For further information, see Chapter 8: Biodiversity.
Australia’s population is heavily concentrated in coastal regions, and so are impacts on our biodiversity. Figure 11.4 shows a coarse assessment of the location of threatened species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in a 100-kilometre band around Australia. Such data are difficult to interpret. For example, the concentration of threatened species around the northern coast contradicts other data in this report showing that these coastlines are relatively undisturbed. This could partly reflect the larger number of species in tropical parts of Australia. As well, a range of small mammals, birds and reptiles, whose ranges include coastal areas, are currently of concern in the north. Events outside Australia potentially affect migratory species like birds. More consistent with expectations is the high concentration of threatened species around the areas of high population growth in south-east Queensland and northern and central New South Wales (Figure 11.4).
The past three national State of the Environment reports have expressed concern about impacts on most coastal habitats or about lack of information on which to base assessments of impacts. They noted that, while there are continued efforts to improve coastal management responses, coastal zone condition is not significantly improving and continues to decline against a number of criteria. Pressures on coastal resources are increasing at a rate that exceeds the ability of damaged environments to stabilise and be repaired.
The increasing cost of addressing these issues as coastal populations grow and the need for specialised knowledge are major challenges for coastal management.12
Potential impacts of climate change on terrestrial and marine biodiversity are dealt with in detail in Chapter 8: Biodiversity and Chapter 6: Marine environment, respectively. There is significant uncertainty about how species and ecological systems will be affected by climate change. Current regional climate models suggest that impacts will be widespread and that a ‘business as usual’ greenhouse gas emissions scenario over the next few decades will result in global mass extinctions on a scale previously unseen in human history.13 Evidence is mounting that, even with a concerted mitigation effort, it may not be possible to avoid impacts such as the loss of large components of biodiversity, including freshwater systems, coral reefs and coastal mangroves.14 Northern Australian wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef are among the threatened assets.
Cork S (2011). Coasts: Biodiversity. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/science/soe/2011-report/11-coasts/2-major-issues/2-5-biodiversity, DOI 10.4226/94/58b659bdc758b