Annual Report 2011-12 - Corporate overview and financial summary

Steamers Beach, Booderee National Park

© Director of National Parks, 2012 | ISSN 1443-1238

The Minister

During 2011-12 the Hon Tony Burke MP continued as the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, with responsibility for the Director of National Parks.

The Minister's responsibilities in relation to the Director include: assessing proposals for establishing Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act); approving management plans for Commonwealth reserves; establishing and appointing members to boards of management for Commonwealth reserves jointly managed with Aboriginal owners; resolving disputes between the Director and boards of management; and approving Commonwealth reserve use fees and other charges.

During 2011-12 the Minister visited Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu national parks and met with traditional owners and park staff. In December 2011 the Minister joined traditional owners and conservation groups on the banks of the Daly River in the Northern Territory to celebrate the Fish River Conservation Project.

The Minister approved a new management plan for the Australian National Botanic Gardens in May 2012.

Environment Minister Tony Burke with (from left) Sam Storer, Kerrie Bennison and Ben Thornton on the lookout at the end of the Walpa Gorge Walk in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

Environment Minister Tony Burke with (from left) Sam Storer, Kerrie Bennison and Ben Thornton on the lookout at the end of the Walpa Gorge Walk in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

The Director of National Parks

The Director of National Parks is a corporation sole established under Division 5 of Part 19 of the EPBC Act, and a Commonwealth authority for the purposes of the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997 (CAC Act). The corporation has a single director - the person appointed to the office named the Director of National Parks.

The current office holder is Peter Cochrane, who was first appointed as Director in October 1999 and was reappointed to the position by the Governor-General on 12 December 2008 for a period of five years.

The EPBC Act requires the Director to perform functions and exercise powers in accordance with any directions given by the Minister, unless the Act provides otherwise. The Minister responsible for the CAC Act may, via a General Policy Order, also notify the Director under the CAC Act of general government policies that apply to the Director. No directions or General Policy Orders were issued to the Director in 2011-12.

The EPBC Act provides for the proclamation and management of Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones. The term 'Commonwealth reserve' includes all areas proclaimed under the EPBC Act with names such as national parks, marine parks, national nature reserves, marine national nature reserves, marine reserves and botanic gardens. This report generally uses the term 'reserves' to encompass all parks and reserves under the EPBC Act.

The Director of National Parks is responsible under the EPBC Act for the administration, management and control of Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones. The Director is assisted by staff of Parks Australia - a division of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. In this report, reference to Parks Australia means the Director of National Parks and Parks Australia staff members.

Statutory functions

The Director is responsible for the administration of Divisions 4 and 5 of Part 15 of the EPBC Act (Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones) and regulations made for the purposes of those divisions.

The functions of the Director as set out in subsection 514B(1) of the EPBC Act are to:

  • administer, manage and control Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones
  • protect, conserve and manage biodiversity and heritage in Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones
  • contribute to the protection, conservation and management of biodiversity and heritage in areas outside Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones
  • cooperate with any country in matters relating to the establishment and management of national parks and nature reserves in that country
  • provide, and assist in the provision of, training in knowledge and skills relevant to the establishment and management of national parks and nature reserves
  • carry out alone, or in cooperation with other institutions and persons, and arrange for any other institution or person to carry out research and investigations relevant to the establishment and management of Commonwealth reserves
  • make recommendations to the Minister in relation to the establishment and management of Commonwealth reserves
  • administer the Australian National Parks Fund
  • undertake any other functions conferred on the Director under the EPBC Act or any other Act
  • do anything incidental or conducive to the performance of any of the functions mentioned above.

As at 30 June 2012 seven Commonwealth terrestrial reserves (national parks and botanic gardens), 26 Commonwealth marine reserves (marine parks, marine reserves and marine nature reserves) and two conservation zones (the Coral Sea Conservation Zone and the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Conservation Zone) declared under the EPBC Act were the responsibility of the Director.

Terrestrial reserves are managed by staff of Parks Australia. In 2011-12, under delegation from the Director, staff of the department's Australian Antarctic Division managed the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve. Marine Division staff managed the remaining 25 Commonwealth marine reserves. The locations of the Commonwealth reserves and conservation zones are shown in Figure 1.

In addition to managing Commonwealth reserves, the Director is in a partnership with Tourism Australia to identify and promote national landscapes that capture the essence of Australia and offer distinctive natural and cultural experiences. Parks Australia's interest in the program is to enhance and promote the role of protected areas in the social and economic wellbeing of regional Australia.

Non-statutory functions

The Director has also been delegated functions and powers by the Minister and the Secretary of the department for programs that complement the Director's statutory functions. Under these delegations, the Director administers the National Reserve System program and the Indigenous Protected Areas Program, both of which are significant components of the Australian Government's Caring for our Country initiative.

The Director also manages the Australian Biological Resources Study and the development of Australian Government policy on management of Australia's genetic resources, including regulating access to such resources in Commonwealth areas. The Director provides coordination and leadership in meeting Australia's commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The outputs of these non-statutory functions are reported in the department's annual report.

Financial summary

A $12.4 million operating loss was recorded for 2011-12 as a result of the asset revaluation in 2010-11 which increased depreciation expenses across the organisation. The Director of National Parks has received approval from the Minister for the Department of Finance and Deregulation for this operating loss, along with further deficits forecast over the next three financial years.

Overall, for 2011-12 income and expenditure were both on budget, with a variance of less than 1 per cent against budget for both categories. An analysis of the variances is in Table 1.

Table 2 summarises income and expenses information for the Director of National Parks. Audited financial statements are in Chapter 6 of this report.

Management of marine protected areas is undertaken by the Marine Division and the Australian Antarctic Division under delegation from the Director.

Table 3 shows a five-year overview of financial, staffing and area information for Commonwealth terrestrial and marine reserves and Table 4 provides an overview of individual reserves for 2011-12.

An Agency Resourcing Statement was introduced to Portfolio Budget Statements for government departments in 2008-09 to provide information about the various funding sources that CAC Act agencies draw upon during the year. An Agency Resourcing Statement that reconciles to cash reserves in the financial statements for the Director of National Parks is provided at Appendix A.

Table 1: Analysis of variance against budget 2011-12

Business area

Income

Expenses

Jointly managed parks

Down $0.247 million due to lower than budgeted entry fees at Kakadu (KNP), Uluru and Booderee, partially offset by land recognised as an asset for the first time at KNP.

Up $1.401 million due to overspends in depreciation, employee expenses and property lease payments in all three jointly managed parks. In addition, each of the jointly managed parks recorded losses on the sale of assets that exceeded original budgets.

Other parks and reserves

Down $0.275 million due predominately to the carryover of unearned revenue at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) and Christmas Island National Park (CI).

Down $0.837 million due to underspends on the Yellow Crazy Ants project and mining rehabilitation work at CI. These underspends are partially offset by overspends in employee expenses at ANBG, CI and Norfolk Island National Park.

Governance, corporate services and executive

Up $0.346 million due to interest earned on retained revenues.

Down $0.342 million as a result of various minor underspends across the corporate areas.

 

Table 2: Overview of financial results 2011–12

 

2011 Actuals $000s

2012 Actuals $000s

2012 Budget $000s

2012 Variance $000s

Jointly managed parks(a)

Income

49,646

35,999

36,246

(247)

Expenses

(38,185)

(47,831)

(46,430)

(1,401)

Surplus/(Deficit)

11,461

(11,832)

(10,184)

(1,648)

Other terrestrial parks and reserves(b)

Income

17,425

15,837

16,112

(275)

Expenses

(16,458)

(16,379)

(17,216)

837

Surplus/(Deficit)

967

(542)

(1,104)

562

Total for terrestrial parks and reserves

Income

67,071

51,836

52,358

(522)

Expenses

(54,643)

(64,210)

(63,646)

(564)

Surplus/(Deficit)

12,428

(12,374)

(11,288)

(1,086)

Governance, corporate services and executive(c)

Income

16,280

10,418

10,073

346

Expenses

(12,051)

(10,477)

(10,819)

342

Surplus/(Deficit)

4,229

(58)

(746)

688

Total for Director of National Parks

Income

83,351

62,254

62,431

(176)

Expenses

(66,694)

(74,687)

(74,465)

(222)

Surplus/(Deficit)

16,657

(12,433)

(12,034)

(398)

(a) Kakadu, Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Booderee National Parks.
(b) Includes Calperum and Taylorville Stations which are not formal reserves.
(c) Governance, corporate services and executive includes administration, finance, legal, insurance, planning,
interest income and bank charges.

 

Five-year overview of terrestrial and marine Commonwealth reserves

 

2007-08

2008-09

2009-10

2010-11

2011-12

Number of staff (full-time equivalent)

Management of terrestrial reserves

274.0

293.0

290

281.4

261

Management of marine reserves

16.3

16

15

13.7

18.2

Area of Commonwealth reserves (hectares)

Terrestrial reserves area (number of reserves)

2,130,774 (7)

2,130,774 (7)

2,130,774 (7)

2,130,774 (7)

2,130,774 (7)

Marine reserves area (number of reserves)

49,844,075 (26)

49,844,075 (26)

49,844,075 (26)

49,844,075 (26)

49,844,075 (26)

Visitors to Commonwealth terrestrial reserves

Number of visitors

1,466,560

1,410,021

1,445,381

1,368,868

1,364,714

Safety incidents recorded (including staff and visitors etc.)

Minor injury or near miss

141

101

126

126

171

Moderate injury

63

52

41

54

37

Major injury

6

8

20

25

6

Death

1

4

2

4

2

Compliance and enforcement - Commonwealth terrestrial reserves

EPBC Act incidents detected

197

126

203

105

125

Warnings and cautions issued

131

56

147

58

62

Infringement notices issued

59

20

38

42

87

Cases taken to court

3

0

2

1

0

Court convictions

3

1

0

0

0

Court cases pending at year end

2

1

2

0

0

Financial summary - Commonwealth terrestrial reserves ($ millions)

Operations

 

Total operating expenditure(a)(b)

62.05

61.25

58.88

54.64

64.21

Total operating revenue(b)

63.03

62.63

59.04

67.07

51.83

Financial position(c)

Current assets

28.50

29.30

41.67

44.91

45.35

Non-current assets

149.33

149.48

151.54

219.73

208.12

Current liabilities

9.77

10.90

17.80

12.17

13.30

Non-current liabilities

0.64

0.50

0.54

0.59

0.73

Total equity

167.42

167.38

174.87

251.87

239.44

Financial summary - Commonwealth marine reserves ($ millions)

Total operating expenditure

4.51

4.55

2.80

3.51

3.32

Total operating revenue

4.51

4.55

2.80

3.51

3.32

(a) Includes the management contract for Calperum and Taylorville Stations which are not Commonwealth reserves.
Excludes governance, corporate services, marine reserves and executive, which can be found in table 2.
(b) Includes revenue from all sources including grants from portfolio agency and externally raised revenue.
(c) Changes in accounting policy had prior year impacts.

 

Table 4: Overview of individual reserves in 2011-12

Reserve name

Area (hectares)

Year declared

IUCN category(a)

Operating cost ($000s)

Capital expenditure(d)($000s)

External revenue(b)($000s)

Payment to traditional owners ($000s)

Jointly managed national parks

Booderee National Park

6,379

1992

II

7,313

959

1,243

555

Kakadu National Park

1,979,767

1979

II

24,048

2,091

2,839

1,715

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

132,566

1977

II

16,470

239

6,495

1,813

Other Commonwealth terrestrial reserves

Australian National Botanic Gardens

85

1991

IV

10,334

1,056

950

 

Christmas Island National Park

8,719

1980

II

3,963

506

2,000

 

Norfolk Island National Park and Botanic Garden

656

1986

II

1,070

375

19

 

Pulu Keeling National Park

2,602

1995

II

557

0

56

 

Commonwealth marine reserves(c)

Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve

58,337

1983

Ia

378.6

North-west Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network

Cartier Island Marine Reserve

17,238

2000

Ia

Mermaid Reef Marine National Nature Reserve

53,987

1991

Ia

Ningaloo Marine Park (Commonwealth Waters)

243,513

1987

II

Coringa-Herald National Nature Reserve

885,249

1982

Ia

37.8

Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network

Lihou Reef National Nature Reserve

843,670

1982

Ia

Cod Grounds Commonwealth Marine Reserve

314

2007

Ia

295.9

Temperate East Commonwealth Reserves Network

Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve

187,726

1987

Ia

Lord Howe Island Marine Park (Commonwealth Waters)

300,287

2000

IV

Solitary Islands Marine Reserve (Commonwealth Waters)

15,233

1993

VI

Great Australian Bight Marine Park (Commonwealth Waters)

1,937,162

1998

VI

113.7

South-west Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network

South-east Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network (inc Macquarie Island)

38,845,800

2007

1a, II, IV, VI

250.7

Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve

6,465,845

2002

Ia

91.0

(a) The IUCN protected area classification system comprises seven management categories, not all of which have been applied to reserves declared under the EPBC Act. Sections of some reserves are
zoned a different IUCN category from the reserve as a whole, to reflect the management strategy for those sections.
(b) External revenue represents total revenue from the income statement less grants from portfolio agency and assets recognised for the first time.
(c) Operating costs include relevant annual business agreement, aerial surveillance and incident management. This excludes services provided by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. Additionally, costs incurred across all reserves that are not attributable by region amount to $2,243,490 for salaries and service provision.
(d) Includes assets recognised for the first time as part of the asset revaluation process.

Overview of the Director of National Parks' responsibilities

Joint management of nationally significant protected areas

Parks Australia has a long and proud history of working with Indigenous Australians in the joint management of protected areas. The Director, together with traditional owners, jointly manages three national parks - Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta national parks in the Northern Territory, both World Heritage listed, and Booderee National Park in the Jervis Bay Territory.

Traditional owners maintain strong links to their country in these parks, links that are demonstrated through their cultural and spiritual beliefs and traditional use and management of their country. Parks Australia supports traditional owners in maintaining their living culture and incorporates traditional land management practices into park management.

Kakadu National Park is an Aboriginal living cultural landscape. A strong relationship exists between Bininj and their country in ongoing traditions, cultural practices, beliefs and knowledge. An estimated 15,000 rock art sites and innumerable artefacts and sites of cultural, archaeological and historic significance in the Kakadu region contribute to archaeological evidence indicating that people have lived continuously in the region for at least 50,000 years.

Kakadu contains almost an entire major tropical river catchment (the South Alligator River catchment) and large representative examples of the wet-dry tropical ecosystems of northern Australia. The park is ecologically and biologically diverse, encompassing the sandstone plateau and escarpment, monsoon forests and extensive areas of savanna woodlands as well as riverine environments such as billabongs and floodplains. The entire park is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention and many species in the park are protected under international agreements.

In June 2011 the UNESCO World Heritage Committee included Koongarra - a 1,200 hectare site surrounded by, but excluded from, Kakadu National Park - as part of the Kakadu World Heritage Area. The process to incorporate Koongarra into the park to ensure it has full protection under the EPBC Act has commenced.

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is the physical and metaphoric heart of Australia. A key part of Australia's iconic Red Centre, this living cultural landscape is a world-class visitor destination and, along with Kakadu, was one of the first areas identified in the National Landscape Program. Parks Australia works with the Anangu traditional owners to protect, conserve and document the cultural and natural heritage of the park using Tjukurpa (traditional law and culture) as a guiding influence. Located in the Greater Sandy Desert bioregion, which includes parts of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, the park contributes significantly to long-term biodiversity conservation in the region. The park has a particularly rich and diverse suite of arid environment species and supports populations of a number of rare and endemic species.

Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay is of great significance to its traditional owners, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community, who are increasingly involved through a unique and evolving joint management model in running and servicing the park. Jervis Bay is one of the major biogeographic nodes in Australia and contains a variety of relatively undisturbed marine and terrestrial habitats. The park protects most of the bay's southern Bherwerre Peninsula, Bowen Island and the waters and seabed in the southern part of the bay.

Booderee staff work cooperatively with the adjoining New South Wales Jervis Bay National Park and Jervis Bay Marine Park to protect the region's biodiversity. Intensive control of foxes and other invasive species has led to the recovery of species such as the endangered eastern bristlebird. This has paved the way for the planned reintroduction of several species of small mammals long extinct in the area.

Parks Australia's relationship with Indigenous communities in the jointly managed parks continues to develop. Staff are building business models and providing opportunities for Indigenous employment and enterprises in these parks, moving towards self-management by the traditional owners. In building a knowledge-based approach to management, Parks Australia is committed to ensuring that traditional knowledge is used effectively.

Parks Australia works with the Northern Territory Government, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in implementing the Australian Government's Closing the Gap initiative. The jointly managed parks in particular support Indigenous owned and operated enterprises and provide opportunities for Indigenous communities and residents to be involved in training and employment.

More information on Commonwealth jointly managed reserves, including performance results for 2011-12, can be found in the State of the Parks report at environment.gov. au/parks/publications/annual/11-12.

Protecting unique island ecosystems

Parks Australia manages three national parks in Australia's ocean territories. Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean and Norfolk Island in the Pacific Ocean are home to unique and fragile endemic flora and fauna that have evolved over a long period in isolation. These remote island parks have immense scientific, educational and conservation value and Parks Australia is working to develop more holistic models for their management.

Christmas Island supports a wide range of unusual species and habitats, some found only on the island, and is of great international conservation and scientific interest. Although the island has been mined for phosphates since the late 1890s, most of its rainforest ecosystem remains intact and Christmas Island National Park now protects about two-thirds of the island environment, including two wetlands recognised as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention.

The island has an extraordinary diversity and abundance of land crabs, especially red crabs, which are the island's 'keystone' species as they influence the structure and species composition of the island's rainforest. Red crabs are renowned for their annual wet season migration, when up to an estimated 50 million march to the sea to spawn. The island also provides the last remaining nesting habitat for two threatened seabird species (Abbott's booby and the Christmas Island frigatebird) and supports many endemic plant and animal species.

The island's geology, unique rainforest and spectacular views are well represented in the park. Establishing the park has not, however, prevented the continuing incursion of exotic species, disrupting the functioning of the island's natural ecological processes. Yellow crazy ants have severely reduced numbers of red crabs and pose a significant threat to many other species. A major control program is in place and has been accelerated, with some encouraging results.

The Australian Government's response to the recommendations of the final report of the Christmas Island Expert Working Group, first established in response to the dramatic decline of the endemic pipistrelle bat, was released in November 2011. The response provides the basis for a more integrated approach to tackling pressures on the island's biodiversity; the collaborative effort on feral cat control that is currently underway provides a great example (see case study below). While resources remain a challenge, improvements to biosecurity procedures and better monitoring of biodiversity conditions are the focus of further work. Although the pipstrelle bat is now presumed extinct, the Working Group's recommendations are helping shape effective measures to stem further decline in the island's unique biodiversity.

North Keeling Island is an isolated coral atoll in the Territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and its relatively untouched environment is a valuable biological resource. It is one of the few tropical islands in the Indian Ocean to have largely escaped the damaging effects of human settlement.

Pulu Keeling National Park consists of North Keeling Island and its marine area extending to one and a half kilometres from the shore. The park is listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. It is an internationally recognised seabird rookery and supports one of the world's largest remaining populations of the red-footed booby. Pulu Keeling's forests and other flora are examples of the original vegetation of the region and include a number of species now not found elsewhere in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The park's waters are one of the last areas of pristine reef systems in the world.

Norfolk Island National Park is jointly proclaimed under Commonwealth and Norfolk Island legislation. Set in the south-west Pacific Ocean, the Norfolk Island Territory provides a link between tropical and temperate oceanic island environments and is home to unique flora and fauna.

The park covers 13 per cent of Norfolk Island and comprises remnant areas of subtropical rainforest and viney hardwood forest that once covered the island before human settlement. The park is habitat for a range of threatened plants, birds and other species. Neighbouring Phillip Island, which is included in the park, is free of damaging introduced species such as cats and rats and is home to large numbers of nesting seabirds.

Management of Norfolk Island National Park is strongly focused on habitat restoration through controlling invasive species, planting native vegetation and controlling erosion. The park and adjacent Norfolk Island Botanic Garden also provide educational, scientific, cultural and recreational opportunities for Norfolk Island residents and visitors and are a valuable resource for the Norfolk Island tourism industry.

More information on the management of Commonwealth island national parks, including performance results for 2011-12, can be found in the State of the Parks report at environment.gov.au/parks/publications/annual/11-12.

 

Case study: Tackling a feral killer

Parks Australia has been working hard with stakeholders to tackle one of the threats on Christmas Island - feral cats.

Feral cats threaten several island animals including native reptiles, the flying fox, forest birds like the emerald dove and ground nesting seabirds, particularly the red-tailed tropicbird. Chick mortality rates at the tropicbird's Settlement nesting colony have been almost 100 per cent over recent years - mostly due to predation by cats.

In 2010 the Christmas Island Expert Working Group, tasked by the Minister to look into the decline of native species on the island, identified cat predation as a key threat. The Working Group recommended feral cats should be eradicated.

To do this effectively, a partnership approach was needed that looked at the whole island, rather than just within the park's boundaries. Parks Australia and the Shire of Christmas Island initiated this partnership, bringing in all of the island's major agencies including the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport, Phosphate Resources Limited, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation. The support of community members was also essential and, when the Shire introduced new laws requiring pet cats to be registered and de-sexed, actions by responsible cat owners led to de-sexing of more than 150 cats.

In mid-2011 Parks Australia supported the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation to start a program to control feral cats in the island's settled areas. Over the next year the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport funded the shire to continue the program. Parks Australia, Phosphate Resources Limited and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship provided in-kind or logistical support to the program including vehicle and equipment use, cat traps and accommodation for cat control teams.

The results are now in. Around 300 feral cats have been removed and the nesting success of red-tailed tropicbirds at the Settlement nesting colony has already improved. Planning has now commenced for an island-wide feral cat eradication and rat control program, because removal of cats will have an impact on rat numbers.

The success so far of the Christmas Island feral cat control program highlights both the need to work in partnership with key stakeholders across the island and the value of those relationships. Ongoing community support is also crucial to its success.

 

 

Conserving Australia's biodiversity through a National Reserve System

The National Reserve System is Australia's network of protected areas and aims to conserve examples of the full range of Australia's terrestrial ecosystems. It represents the collective conservation effort of Australian, state, territory and local governments, non-government organisations, the business sector, private and Indigenous landholders and catchment and natural resource management bodies to formally protect biodiversity in perpetuity.

Parks Australia manages the National Reserve System element of the Caring for our Country initiative. The program supports the acquisition and covenanting of properties to establish protected areas to be managed for nature conservation as part of the National Reserve System, targeting under-represented and vulnerable areas.

During 2011-12 the Australian Government contributed nearly $26.4 million towards the purchase of 11 properties covering approximately 233,525 hectares, plus $1.49 million to accelerate the registration of permanent conservation covenants over private lands.

Land purchases supported this year included Eight Mile, a 13,579 hectare property in north-central Queensland. The property contains habitat for eight nationally listed threatened species, including the endangered northern quoll and Gouldian finch, and the vulnerable freshwater sawfish. Eight Mile also protects important wetlands associated with the Gilbert River and its tributaries and, through its connection to the Gilbert River and Rungulla protected areas and the Great Artesian Basin Rim state-wide corridor, provides an important climatic refuge and enhances habitat continuity. The property shares its entire western boundary with the Gilbert and Rungulla protected area node, increasing the overall protected area to more than 130,000 hectares.

Protected areas managed by Indigenous people make an important contribution to the National Reserve System. The Indigenous Protected Area element of Caring for our Country supports Indigenous communities to manage their land for conservation, so that the biodiversity and heritage of this land are protected for the benefit of all Australians. The program helps Indigenous communities develop plans to manage their land's natural and cultural values and provides ongoing support for controlling threats such as weeds, feral animals and wildfire.

Seven new Indigenous Protected Areas, totalling almost 10.3 million hectares, were declared in 2011-12. The declaration in June 2012 of the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area, covering 10.158 million hectares of the Tanami Desert and the Great Sandy Desert in the Northern Territory, made it the largest terrestrial protected area in Australia. It provides habitat for an extremely diverse reptile fauna and threatened animals such as the iconic bilby, the great desert skink and the brush-tailed mulgara (see case study below).

Outputs of the National Reserve System and Indigenous Protected Area programs, including performance results for 2011-12, are reported in the department's annual report.

 

 Central Land Council

Yinapaka (Lake Surprise) an area of high cultural and biological significance. Photo: Central Land Council

Case study: Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area

Over the past 15 years Indigenous Protected Areas have become one of Australia's most important conservation success stories.

As at June 2012 there are 51 Indigenous Protected Areas, protecting more than 36 million hectares, from Tasmania's wind-swept islands to the Top End of the Northern Territory, from the remote and spectacular Kimberley coastline to the heartland of New South Wales.

Indigenous Protected Areas conserve both natural and cultural values. Traditional owners voluntarily choose to dedicate an IPA over their own country. An IPA recognises the crucial role Indigenous people play in Australia's land management both past and present.

This year the Warlpiri people chose to dedicate the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area after several years of careful consultation and planning. At 10.16 million hectares, this is Australia's largest ever terrestrial protected area and creates a major link in the Trans-Australia Eco-link - a globally significant wildlife corridor stretching 3,500 kilometres from Arnhem Land to the Great Australian Bight. Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area is about the same size as Hungary or Portugal.

Clarke Martin with bilby.

Clarke Martin with bilby.
Photo: Central Land Council

One of the IPA's co-ordinating council members Lottie Napangardi Williams-Robertson explained why the IPA was so important.

"This whole country is really important to us, because this is our land, our life, our law. This is where we get our culture from, what our grandfathers passed down to us from generation to generation," she said.

"We need to be able to look after our country very well because that is where our ancestral spirit people are still living today and we respect that.

"The IPA is a really good thing because they (the rangers) are working very hard to keep our country strong, you know so that we can have more animals come back, even those ones that are beginning to start to look like they have been fading away."

The Warlpiri rangers and traditional owners are controlling weeds and feral pests and surveying native wildlife. Combining Indigenous knowledge and contemporary science to look after country, there is an emphasis on younger people learning from elders and scientists.

Warlpiri ranger Preston Jamakarra Kelly said this two-way learning, called both-way learning locally, worked well.

"We learn from our old people, and learn from kardiyas (non-Indigenous people) that come out and teach us about what time to burn, and we learn from old people too. The IPA is for Aboriginal people and like something for us, for a lot of us, we can work both way - kardiya way and yapa (Warlpiri speaking person) way to look after the area," he said.

Senior Warlpiri ranger Madeleine Napangardi Dixon also said inter-generational learning was a key part of the rangers work.

"For me as a ranger coming out bush with some of the other rangers we just feel really good, you know just going out, being on country, trying to look after those endangered animals, get rid of the ferals and look after the waterholes," she said.

"When we go out on bush trips, those activities we do out bush, maybe show it to the little ones. If the little ones grow up, they'll show it to others. So they can maybe be interested in our jobs that we are doing now."

Lottie Napangardi Williams-Robertson said the community was grateful to the young rangers who worked so hard.

"We are very proud for our young people, because they are doing the job out there for us, looking after our country, we can see that they are doing a very good job."

The Australian Government is providing $1.6 million over the next two years to support the Southern Tanami Indigenous Protected Area and its Working on Country rangers. Not only is this helping the environment, it will provide jobs on country, leading to better health and social outcomes for these desert communities.

Like all Indigenous Protected Areas, the Southern Tanami is a story of partnerships including Parks Australia and departmental staff, the Warlpiri rangers and the Central Land Council. International philanthropic organisation The Nature Conservancy also generously invested $500,000 to help establish and manage the Southern Tanami IPA.

Parks Australia staff co-ordinate the Indigenous Protected Areas program on behalf of the Australian Government.

 

The Director is also responsible for managing Calperum and Taylorville Stations, adjoining pastoral leases located near Renmark in South Australia, comprising over 300,000 hectares of predominantly open mallee bushland and Murray River floodplains. The two stations form part of the Riverland Biosphere Reserve. They include wetlands recognised as internationally significant under the Ramsar Convention and large areas of intact mallee which are habitat for several nationally endangered species. Both properties are deeded to the Director of National Parks and are managed by Austland Services Pty Ltd (a company established by the Australian Landscape Trust) under contract to the Director.

More information on the management of Calperum and Taylorville Stations, including performance results for 2011-12, can be found in the State of the Parks report at environment.gov.au/parks/publications/annual/11-12.

Figure 2: Acquisitions under the National Reserve System program and declared Indigenous Protected Areas as at 30 June 2012 (click image to access interactive map)

 Acquisitions under the National Reserve System program and declared Indigenous Protected Areas as at 30 June 2012 (click image to access interactive map)

 

Protecting the marine environment

Commonwealth marine reserves

Australia's vast coastal waters and oceans contain some of the greatest arrays of marine biodiversity on Earth. Australia is the world's largest island, with a coastline stretching over 32,000 kilometres. Australia's marine jurisdiction is larger than the mainland and covers around 14 million square kilometres of ocean.

The Director is responsible for a network of 26 Commonwealth marine reserves and two marine conservation zones that have been declared under the EPBC Act. These reserves extend from southern sub-Antarctic waters through temperate southern waters to the tropical north.

Management of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve is delegated to the Australian Antarctic Division in recognition of the division's responsibilities for the Heard Island and McDonald Islands Territory and its expertise in working in the remote sub-Antarctic environment. The remaining Commonwealth marine reserves are managed by the Marine Division under delegation from the Director.

Two conservation zones have been declared in Australia's oceans and are being assessed for possible inclusion in the national marine reserves network. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands Conservation Zone was declared in 2002 and complements the marine reserve; the Coral Sea Conservation Zone was declared in 2009 and covers approximately 972,000 square kilometres east of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

More information on the management of Commonwealth marine reserves, including performance results for 2011-12, can be found in the State of the Parks report at environment.gov.au/parks/publications/annual/11-12.

Marine bioregional planning

Australia's Marine Bioregional Planning Program is improving the way our oceans are managed to ensure that we can continue to use and enjoy them into the future. The marine bioregional planning process is targeted at Commonwealth waters which start at the edge of state and territory waters (usually three nautical miles from the coast) and extend to the outer limits of Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), some 200 nautical miles from shore.

Marine Bioregional Plans are being developed for the South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East marine regions. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by marine-based industries.

New Commonwealth marine reserves networks in the South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East marine regions and the Coral Sea have also been developed as part of the marine bioregional planning process. These Commonwealth marine reserves networks will play an important role in the long-term conservation of marine ecosystems and the biodiversity of our oceans. They will also meet the international and national commitments Australia has made to establish a National Representative System of Marine Protected Areas by 2012.

More information on the Marine Bioregional Planning Program is available at: environment.gov.au/coasts/mbp/index.html.

Understanding and studying Australia's biodiversity

Commonwealth botanic gardens

Parks Australia is the custodian of three botanic gardens - the Australian National Botanic Gardens, Norfolk Island Botanic Garden and Booderee Botanic Gardens.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) is a major national scientific, educational and recreational resource located in Canberra. The ANBG was one of the first botanic gardens in the world to adopt the study and display of indigenous species as a principal goal. The living collection currently contains one-third of the nation's known flowering plant species, which makes the ANBG the custodian of one of the largest collections (in terms of species) of Australian plants with an emphasis on threatened species. The ANBG also provides a diverse range of education and public programs to raise awareness of the value of Australia's unique flora.

Norfolk Island Botanic Garden maintains a living and herbarium collection of Norfolk Island's flora and contributes to raising awareness in the local community and for visitors to the island through education and interpretation programs.

Formerly an annex to the ANBG and now part of Booderee National Park, Booderee Botanic Gardens represents the regional biodiversity of south-east coastal New South Wales, with a strong focus on the relationship between plants and the park's Indigenous owners, the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community.

More information on the work of these botanic gardens, including performance results for 2011-12, can be found in the State of the Parks report at environment.gov.au/parks/ publications/annual/11-12.

A knowledge bank of Australia's biodiversity

Parks Australia's work on enhancing and sharing knowledge of Australia's biodiversity is delivered via the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research and the Australian Biological Resources Study.

The Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, formerly the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, is a joint venture between the ANBG and CSIRO Plant Industry. Its principal function is to document the identity, origin, occurrence, distribution and human impact of Australia's native and introduced plant species. The centre's cornerstone is the Australian National Herbarium, which houses approximately 1.2 million plant specimens, documenting the diversity of Australian flora and providing voucher specimens for research, environmental studies and for the ANBG living collection. The herbarium is a major contributor to national projects aiming to disseminate biodiversity information, notably Australia's Virtual Herbarium and the Atlas of Living Australia, as well as international projects such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

The Australian Biological Resources Study collects and disseminates information on plants, animals and other organisms found in Australia. Its range of taxonomic work and databases provides authoritative national references for species' names. The program funds research and training in taxonomy through the National Taxonomy Research Grant Program - the only ongoing source of funding for taxonomic research in Australia. Accurate naming of species and understanding their relationships is critical for biodiversity conservation, biosecurity and a range of industry uses such as agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

The Australian Biological Resources Study also provides overall project management for the exciting Bush Blitz project that, in its third year, undertook five biodiversity discovery expeditions in Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The survey results will contribute significantly to knowledge of biodiversity in the National Reserve System and help managers to develop adaptive management strategies (see case study below).

Outputs of the Australian Biological Resources Study, including performance results for 2011-12, are reported in the department's annual report.

Botanist with the Tasmanian Herbarium Lyn Cave collects mosses and liverworts on Skullbone Plains.

Botanist with the Tasmanian Herbarium Lyn Cave collects mosses and liverworts on Skullbone Plains.
Photo: Miguel De Salas

Moss beds on Skullbone Plains.

Moss beds on Skullbone Plains.
Photo: Tasmanian Land Conservancy

Case study: Discovering what's put there on Skullbone Plains

A little bit of Tasmanian wilderness will be growing in the nation's capital following a five-day Bush Blitz expedition to Skullbone Plains in January.

More than 20 biodiversity scientists from all over Australia took part in the Bush Blitz which netted an outstanding 550 or so species of plants and animals from the 1,650 hectare central highlands property which adjoins Tasmania's World Heritage Wilderness Area.

Bush Blitz is a world-first continental biodiversity discovery program between the Australian Government's Caring for our Country initiative, BHP Billiton and Earthwatch Australia aimed at finding new species and documenting the plants and animals across Australia's National Reserve System.

Bush Blitz's biodiversity finds from Skullbone Plains included 40 moth species, about 60 different spiders, between 120 and 150 species of lichen and some 70 species of mosses and liverworts. The scientists suspect that up to 12 spider species and another five species of lichen are likely to be new to science, including one genus of lichen never previously found in the southern hemisphere.

The Bush Blitz scientific team included staff from the Australian National Botanic Gardens who collected live specimens from over 60 iconic species of Tasmanian plants found on Skullbone Plains.

Bush Blitz manager Jo Harding said the plants would be added to the Tasmanian section of the Botanic Gardens once the cuttings are ready in about 12 to 18 months. "These plants are a beautiful addition to the Gardens and preserve living examples of many species. They are also a living scientific collection." Ms Harding said.

"These records along with the other results from this Bush Blitz will be added to records of museum, herbariums, universities and other scientific institutions throughout Australia - increasing our knowledge of Australia's amazing biodiversity and providing critical information that will be used to help manage our protected areas for future generations."

In recognition of its outstanding natural values, the evocatively-named Skullbone Plains was last year purchased for conservation by the Tasmanian Land Conservancy with funding support by the Australian Government's Caring for our Country initiative and private donations from the Australian community.

This stunning property's diverse habitats - open valleys, old-growth forests, woodlands, wetlands, bogs, moorlands, heathfields and grasslands - are now protected forever as part of the National Reserve System.

Soon visitors to Australia's capital will be able to see a little piece of Tassie's hauntingly beautiful Skullbone Plains at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.

Managing access to genetic resources

The Director is responsible for developing Australian Government policy on managing Australia's genetic resources, including regulating access to resources in Commonwealth areas and benefit sharing arrangements. Parks Australia works with state and territory agencies to support a nationally consistent regulatory approach for access to, and use of, Australia's native genetic and biochemical resources, and promotes best practice in managing access to genetic resources. Queensland and the Northern Territory, along with the Australian Government, have enacted measures to implement a nationally consistent approach to access and benefit sharing, with other jurisdictions working towards that goal.

In October 2010, after six years of negotiations, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization was adopted at the Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Australia signed the Nagoya Protocol on 20 January 2012 and consultation has commenced to develop the government's approach to ratification. The protocol establishes a legally-binding framework for access to genetic resources for biotechnology research and development and other research activities. It also provides a framework for sharing any benefits arising from the use of genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge (see case study below).

Outputs of the program to manage access to genetic resources, including performance results for 2011-12, are reported in the department's annual report.

Providing national leadership

During 2011-12 Parks Australia served as the national focal point for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Director of National Parks was the focal point for one of the key thematic areas of the convention, namely protected areas. Parks Australia, as the lead agency for the Australian Government, continued to work to enhance Australia's reputation as a positive and strategic party to the convention. Activities such as enhancing and sharing knowledge of Australia's biodiversity and promoting nationally consistent management of access to genetic resources contribute to implementing Australia's obligations under the convention. The ANBG supports national coordination of the role of Australia's botanic gardens in conserving biodiversity through national forums such as the Council of Heads of Australia's Botanic Gardens.

Parks Australia's Mark Taylor talking to Niualuga Tavita from Samoa during a field trip as part of the Pacific Access and Benefit Sharing Workshop.

Parks Australia's Mark Taylor talking to Niualuga Tavita from Samoa during a field trip as part of the Pacific Access and Benefit Sharing Workshop.

Case study: Working with our Pacific neighbours

Parks Australia's Protected Areas Policy and Biodiscovery director Ben Phillips has been helping Pacific Island countries realise the benefits of the Nagoya Protocol.

Genetic resources from plants, animals and microorganisms are increasingly valuable. The development of specialty enzymes, enhanced genes or other molecules can be used in many areas including crop protection, drug development, the production of specialised chemicals or in industrial processing.

The Nagoya Protocol (on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing) has been agreed, within the Convention on Biological Diversity, to build an international framework supporting benefit-sharing agreements between the owners of genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with them, and the users of those resources.

Through the Nagoya Protocol new international standards are being set for biodiversitybased research and development, supporting stronger and more ethical relationships and practices between Indigenous communities, researchers and biodiscovery industries. Australia signed the Nagoya Protocol in January 2012.

AusAID provided funds for Parks Australia to run Nagoya Protocol workshops in Samoa and Fiji to share, with representatives from countries across the South Pacific, Australia's experience building a best-practice access and benefit sharing regime for our genetic resources.

The workshops were the first activities of a new collaboration with an international multi-donor, ABS Capacity Building Development Initiative, and delivered by the German aid agency, GIZ. Further workshops and in-country assistance are planned to help the region develop the strong relationships that produce benefits for researchers and the custodians of biodiversity alike.

The workshops have played an important role in supporting our neighbours to develop their own access and benefit legislation so they too can benefit from the use of their biodiversity assets.

"My boss Mark Taylor and I came across a great example of a successful benefit-sharing partnership on the north-west tip of Savai'i in Samoa, where a US biomedical researcher found a local plant with potential for use as a new HIV/AIDS medicine," Ben said.

"In return for local knowledge of the plant, and access to a rainforest where it grows, the researcher and his contacts have helped the village of Falealupo build a school, put a 50-year conservation covenant on the rainforest and construct a canopy walkway that generates income from sustainable tourism.

"It's a fantastic walk and visitors can camp along the walkway high above the forest if they want to. It's now featured in Lonely Planet."

For more about the Nagoya Protocol and Australia's role visit environment. gov.au/biodiversity/science/access/biological-diversity.html

 

 

Figure 3: National landscapes of Australia as at 30 June 2012 (click for interactive map)

 National landscapes of Australia as at 30 June 2012 (click for interactive map)

Developing Australia's National Landscapes Program

Australia's National Landscapes Program is a dynamic and ground-breaking initiative. Since 2005, the partnership between Tourism Australia and Parks Australia has been actively working to identify and differentiate Australia's iconic natural and cultural destinations and to improve the quality of visitor experiences in those regions. Fundamental to the program is the goal of enhancing tourism and conservation outcomes.

This year has seen the program expand to 13 national landscapes with ministerial launches for the Great South West Edge, Ningaloo-Shark Bay and Great Barrier Reef national landscapes (see case study below). Three potential national landscapes are advancing their candidacy.

Significant progress has been made in establishing and marketing the suite of national landscapes, delivering and implementing visitor experience development strategies, building networks and partnerships and creating tools to assist stakeholders. National landscapes philosophy, content or priorities are increasingly embedded in the work of state and territory partner agencies in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Networks developed at regional, state and national levels have provided the impetus and opportunity to identify new partnerships and new tourism enterprise opportunities and to explore ways to increase awareness of existing conservation activities amongst the tourism industry and the wider community.

The year ahead will see the delivery of visitor experience development strategies in all national landscapes, supported by the Australia's National Landscapes Strategic Tourism Investment Grant Project, a $1 million grant administered by the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. Further areas of focus will include inspiring the tourism industry to assist with conservation initiatives in a way that enhances the visitor's experience as well as the environment and strengthening steering committees to improve their regional connections and resilience.

 Tourism Australia

The Great Barrier Reef provides some of the best snorkelling, diving and marine wildlife encounters in the world. Photo: Tourism Australia

Case study: Great Barrier Reef National Landscape

The Great Barrier Reef has long been at the forefront of ecotourism. In 2012, the Reef was further recognised for its outstanding natural values and world class tourism product by becoming the central part of Australia's 13th National Landscape. The Great Barrier Reef National Landscape extends beyond World Heritage boundaries to include mainland gateway towns and access points.

The Great Barrier Reef National Landscape is a rich tapestry of coral reefs, islands and cays, which stretches for more than 2,300 kilometres from Lady Elliot Island off Bundaberg to beyond Cape York at the tip of north-eastern Australia. This intricate living environment of extraordinary marine diversity is the world's largest coral reef system, so large that it can be seen from space. Along the coastline lie some of Queensland's most important regional cities such as Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns.

The National Landscapes program identifies 'the best of nature' in Australia, helping tourism operators focus on what experiences they can offer visitors to profile Australia's culture, environment and wildlife. The program is led by a partnership between Parks Australia and Tourism Australia.

Chris Briggs of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority heads up the region's Great Barrier Reef National Landscape Steering Committee.

"The National Landscapes program has prompted us to think carefully about what makes this spectacular place unique and how to reflect that at every visitor touch point," he said.

To get to this stage, tourism and conservation players from across the region have developed a positioning statement that articulates the Reef's unique point of difference globally. They are now working on an Experience Development Strategy, which will identify future opportunities for tourism and conservation to work together and ways to fill product and infrastructure gaps. The strategy will also set out environmental management priorities and future marketing plans.

Like many in the Reef community, Chris is excited about what's next.

"We have an incredible natural asset in the Reef, and we need to keep innovating and evolving to meet the increasingly sophisticated expectations of today's visitors," he said.

"The people who live and work up here are passionate about the Reef and we want to share that enthusiasm with the world, so visitors go home itching to return, tell others about their experiences and wanting to protect this beautiful part of the world.

"Our job now is to get back to what we do best - helping people see beneath the surface and experience this amazing underwater world."

For more information visit tourism.australia.com/nl.