Size mat­ters in pro­tect­ing and re­spect­ing our nat­u­ral places

The West Australian - - OPINION - BARRY TRAILL

Ours is a con­ti­nent of vast, var­ied, and ir­re­place­able land and seascapes, from red-rock desert and turquoise ma­rine wa­ters to lush forests, thun­der­ing rivers, and daz­zling coral reefs. Now, thanks to an his­toric and vi­sion­ary com­mit­ment, an ad­di­tional five mil­lion hectares of land and wa­ter in West­ern Aus­tralia will be pro­tected as parks.

Premier Mark McGowan and En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Stephen Daw­son an­nounced the ex­pan­sion last week, which in­cludes the largest sin­gle com­mit­ment ever made to na­tional parks on land in Aus­tralia — a huge step for­ward to show true ap­pre­ci­a­tion and re­spect for our nat­u­ral places.

Aus­tralians are jus­ti­fi­ably proud of the as­ton­ish­ing and ex­tra­or­di­nary na­ture of our con­ti­nent, where many unique plants and an­i­mal species have evolved over 30 mil­lion years of ge­o­graphic iso­la­tion. The out­back and ad­ja­cent seas are now among the very few great nat­u­ral places re­main­ing on Earth, rank­ing along­side the Ama­zon, Antarc­tica, and the bo­real forests of Canada and Siberia. Equally im­pres­sive is that the coun­try has been ac­tively man­aged and cared for through 60,000-plus years of cus­to­di­an­ship by in­dige­nous Aus­tralians.

But threats to th­ese places loom, in­clud­ing un­con­trolled bush­fires, feral an­i­mals and nox­ious weeds — which is why the coun­try needs this ex­pan­sion now. Bet­ter pro­tec­tion for na­ture pro­vides a ba­sis for much of the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment needed in WA’s out­back, and in the South West, with much of our liveli­hood depend­ing on a healthy en­vi­ron­ment, car­bon farm­ing, in­dige­nous land man­age­ment, fish­eries, and of course tourism.

Last year alone, WA’s parks at­tracted 20 mil­lion vis­i­tors from across Aus­tralia and the globe.

Through­out the coun­try, we have al­ready sen­si­bly pro­tected some of the jew­els of our lands and seas — places such as Uluru, Nin­ga­loo, Mitchell Falls, Kakadu, and the Great Bar­rier Reef. It is in our na­tional DNA to re­spect them, and the best way to do that is by pro­tect­ing them as na­tional parks. And we’ve learnt through this process that in con­ser­va­tion, size mat­ters. In fact, the very scale of this lat­est ex­pan­sion will be vi­tal to its suc­cess.

In the big spa­ces of the re­mote West­ern Aus­tralian out­back, the bush re­mains stand­ing, rivers still run freely, and wildlife still moves over vast ar­eas. Great flocks of birds still soar over the land, search­ing for nec­tar, seeds and fruit. Floods come and go. In fer­tile bil­l­abongs, thou­sands of mag­pie geese, brol­gas, egrets, and other wa­ter­birds con­gre­gate as they have for mil­len­nia. Off­shore lie coral reefs, plains of sea­grass, and forests of man­groves, which are among the most un­spoiled in the world.

To prop­erly safe­guard such en­vi­ron­ments re­quires pro­tec­tions on a grand scale, like the mil­lions of hectares just an­nounced. Only through such huge moves can we pro­tect whole river catch­ments, mountain ranges, ocean ecosys­tems, and main­tain healthy rivers, abun­dant wildlife and plen­ti­ful fish­eries.

With its an­nounce­ment, the West­ern Aus­tralia Gov­ern­ment makes good on some ex­ist­ing com­mit­ments, such as fully im­ple­ment­ing safe­guards in the Great Kim­ber­ley Ma­rine Park, and flags new pro­tected ar­eas. Th­ese prop­er­ties ex­tend from the wild­flow­ers of the Mid West to the gorges of the Pil­bara and the birdlife of Shark Bay, and need to be ac­tively man­aged to breathe new life into them.

The an­nounced plan is not yet an out­come. In­stead, it marks the be­gin­ning of a jour­ney for the Gov­ern­ment to es­tab­lish gen­uine part­ner­ships with land­hold­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and tra­di­tional own­ers. To­gether, they will need to iden­tify the places that will be pro­tected and en­sure that they are prop­erly funded and ac­tively man­aged.

But, im­por­tantly, the an­nounce­ment shows that the WA Gov­ern­ment recog­nises the need to safe­guard im­mense swaths of na­ture, and to do so for the long term.

A scat­ter­ing of small parks across land and sea sim­ply can­not stand up to the threats of to­day, and those cer­tain to come.

Liv­ing up to its sta­tus as our coun­try’s largest State, WA is show­ing that the coun­try’s fu­ture is en­twined with the fate of its nat­u­ral her­itage — and that only by pro­tect­ing that her­itage can we hope to hand our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren a healthy and pros­per­ous con­ti­nent.

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