed to address the Section 333 requirements in the Act relating to consistency with Australian Ramsar Management Principles. Seven Ramsar sites (13 per cent) have draft plans that are significantly progressed (past the public comment phase) and are scheduled for completion in 2001 to meet the new content and process standards of the principles. Thirteen Ramsar sites (23per cent) do not have a management plan and are a particular focus in Commonwealth negotiations with States and Territories.

No direct assistance was provided under Section 336 of the Act for the protection and conservation of Ramsar wetlands on the basis that several projects were funded through the National Wetlands Program of the Natural Heritage Trust in 2000-01. The Commonwealth also provided in-kind policy advice and assistance to various Ramsar management planning processes through representation on steering committees established for Towra Point, Macquarie Marshes, the Gwydir wetlands and Victoria's Ramsar wetlands.

Priorities for implementing the provisions in the Act relating to wetlands of international importance in 2001-02 include:

Biosphere reserves

Sections 337 to 341 of the Act relate to biosphere reserves and provide for planning for management, Commonwealth activities, management principles and the basis for Commonwealth assistance for biosphere reserves.

Australia established 12 biosphere reserves between 1977 and 1982 in all States except Queensland. No further reserves have been declared since then. Eleven of Australia's twelve biosphere reserves are almost entirely protected areas, managed by government conservation agencies (ten by State authorities and one by the Commonwealth Government). The twelfth, Bookmark Biosphere Reserve, is a combination of tenures including Commonwealth, State and local government interests and private landholders. Two major property leases (Calperum and Taylorville Stations) are held by the Director of National Parks, and form part of the Bookmark Biosphere Reserve. Therefore most of Australia's biosphere reserves focus almost entirely on government conservation plans and priorities and are wholly dependent on direct government support.

During 2000-01, the Department consulted with other organisations about potential future biosphere reserve development and/or nominations on Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, the Shoalhaven Shire region in New South Wales and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Conservation agreements

Conservation agreements under the Act have potential application for conservation on private and Indigenous lands, especially where State or Territory regimes may not be appropriate. During 2000-01, work commenced on the preparation of a 'model' conservation agreement that will establish the basis for the Commonwealth to provide ongoing support for landholders willing to make long-term commitments to biodiversity conservation.

Identifying and monitoring biodiversity and making bioregional plans

Divisions 1 and 2 of Part 5 of the Act provide for the identification and monitoring of biodiversity on Commonwealth land and for making bioregional plans. Interim inventories were compiled for Commonwealth national parks and protected areas.

In 2001-02, inventories of listed threatened species, listed threatened ecological communities, listed migratory species and listed marine species on Commonwealth land are to be compiled for areas outside Commonwealth national parks and protected areas.

No direct assistance has been provided under Section 171 of the Act for identifying and monitoring components of biodiversity. Some assistance has, however, been provided by several projects funded through the National Wetlands Program of the Natural Heritage Trust in 2000-01.

Report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999