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New State of the Environment Report Issues Red Alert for Australia’s Ocean Ecosystem

Tuesday, 19 Jul, 2022

In Australia, our very way of life is intertwined with the ocean and our unique animals and environments are part of who we are.

But tragically, our ocean and coastal ecosystems are being devastated by human-made threats such as climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and resource extraction.

The harrowing new State of the Environment report released today serves as a major wake-up call to stand up and take bold and immediate action to protect our precious ocean ecosystem.

Read on to find out more.

Findings from the report:

- The majority of Australia's environment is in a 'poor' state and deteriorating.

- The number of species listed as threatened has increased by 8 per cent since 2016.

- Reefs around the country, and species that rely on them, were in poor and deteriorating condition. Many Australian reefs appear able to recover from individual disturbance events, given enough time. However, the complex, global and pervasive nature of climate change makes the outlook for coral reefs very poor. 

- Ocean acidification is nearing a tipping point that will cause the decline of juvenile coral.

- Sea level rise at Australia’s coastline is above the global average, creating serious impacts for coastal erosion, movement of beaches and low-lying areas, and Indigenous communities are the most vulnerable.

- Indigenous knowledge and practices hold the key to healing the environment, however, there is much more to be done to enable Indigenous people to apply their knowledge, manage their Country and exercise their rights of self-determination, which can help restore the Australian environment and Indigenous wellbeing. Indigenous-led and governed caring for Country, undertaken via holistic and long-term programs, is key to future success.

- The main pressures on marine mammals within Australian waters include bycatch in commercial fishing operations, interactions with vessels (tourism operations and recreational), ship strikes, entanglement in debris and fishing gear, coastal habitat loss from development, temporary disturbance and habitat avoidance caused by vessel disturbance and noise, and changes to breeding and feeding habitats and marine food webs associated with climate change. 

- Even the best management will not stop environmental decline if we do not address climate change and cumulative effects. 

- Efforts to date have been insufficient to reverse the increasing threat from marine debris in Australian coastal and marine environments.

- The effectiveness of Australia’s current measures to protect marine biodiversity are largely unknown due to no national standards for environmental monitoring, review or evaluation of activities.

- Up to 78 per cent of Australia's coastal salt marshes have been lost since European colonisation.

 

“It's no surprise the shocking state of our environment in this recent 2021 report, due to the fact that decades of previous governments have not given Australia's marine and terrestrial species the priority and protection they deserve. The reality is that the position of Federal Environment Minister is the most important role in Government."

- Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director, Jeff Hansen.
The endemic Australian sea lion is listed as Endangered both in Australia under the EPBC Act and globally on the IUCN Red List.

What comes next?

While this is a red alert for our ocean, with urgent, bold action, we can still protect Australia’s iconic marine environments and wildlife.

Speaking at the Canberra Press Club today, Australia’s new Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek laid out the three essential goals of the new government to “protect, restore and defend” Australia’s environment. 

The Minister has proposed a host of new initiatives to protect our ocean ecosystem, from reforming national environment laws to protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030.

But when asked about going further on the government’s 43% emissions reduction target by 2030 in light of the report’s findings, Ms Plibersek said that the government was “not going to start breaking promises”. This target of 43% falls well short of what the science and independent experts like the Climate Council tell us we need to limit the global temperature increase and protect our marine environment. 

"This Report is an emergency warning to the Australian Government and Australian public. Without substantial action, we are going to suffer the devastating loss of our iconic [marine] environment and the species that take care of it and call it home. The time for pledges and promises is long behind us - the evidence and advice in front of us in this report is either to be taken seriously by the government with an unprecedented investment in protecting our environment, or we lose the chance to save it forever”

- Sea Shepherd Australia Threatened & Endangered Species Campaigner, Lauren Sandeman.
According to the report, population declines in migratory shorebird species are widespread throughout Australia.

What can you do?

The actions that we and our new Federal Government take now will determine the health of our blue backyard for future generations. From helping to stop runaway climate change and protecting the health of our coral reefs, to halting the extinction of critical marine species like Australian sea lions. 

Join us in urging the Federal Environment Minister for greater action to protect our blue planet by signing our open letter now.

 

About the report:

The State of the Environment Report is a review completed every five years by leading environmental scientists and independent experts to, in the words of one of the lead authors, “take a good hard look at ourselves”. 

The report aims to provide a strategic view to shape policy and action on protecting the environment.

This most recent report was completed in 2021 but was controversially held back by the Morrison government until after the federal election.

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