Researchers have launched a web-based app that they hope will put Australia’s “endangered species crisis” at the top of the election agenda.
Most important points:
The app allows users to search for endangered species in their electorate and petition their local members. Endangered species have been declining in Australia for decades. Researchers have attacked the government for failing to release a significant environmental report it had since last year.
Endangered Australians, launched last week, gives users access to a profile of all the endangered species reportedly found – or found until recently – in their electorate.
For each species registered, there are details about which threats are causing the decline of the animals or plants in the selected electorate and a “how to help” option.
That option takes the user to a pre-written email addressed to their local incumbent federal member, outlining the steps the member must take to strengthen the protection of the endangered species.
Other “how to help” options include contacting NGOs working on local conservation projects.
It’s a politically impartial approach, which the developers say grew out of acknowledging that “Australian species are in a dire state”.
Co-developer of the app, conservation scientist James Watson of the University of Queensland, said he also hoped the tool would be used as a resource for journalists to poll party leaders and environmental portfolio holders about their policies.
“An app like this was set up for citizens to ask their members about species in their electorate and what they are going to do to stop them [going extinct]’ said Professor Watson.
“It’s also set up for journalists and other stakeholders to ask questions about wildlife — rather than about inflation, I’d much rather ask questions about wildlife to their constituents.”
‘Still, time to put extinction on election radar
Several researchers have raised the alarm about the ongoing decline of Australia’s native fauna, which has gotten much worse over the past decade, according to Professor Watson.
TSX data shows a sharp decrease in endangered species abundance relative to non-threatened species from about 2000. (Supplied: Index of Threatened Species)
“It’s quite remarkable that the only real party talking about these wildlife issues is the Greens — the opposition doesn’t bring this up,” he said.
“An honest assessment would be that it hasn’t been a good decade for wildlife – we’ve had a decline in biodiversity across the country.
“All the science points to the fact that we don’t have much time left – 10 to 20 years and many of these species will disappear, [but] there’s still a chance it’ll be on the radar when we go to the polls.”
Labor has since announced $224.5 million over future estimates for a national program for endangered species.
The coalition has a strategy for endangered species and has pledged $100 million in the budget to “protect Australia’s biodiversity”.
The Threatened Species Index (TSX) is a database set up to measure the relative abundance of endangered and near-threatened species in Australia to track the success or failure of conservation efforts.
According to the TSX data, there has been, on average, a steady decline in the relative abundance of birds, mammals, and plants listed as endangered, vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered, dating back to 1985, the earliest year for which they have data. †
The rate of decline in birds, mammals, and plants began to accelerate around the late 1990s through the early 2000s.
Project manager for the TSX, Geoff Heard of UQ’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, said the Millennium Drought was likely the first cause of that sharp decline in animal abundance.
But habitat clearance, climate change, and wildfires continued the downward trajectory long after the drought broke out.
The TSX is currently compiling its latest data sets, which will take the readings through 2019, and Dr. Heard says he thinks the loss trend will continue.
Habitat loss and degradation remain the biggest threat in Australia, with climate change coming over the top and… [presenting] a more dominant threat in the past 20 years,” said Dr. Heard.
“So I would expect that trend to continue and possibly worsen — I wouldn’t be surprised if it worsens.”
Habitat loss is one of the biggest contributors to biodiversity loss. (ABC Rural: Marty McCarthy)
The Threatened Australians app developers note that the wildlife records for every electorate may not be perfect. Still, they pulled their data from “the only current federal data available,” according to a statement on the website.
One such data source – the Atlas of Living Australia – is based on information from citizen scientists who report their wildlife sightings.
“We wanted to use what is available to the public through the Australian government,” the developers said.
Euan Ritchie, a professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said a lack of funding for science and the environment was one of the reasons it was difficult to get accurate data on wildlife distribution.
“I think there’s great potential for a tool like this so that a member of the public can see what species are in their area,” said Professor Ritchie.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have proper biodiversity monitoring for so many species due to lack of funding.”
Voters’ have a right to see’ environmental report for elections
The app’s release comes in response to criticism that the government failed to release the State of the Environment Report before the election.
The report, a comprehensive five-year independent assessment of the environment in Australia, is due to be released early this year.
After a review process by scientists last year, it was reportedly given to Environment Minister Sussan Ley last December.
By law, the minister has 15 parliamentary session days to release it. The House has been sitting for 12 days since December.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has had the report on the state of the environment for months. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
Ms. Ley’s office has not responded to several questions from ABC.
However, an email response stated that the report would be released “within the regulatory timeframe set by law”.
Professor Ritchie said Australians had a right to see the report before the election.
“It’s the most comprehensive environmental assessment we have,” said Professor Ritchie.
“We know we are amid this extinction and environmental crisis, and Australian voters see climate change and the environment as the key electoral issues.
†[They] have the right to see that rating before voting.”
He says the report will likely tell us what we already know but stresses that biodiversity loss should be on the agenda for this election.
“We know that species are in trouble, and we know that the endangered species list is expanding,” he said.
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Professor Watson said releasing the report was critical to accountability, and more questions about biodiversity loss during the election campaign needed to be asked.
“It’s no wonder that iconic species like the koala and platypus — which people worldwide would expect us to support and rescue — have declined in the past ten years,” he said.
“Surely the government should be held accountable and asked, ‘What are you going to do to change the course for endangered species?'”
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, and up and down arrows for volume. Watch Duration: 29 minutes 35 seconds29m The race to save five Australian species from extinction
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