The executive summary of a national report on the state of Australia's environment was launched on 27 June 1996. The report is the first ever independent and comprehensive assessment of how successful Australians have been in managing and caring for their environment. Over 200 eminent scientists and other experts were involved in its preparation. The report supported the view that in some areas, Australia's environment is in good shape, especially compared with most other parts of the world. For example, Australia has no significant problem with sulfur dioxide and acid rain, generally good quality urban drinking water and housing, and our oceans and estuaries away from major cities and developed coastal areas are in relatively good shape.

The report presents a far more sobering picture for the state of Australia's biodiversity. Some of the major points made in the report's executive summary are:

* In many cases, the destruction of habitat, the major cause of biodiversity loss, is continuing at an alarming rate

* some 5% of higher plants, 23% of mammals, 9% of birds, 7% of reptiles, 16% of amphibians and 9% of fresh-water fish are extinct, endangered or vulnerable. Australia has the world's worst record of mammal extinctions. In the past 200 years, we have lost 10 of 144 species of marsupials and 8 of 53 species of native rodents. The loss and decline in species continues and is cause for national concern

* few ecosystems remain in a largely natural condition. The situation is deteriorating

* wetlands continue to be under threat, and large numbers are already destroyed. The situation is deteriorating

* 'droughtproofing' by damming has starved rivers of water and drastically altered seasonal flow regimes in the most developed areas, contributing to the decline of many aquatic animal species and river ecosys tems

* coastal habitats are being destroyed and degraded by urban overdevelopment. The situation is deteriorating

* adequate measures are not yet in place to combat the threats to biodiversity, and governments are not investing enough resources to make the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and related policies work on the ground

* land clearance is the single largest threat to biodiversity. This situation is deteriorating since in some States, it is tolerated and even encouraged

* the impacts of introduced species are affecting or threatening most land-based, freshwater and marine ecosystems, and many native species. The situation is deteriorating

* Australia's system of national parks and reserves is patchy, with areas of poor biodiversity being better protected because they have less economic value

* a range of economic instruments is being developed to help achieve the sustainable use of natural resources. Few have been introduced specifically for managing biodiversity, but some are potentially beneficial for it.

* the adoption of integrated ecosystem-based management of natural resources is needed to achieve sustainable production without further detrimental changes in biodiversity. Bioregional management requirements are partially recognised, but enormous efforts are still required to fully develop and implement them.

Source: Australian Biodiversity Bulletin No. 2.3 July 1996, Community Biodiversity Network, PO Box 439, Avalon NSW 2107, email:, fax: 02 9973 2402. Wide Web Homepage (

For Australian Readers: Free copies of the Australia: State of the Environment 1996 Executive Summary are available from the DEST Community Information Unit on 1 800 803 772.

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