A harrowing new study has revealed Australia’s ecosystems are facing catastrophe, with scientists warning regions spanning mountain ash forests, coral reefs, mangroves and tropical savannas are facing potentially irreversible environmental changes.
The extensive research paper — thought to be “the most comprehensive evaluation of the environmental state of play in Australia” — examined 18 ecosystems on the continent and one ecosystem on both Macquarie Island and Antarctica.
Nineteen are classified as “collapsing.”
The report's authors Dana Bergstrom, Lesley Hughes, Euan Ritchie and Michael Depledge say the effects of human-induced climate change are now intensifying the destructive impact of existing threats like invasive species and land clearing.
"We define collapse as the state where ecosystems have changed in a substantial, negative way from their original state — such as species or habitat loss, or reduced vegetation or coral cover — and are unlikely to recover,” the authors wrote for the Conversation.
Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, North Queensland’s tropical forests and central Australia’s arid zones are all highlighted.
Australian scientists warn urgent action needed to save 19 'collapsing' ecosystems https://t.co/NaaGOgR3rbpic.twitter.com/qlMUGU5HXi— Richard McLellan 🏞 (@RichardMcLellan) February 25, 2021
The declines in the environment are expected to have significant flow-on consequences for humanity.
Environmental degradation in the Murray-Darling Basin — a system of intertwined waterways in South East Australia — will have long-standing effects on the nation's food security, the report shows. The area, often referred to as Australia’s food bowl, is responsible for just under 40% of Australia’s agricultural output.
Record low growth in Victoria’s alpine region, meanwhile, has repercussions for the amount of water flowing into the state’s water catchments, which are responsible for providing safe drinking water to the city of Melbourne’s 5 million residents.
Despite the sobering outlook, there is still hope.
To prevent complete ecosystem loss, scientists say urgent action under the "3As" method is required.
The approach — which stems around awareness of what is essential, the anticipation of what is coming down the line and action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts — should be employed in small and localised ways and across government and conservation departments.
"People talk about climate change as something in the future. Climate change is here, and collapse is coming,” Bergstrom told the Guardian Australia. “But we have the ability, and we have the skills. We just need the willpower to make it happen.”