Australia's Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest World Heritage Area and a priceless natural wonder. It is the world’s largest coral ecosystem and holds more biological diversity than almost anywhere else on the planet. For Australians the Reef is a treasured icon that has provided livelihoods, recreation and spiritual fulfilment to many for thousands of years. The Great Barrier Reef ecosystem and its iconic wildlife such as the dugong and barramundi are however, at risk. While the Reef is still one of the world’s healthiest coral reef ecosystems, its resilience in the face of climate change is declining due to poor water quality from catchment runoff, coastal development and over-fishing. Decisions made in the next few years will determine its long term future.
While emissions reductions from the energy and transport sectors and the role of forests and soils as terrestrial carbon sinks have been at the centre of climate change discussions, the critical role of the oceans, and its wetland ecosystems in carbon capture and storage has been largely overlooked.
Australia's population is expected to grow by almost two-thirds in the next 40 years. With the majority of people already living along the most densely populated east coast, an increase in population will continue to place pressure on our already stretched natural resources and the health of our ecosystems that sustain us. Water is a scarce, precious resource in Australia and critical not just for our survival, but for the environment in which we live, work and enjoy.
Many of our plants and animals are found nowhere else on the planet. The loss of biodiversity is Australia's most serious environmental problem. It is happening at an alarming rate due to clearing of habitat for development and production, water extraction, feral animals, increased grazing pressure, altered fire regimes and now the effects of climate change. In the past 200 years Australia has cleared so much land and drained so many wetlands, that we have the world’s worst record for fauna extinction and over 100 species are now listed as threatened and endangered – 23% of mammals, 9% of birds, 5% of higher plants, 7% of reptiles, 16% of frogs and 9% of freshwater fish.
The Ramsar Convention, or ‘Convention on Wetlands of International Importance’ aims to promote and protect wetlands throughout the world. To date, wetlands are the only type of habitat in the world to have a dedicated international convention. Ramsar wetlands are wetlands of international importance due to their role in preserving biological diversity or because they are a representative, rare and unique wetland type. Globally there are 1,869 Ramsar wetlands, of which 65 are in Australia covering an area larger than Tasmania.