Below is an excerpt from the WWF report, Building Nature’s Safety Net 2014. It summarises the status of Australia’s National Reserve System (NRS) in terms of percentage cover and protection afforded to ecosystems and threatened species. Martin Taylor was the lead author of this report and he holds it up as important output from WWF in their effort to influence conservation policy. You can see his story on page 12. Building Nature’s Safety Net 2014 is free and available at http://www.wwf.org.au/news_resources/resource_ library/?11700/Building-Natures-Safety-Net-2014
Under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Australia has committed to bringing at least 17 percent of terrestrial and at least 10 percent of marine areas into ecologically representative, well-connected systems of protected areas by 2020 (Aichi Target 11).
Australia also has an agreed intergovernmental Strategy for developing a comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System on land and sea that, if implemented, would deliver on this CBD target.
Due to dramatic recent growth, the National Reserve System covers 16.5 percent* of Australia’s land area, with highly protected areas, such as national parks, covering 8.3 per cent. The marine National Reserve System extends over one-third of Australian waters with highly protected areas such as marine national parks, no-take or green zones covering 13.5 per cent.
Growth has been uneven however, and the National Reserve System is still far from meeting Aichi Target 11, which requires that it also be ecologically representative and well-connected. On land, 1,655 of 5,815 ecosystems and habitats for 138 of 1,613 threatened species remain unprotected. Nonetheless, 436 terrestrial ecosystems and 176 threatened terrestrial species attained minimum standards of protection due to growth of the National Reserve System on land between 2002 and 2012.
The gap for ecosystem protection on land – the area needed to bring all ecosystems to the minimum standard of protection – closed by a very substantial 20 million hectares (from 77 down to 57 million hectares) between 2002 and 2012, not including threatened species protection gaps. Threatened species attaining a minimum standard for habitat protection increased from 27 percent to 38 percent over the decade 2002–2012. A low proportion of critically endangered species meeting the standard (29 percent) and the high proportion with no protection at all (20 percent) are cause for concern, but one which should be relatively easy to amend, as the distributions of these species tend to be small and localised.
Protected area connectivity has increased modestly for terrestrial protected areas in terms of the median distance between neighbouring protected areas, but this progress has been undermined by increasing land use intensity in landscapes between protected areas.
A comprehensive, adequate and representative marine reserve system, which meets a standard of 15 percent of each of 2,420 marine ecosystems and 30 percent of the habitats of each of 177 marine species of national environmental significance, would require expansion of marine national parks, no-take or green zones up to nearly 30 percent of state and Australian waters, not substantially different in overall extent from that of the current marine reserve system, but different in configuration.
Protection of climate change refugia, connectivity and special places for biodiversity is still low and requires high priority attention.
*Note the latest figures for the National Reserve System can be found at http://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs