MELBOURNE: Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent and has one of the worst rates of species decline among the world's richest countries, a five-yearly environmental report card released by the government on Tuesday (Jul 19) said.
Animals such as the blue-tailed skink are only known to exist anymore in captivity, while the central rock-rat and Christmas Island flying fox are among mammals considered most at risk of extinction in the next 20 years, largely due to introduced predator species.
The sandalwood tree is also in decline
The report, which comes after drought, bushfires and floods ravaged Australia over the past five years, said that increasing temperatures on land and sea, changing fire and rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and ocean acidification were all having significant impacts that would persist.
"The State of the Environment Report is a shocking document - it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia's environment," Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said in a statement, adding that the new Labor government would make the environment a priority.
"I won't be putting my head in the sand," she said.
The number of species added to the list of threatened species or in a higher category of threat grew 8 per cent from the previous report in 2016 and would rise sharply as a result of the bushfires that hit in 2019 and 2020.
The "Black Summer" bushfires killed or displaced an estimated 1 billion to 3 billion animals and razed 9 per cent of koala habitat.
Spending of around A$1.7 billion (US$1.2 billion) a year is required to revive threatened species, the report said, adding that the previous government's targeted spending for threatened species was A$49.6 million.
Australia's average land temperatures have increased by 1.4 degrees Celsius since the early 20th century.
"Sea levels continue to rise faster than the global average and threaten coastal communities," the report said.
Many of the country's most prized ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef which has been hit by mass coral bleaching, are threatened by climate change and environmental extremes, the report said.
While coral reef health is declining due to marine heatwaves, the report also highlighted the threat of ocean acidification, caused by absorption of carbon dioxide from the air, which it said was nearing a tipping point that would cause the decline of coral juveniles that are key to reef recovery.
Australia's cities are also growing at a rapid clip, scientists found, raising urban heat, pollution and waste while stretching water and energy resources.
"Sydney has lost more than 70 per cent of native vegetation cover through development," the report said.
Sydney Habour's stormwater drains also created hotspots of pollution with concentrations 20 times higher than when the harbour was pristine.
"WE NEED TO DO MORE"
Scientists and environmental groups said the report was a wake-up call for the new Labor government to step up carbon emissions reductions to curb climate change, overhaul laws to protect habitat and invest more money to protect species.
"There is no more time to waste," said Jim Radford, a research fellow at La Trobe University.
WWF-Australia acting chief executive Rachel Lowry said: "The findings of this report are heartbreaking, and the leadership failures that have led to loss at this scale devastating.
"If we ignore the warnings of this report then iconic species like koalas across eastern Australia, or our largest gliding mammal, the greater glider, will disappear forever on our watch."
WWF-Australia said the report should be a "turning point" that led to greater investment and stronger laws to protect Australia's wildlife and wilderness.
Lowry urged the new government to act quickly, condemning existing environmental legislation for "failing miserably" to protect threatened species.
"When we allow losses at this scale, we don't just lose a piece of Australia's identity, we lose the opportunity to ensure a healthy, thriving economy alongside some of the world's most precious natural assets," she said.
The "devastating" new report showed coasts and marine environments were deteriorating, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said.
"The well-being of Australians is wrapped up with the health of our oceans, and the marine wildlife found there, but sadly our oceans are suffering from overheating, overuse and under-protection," said the society's chief executive, Darren Kindleysides.
"We need to do more now, or we put at risk everything we rely on our oceans for - our health, well-being, livelihoods and our culture."