Size matters in protecting and respecting our natural places
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.