Australian scientists warn of 'extinction crisis' in open letter

Scientists have warned of an ‘extinction crisis’ gripping Australia’s native species and plants in an open letter to the Prime Minister pushing for stronger environmental protection laws to be established.

Scientists have warned up to 17 native species in Australia are facing the threat of extinction

Scientists have warned up to 17 native species in Australia are facing the threat of extinction. Source: PA Wire

More than 240 scientists have warned Prime Minister Scott Morrison Australia is facing an "extinction crisis", urging him to strengthen environmental laws.

The top conservation scientists made their appeal in an open letter ahead of a review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to be announced by the federal government this week.

In their letter, the scientists said native species have been disappearing at an "alarming rate" with three species going extinct in the last decade, warning another 17 animals could go extinct over the next 20 years.

A koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed logpile near Kin Kin in Queensland.

“Current laws are failing because they are too weak, have inadequate review and approval processes, and are not overseen by an effective compliance regime,” the scientists wrote.

“Our extinction crisis is primarily a result of habitat destruction, invasive species, altered fire regimes, disease and climate change damage."

The EPBC Act from 1999 has a legislated review take place once-a-decade.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the investigation would be an independent process, that would take external submissions.  

“The government is investing significantly in Environmental restoration and land care programs to promote biodiversity and safe havens for our native species,” she said.

But the body of scientists said the review must be harnessed to ‘fix’ current laws and better protect and restore the environment.

“Increased investment in nature conservation must be backed by strong national environmental laws that protect our natural world from further destruction,” the scientists wrote.

“These laws must safeguard our intact ecosystems and protect the critical areas people and wildlife need to survive and tackle our most pressing threats.”

The review comes as the Morrison government has expanded areas for Indigenous environmental protection by 27 per cent to 100 million hectares.

The move would establish Indigenous protected zones in the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

“Indigenous protected areas … play a key role in maintaining biodiversity,” Ms Ley said.

A separate Senate inquiry is also examining “Australia’s Faunal Extinction Crisis" including the ongoing decline of nearly 500 threatened species and the effectiveness of the EPBC Act with these findings likely to be considered in their upcoming review.

The scientists said current environmental protection laws had led to 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat being destroyed.

“That’s an area larger than Tasmania,” they wrote.

“The number of extinctions continues to climb, while new threats emerge and spread unchecked.”

Published 28 October 2019 at 8:00am, updated 28 October 2019 at 8:22am
By Tom Stayner