Biodiversity

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 fact sheet
Department of the Environment and Heritage, February 2002

What is happening overall?

Protection of biodiversity values in Australia has progressed significantly with the passing of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Land clearance has been declared a key threatening process under the EPBC Act.

About 400,000 Australians have done practical on-ground work through the Natural Heritage Trust. Much of their work has helped conserve and rehabilitate biodiversity.

Many of the threatening processes identified in the 1996 SoE Report persist. These include salinisation, land clearing, fragmentation of ecosystems, exotic organisms and changing hydrological conditions. In some cases the specific impact has been estimated, for example, 1,000 to 2,000 birds lose their habitat for every 100 hectares of woodland cleared. The combined impact of all these threats has lead to a deteriorating trend for species.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is all living things and all the variation to be found in them. It covers individuals, species and ecosystems.

How does Australia rate?

Australia is one of only 17 mega-diverse countries on Earth and many of the plants, animals and microorganisms that live here are found nowhere else. The figures can be large - the Great Barrier Reef supports around 2,000 fish species and 500 coral species.

How do you put a value on biodiversity?

Biological diversity is valuable for many reasons. It provides materials such as timber, fibre, medicines, chemicals and genetic material and important processes, or ecosystems services, such as pest control and pollination of crops. Biodiversity also has aesthetic and recreational uses, it is of educational value and it is of cultural significance.

Is biodiversity worth keeping?

Australia's economic activity relies heavily on biodiversity. Commercial fishing in Australia, which depends largely on wild caught species, is worth about $2.3 billion a year. Other examples are:

  • woodchips from native forests, were worth about $590 million a year in 1998-99;
  • Australian wildflower exports generated $30 million in 1997 and the 'bushfood' industry was expected to be worth more than $100 million in 2000;
  • duck and quail hunting (recreational) in Victoria is estimated to generate more than $30 million expenditure each year;
  • the kangaroo industry is estimated to support 4,000 jobs in rural areas, and the value of the industry is about $245 million per year;
  • the emerging emu industry is presently valued at $6 million to $8 million a year; and
  • the $300 million-plus Australian honey industry depends greatly on native plant species for pollen and nectar.

How much are koalas, penguins and coral worth to the tourism industry?

Tourism is a major economic activity in Australia and much of the industry depends upon the country's rich and unique biodiversity.

It is estimated by researchers that the economic contribution of the koala to the Australian tourism industry is $1.1 billion per year through its iconic role in attracting international tourists. In the absence of Australia's unique wildlife, the researchers estimated there would have been a loss of $1.8 billion in 1996 in tourism revenue.

Tourism in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area was worth $1 billion, with 1.6 million visitor-days in 1997. Nature-based tourism in the Grampians region of Victoria provides $100 million a year while the Penguin Parade Reserve in Victoria is worth $96.5 million and employs more than 1,000 people.

What else does biodiversity provide?

The environment provides us with essential processes that are critical to life. Without these services, the economy would grind to a halt. These are known as ecosystem services and they have only recently been valued. Researchers estimated that in 1997 the value of terrestrial Australian ecosystems was about US$ 245 billion per year and marine ecosystems were valued at about US$ 640 billion per year.

Ecosystem services include:

  • photosynthesis
  • pollination
  • nurseries for commercial fish species (in mangroves and coral reefs in particular)
  • regulation of climate
  • soil production and protection
  • storage and cycling of essential nutrients
  • absorption, breakdown and dispersal of organic wastes and pollutants
  • control of crop and livestock pests through predation