Australia intends to set aside nearly a million square miles of land to protect endangered species.
This summer, an environmental report card by the Australian government showed the country as one of the worst for species decline. They’ve lost more mammal species, usually among the last to vanish, than any other continent, pointing at other critical and perhaps unnoticed extinctions. Australia’s threatened and endangered species list grew by 8% between 2016 and 2021.
“The need for action to protect our plants, animals and ecosystems from extinction has never been greater,” said Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in a statement on Tuesday.
Many of the mammals species native to Australia are found nowhere else in the world, like platypus, koalas, kangaroos, and more. Koalas hit the headlines in 2020 as forest fires ravaged their habitat forests of eucalyptus. Nature experts estimates that 30% of the entire koala population has vanished in the past four years, in a continuing decline.
In response to the report, Plibesek announced that Australia will be increasing the amount of land and funding set aside to protect certain threatened species and habitats. As a result, a minimum of 30%, or 896,000 square miles of Australia’s landmass will be put under protection, along with A$225 million (146 million USD) in government funding.
The protections prioritize 110 at-risk species and 20 threatened locations, and will be reviewed in 2027 and again in 2032.
Activists are urging the labor government to take this even further, pushing long-term plans for the protection of every species on the threatened lists, even though protecting habitat for keystone species often boosts conservation efforts by proxy for their entire habitat.
“Australia has more than 1,900 listed threatened species. This plan picks 110 winners. It’s unclear how it will help our other ‘non priority’ threatened species,” said Rachel Lowry, World Wildlife Fund-Australia’s chief conservation officer.