Overall, this 2016 report raises many of the same issues that were raised in all the previous SoE reports dating back to 1996. In the past 20 years, each report has highlighted the value of biodiversity, the key pressures and the gaps hindering effective biodiversity management; and each report has noted the need for urgent action and investment to balance biodiversity, human population growth and economic development. Since 2011, we have improved our understanding of the data, tools and technologies required to achieve this balance, but investment and implementation are not keeping pace with the increase in pressures exerted by the key drivers of environmental change. As a result, pressures on biodiversity have mostly increased since 2011, and the status of biodiversity has mostly decreased. During the past 5 years, experts confirmed the extinction of the Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola) from Australia, continuing our very poor record in contemporary mammal extinctions. In addition, the extinction of the Christmas Island forest skink (Emoia nativitatis) occurred on 31 May 2014, when the last of 3 captive individuals died.
It has been difficult to assess what progress has been achieved in implementing Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030 during the past 5 years. Most targets established under the strategy cannot currently be measured with national-scale data, and some have simply not been achieved. An exception is the increase in the area of land managed for biodiversity conservation in Australia; good progress has been made against this target through an expansion of the National Reserve System.
Some key reports and research since 2011 have contributed significantly to our understanding of the state and trends of biodiversity, and of the impact of pressures. Citizen-science initiatives are also increasingly contributing to this knowledge base. However, consistent with every SoE report since 1996, this report highlights that we are still unable to assess state and trends of the vast majority of Australia’s species and ecosystems, including those that are listed as threatened in Australian, or state or territory legislation. In addition, we are still unable to robustly assess the effectiveness of our investments in biodiversity management and the management of pressures.
The risks faced by biodiversity in Australia today are much the same as in 2011. SoE 2011 noted that many risks facing biodiversity in the short and medium term relate to potential failure to take advantage of current opportunities for better management. If anything, these risks have increased in 2016 because, although the impact of pressures overall has increased, the resources available for managing biodiversity, and undertaking research and monitoring have not.