Chapter 2 Biodiversity, human communities and the economy
Biodiversity represents our biological wealth. It provides a
wide variety of life supporting ecosystem services upon which we depend for our
health, economy and survival. We have long been relying on the resilience of
natural systems but we have now severely depleted our natural capital, leaving
us with a much more uncertain future.
This chapter will consider the relevance of biodiversity to human
communities by looking at ‘ecosystem services’, including their impacts on
health and the economy, as part of a holistic approach to policy making. The
Committee considers how biodiversity impacts can be better measured, for
example, by national environment accounts. By understanding the links between
biodiversity, economies and physical and psychological health, areas for better
awareness and engagement can be explored. In this chapter, conclusions and recommendations
are made regarding environmental accounting and information, and education
programs and citizen science initiatives.
What is the relevance of biodiversity to us?
The Committee heard extensive evidence attesting to the need to consider
‘biodiversity’ as encompassing more than strictly environmental themes, that it
should be seen as central to human existence. According to the 2009 report
by the Biodiversity and Climate Change Expert Advisory Group, commissioned by
the Australian Government and prepared for the Natural Resource Management
Ministerial Council (‘2009 report on Australia’s biodiversity and climate
change’), many believe there is inherent value in conserving biodiversity from
the viewpoint of each species being a unique evolutionary product, and the rich
diversity of other life forms being a core part of humanity.
The 2009 report on Australia’s biodiversity and climate change, as well as the
accompanying Summary for policy makers, was often quoted in
submissions to the inquiry, as it comprehensively covers many of the terms of
reference. The lead author of the report, Professor Will Steffen, also gave
evidence early in the inquiry process, providing a contextual framework for the
Committee to analyse submissions and examine the issues in detail.
The 2009 report on Australia’s biodiversity and climate change stated
that biodiversity must be conserved in order to ensure options for future needs
will be available, given that many biological resources that are not
necessarily valuable now will become valuable in future.
Loss of biodiversity has significant impacts on human
populations in a number of physical and psychosocial ways, including direct
psychological impacts, loss of social connections, loss of choice and freedom, increased
conflict and violence …
… We underestimate the importance of having a stable,
predictable environment for our mental wellbeing.
The Committee heard that there is a need to increase awareness about the
importance of biodiversity to health, which can be done by linking the two in
policy and research. Dr Paul Sinclair, Program
Manager of the Healthy Ecosystems Program for the Australian Conservation Foundation
(ACF) explained the need to get better at telling the stories—historically
present in all cultures—about why our connection to the natural world and the
way it sustains us matters.
Ecosystems and biodiversity can be viewed as natural capital that yields
goods and services that affect the wellbeing of humans. The Commonwealth Scientific
and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) set out in its submission the
followings links between natural capital and social and economic sectors:
n the extensive areas
of natural and modified pastures in which rangeland grazing is the main land
use over 60% of Australia
n native forests that
account for jobs in many sectors
n intact (remnant)
terrestrial native vegetation (including forests and native pastures) that
provide clean water and mitigate the adverse impact of natural hazards such as
erosion and flooding
n biodiversity that
provides important pollinators, seed dispersers, and pest control agents on
which agriculture and forestry depend
n riparian and littoral
vegetation are special cases of native vegetation that occur at complex
interfaces between terrestrial and aquatic systems, where they protect areas from
erosion, filter sediments, nutrients and pollutants, mitigate the effects of
flooding and storm events, and provide supporting habitats for aquatic
n marine life that acts
in coastal defence against damaging waves and storms, processing of pollution,
oxygen production and greenhouse gas regulation
n biodiversity that
directly supplies ecosystem services such as: food, income and leisure
activities through commercial and recreational uses (especially fishing), and
income and cultural services through tourism
n the deep link between
land, sea and biodiversity that is a part of the culture and identity of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The CSIRO stated that it was likely that some valuable natural assets
would change but how those changes would affect the complex interactions among
social and economic systems was not clear.
The Committee heard that governments will spend more on roads and
desalination plants than on natural infrastructure that supports economic
prosperity and human wellbeing, and that we need to ensure our economy more
accurately reflects the state of our natural wealth.
Ecosystem services are the benefits that humans receive from resources
and processes supplied by ecosystems. The 2005 United Nations Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment framework set out a method of categorising ecosystem
services, with four categories of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating,
cultural and supporting. Examples have been added to each category to assist
food, fresh water, wood, fibre, fuel, genetic and medicinal resources,
biochemicals and natural medicines, ornamental resources
n regulating: climate regulation, flood regulation, water
regulation and purification, disease regulation, carbon sequestration, air
quality regulation, erosion control, pest control, pollination
aesthetic values, spiritual and religious values, educational values,
recreation, Indigenous culture, ecotourism, psychological wellbeing, cultural
diversity and heritage, knowledge systems, inspirational values
nutrient cycling, soil formation, primary production, photosynthesis.
Extensive evidence received by the Committee attested to the threats
posed by reduced biodiversity to the ecosystem services outlined above.
Evidence received with regard to each of the four categories of ecosystem
services is canvassed below.
Climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services
The Committee heard from the Climate and Health Alliance that climate
change is having severe adverse impacts on biodiversity, on which we depend for
food, clean air, medicine and many other ecosystem services.
The Committee heard from the Australian Psychological Society that loss of
biodiversity can threaten food security, reduce access to clean water, decrease
energy security, increase vulnerability to natural disasters and limit the availability
of natural resources, ultimately threatening human survival.
The Committee heard from Dr Marion Carey, a Senior Research Fellow at
the Monash Sustainability Institute, that a ‘loss of ecosystem services can
increase the vulnerability of human communities to the impacts of natural
Ecosystem services provided under this category include: food, fresh
water, wood, fibre, fuel, genetic and medicinal resources, biochemicals and
natural medicines, and ornamental resources.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) indicated
that adverse effects on agricultural productivity, profitability and viability
could arise from:
n weed or pest animal
migration or population increases due to climate change
industries requiring increased pesticide or herbicide use to remain productive,
possibly leading to an increase in the number of chemical tolerant weeds and
pest animals, further increasing their populations
n farming practices
responding to the drive to increase sustainability and biodiversity, and
production outputs, which may cause unexpected interactions with weeds and pest
DAFF stated some general impacts on agriculture would likely include:
… significant crop and pasture reductions by 2070 in southern
Australian regions, reduced grain and grape quality, increased thermal stress
on stock reducing productivity, increased incidence and distribution of weeds
and increased fire risk.
The Committee heard from Dr Carey that ‘biodiversity supports food
security and dietary health’ and that approximately 50 per cent of commercially
available medicines come directly from nature.
The Monash Sustainability Institute discussed how food and water
security is being threatened by climate change. Oceans threatened by
acidification and warming, mixed with other stressors, impacts upon fisheries
which provide a major source of protein and nutrients for the human diet. Native
vegetation threatened by increasing fire and drought risks impacts upon the
hydrological cycle, which is important for fresh water production and the
prevention of waterborne disease in humans.
Climate-induced changes in coastal habitats, ocean temperature,
currents, winds, nutrient supply, rainfall, ocean chemistry and extreme weather
conditions are expected to have severe impacts on the fisheries industry.
The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and
Communities (DSEWPAC) and DAFF highlighted the major contribution that the
Australian fishing and aquaculture industries make to the Australian economy, contributing
around $2 billion per year. The Tasmanian rock
lobster industry also contributes around $72 million per year,
with seafood making up an important part of the Australian diet.
The Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology explained that ‘a large
proportion of the water in the Murray River is derived from the Australian Alps’,
and the need to protect the catchments given the projected changes in rainfall
patterns. The water in the Murray-Darling
Basin is estimated to contribute $10 billion per annum to the national economy.
Native and planted forests are likely to be affected by changes in
rainfall, temperature, associated impacts on key production species, and
changes in fire frequency and intensity. Climate modelling suggests
that most production forest areas will experience lower rainfall and an
increase in temperature by 2030. The effects of climate
change on forest productivity would vary across Australia, with wood yields
projected to decline in most commercial forest production areas.
Ecosystem services provided under this category include: climate
regulation, flood regulation, water regulation and purification, disease
regulation, carbon sequestration, air quality regulation, erosion control, pest
control, and pollination.
In its submission, DAFF stated that water supply and quality are likely
to be affected by higher temperatures, increased evaporation rates and changes
in amount and patterns of rainfall. DAFF commented that:
n projected changes in
rainfall patterns, outlined in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change report, will see northern Australia receive more rainfall while southern
and south-eastern Australia will likely receive less rainfall
n reduced rainfall and
increased evaporation in southern and eastern Australia will intensify water
security problems by 2030
n ‘annual stream flow
in the Murray Darling Basin is likely to fall 10 to 25 per cent by 2050’.
DAFF also stated that ‘reduced water supply and quality are likely to
affect agricultural production’.
The Australian Alps performs a very important ecosystem service by
providing water of a high yield and of exceptional quality to lowland rivers.
The Committee heard that impacts of climate change on this ecosystem service
could reduce ‘groundwater recharge and summer base‑flows as a consequence
of reduced winter snowpack’ and degrade ‘water quality due to contraction or
loss of alpine peatlands’.
DSEWPAC stated that the effects of rising sea levels and extreme weather
events on coastal communities include the threat of inundation, erosion and
effects on water quality and supply.
The Committee heard from Dr Carey of the Monash Sustainability Institute
that ecosystem disturbance has implications for human disease.
DSEWPAC stated that changes to temperature and rainfall patterns in areas like
Kakadu National Park could lead to an increase in transmission of disease by
insects, and increase in the occurrence of food and waterborne diseases.
DAFF outlined that increasing temperatures directly impact on changes in
animal health risks. It is estimated that up
to 75 per cent of newly recognised infectious diseases of humans can be
transmitted between animals to humans.
The Committee heard of a disconnect between understanding the benefits
of locally sourced sustainable food and understanding the ecosystem services
behind food production. The Committee heard that
many crops are dependent upon natural pollinators for fertilisation, and of the
importance of natural vegetation for bees in providing essential nectar and
pollen. The Committee was further informed that bee populations in many
countries have been decimated, and that Australians do
not well appreciate the role of pollinators. The Committee heard from
Mr Dale Park, Senior Vice President of the Western Australian Farmers
Federation, that ‘there is a possibility that we could lose our bee population,
and I think a lot of broadacre growers do not actually realise that, if it does
come about, it is going to have an incredible impact on growing various crops.’
Ecosystem services provided under this category include: aesthetic
values, spiritual and religious values, educational values, recreation,
Indigenous culture, ecotourism, psychological wellbeing, cultural diversity and
heritage, knowledge systems, and inspirational values.
The Committee heard that healthy ecosystems contribute to our quality of
life, are integral to human health and wellbeing and important for people’s
connection with nature, a sense of identity, restoration, stress reduction and
recreation. Further, that
biodiversity plays a key role in proper mental functioning.
The Committee heard of the importance of enhancing the resilience of the
natural environment and human communities at the same time. Dr Susie Burke, a
Senior Psychologist in the Australian Psychological Society, presented two
examples of how this can be achieved. Dr Burke described the work of Landcare
groups as being about sustaining local biodiversity, with human community
resilience emerging through the sense of wellbeing and meaning they have.
Dr Burke also described the inclusion of walking tracks through nature parks as
protecting nature and enabling people to use the natural environment for
recreation and exercise, giving them a sense of peace, and activating values of
caring for the natural environment.
The Committee heard that biodiversity should be preserved for our mental
and physical health, and that public awareness of the importance of
biodiversity to human health should be improved.
The importance of engaging and educating the community on the importance
of the risks to human health posed by the loss of biodiversity was raised by Ms
Fiona Armstrong, Convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance.
The Committee heard that the more biologically diverse our natural environment,
the greater the psychological value and the greater protection it offers for
humans in the transmission of infectious diseases.
The Committee was interested to hear that human relationships with
animals illustrate the importance we place on connections to nature and other
species, as demonstrated by human interest in and interaction with wildlife
through bird watching, and zoo and national park attendance—further
underscoring the importance of healthy biodiversity to human quality of life.
These benefits to our mental health can also be demonstrated through other
outdoor activities including gardening, snorkelling, diving, bushwalking, whale
watching, and nature retreat.
The Committee heard that a loss of biodiversity can result in a loss of sense
of place in local residents and Indigenous people. DSEWPAC stated that the
impact of climate change on Indigenous people’s sacred sites and traditional
lands may adversely affect the mental and physical well-being of Indigenous
communities. Further, that a loss of
biodiversity can harm relations and create tension and conflict between groups
of people if one group profits from the losses of another; for example, the
logging of native forests may be seen as a loss of biodiversity to one group
but a profit to another group.
DSEWPAC stated that 64 per cent of international visitors to Australia
participate in a nature-based experience and that any changes to biodiversity
are expected to have a direct impact on the tourism industry. The CSIRO gave
some examples of the effects that damage to marine biodiversity could have on
n loss of coral diversity
due to ocean acidification and coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef could
make it a less desirable tourist destination
n inundation of
near-coastal freshwater systems with sea water at the floodplains at Kakadu
National Park may change the Park’s appearance and would likely affect tourism
The value of the Great Barrier Reef to the economy is approximately $51 billion,
with total coral mortality potentially removing $38 billion of that value.
DAFF stated that any reduction in marine biodiversity as a result of climate
change and ocean acidification will impact on Australia’s economy and
communities, as recreational fishing is a multi-billion dollar per year
industry and an important leisure activity for millions of Australians, whilst
the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef ecosystems are important for tourism.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority reiterated the above points
made by the CSIRO, DSEWPAC and DAFF, highlighting that reef-based industries
and communities are expected to be seriously affected by climate changes,
including tourism, commercial fishing and small coastal settlements.
Extreme weather events, like Tropical Cyclone Yasi, can have major consequences
for areas such as commercial fishing in the Great Barrier Reef region, which contributed
$139 million to the economy in 2006‑07. The Committee heard that
tourism expenditure in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment Area totalled over $5.8
billion in 2006‑07.
Climate change impacts on the Australian Alps will have flow on effects
for tourism in the area. The Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology stated
that local tourist economies will be under pressure with the expected downturn
in winter skiing tourism as a result of climate change, with many operators
perhaps looking to summer tourism for survival.
The Australian Seed Bank Partnership’s Alpine and Montane Research Program is
developing knowledge on combating the expected loss of biodiversity through
seed based research to determine climatic thresholds, collections to identify
resilient populations with the potential for restoration or translocation, and
seed collection for conservation.
The Committee gathered evidence throughout the inquiry relating to
different traditional and scientific knowledge systems used for managing land
and biodiversity, including the cultural information management system being
developed for Kakadu National Park, as discussed in the second interim report.
The Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)
outlined the Yorta Yorta cultural mapping project, developed in partnership
with Monash University ‘to assist the Yorta Yorta people of the Barmah-Millewa
floodplain to adapt to the challenges of climate change by drawing on
traditional knowledge known only to them’. The project would see Indigenous
knowledge recorded and entered, along with scientific data, into ‘a unique
database … used to combine traditional knowledge with more conventional forms
of information (climate, vegetation etc.) to improve the way natural resources
are managed’ and help Indigenous people, managers and policymakers make better
AIATSIS further outlined a climate change monitoring and evaluation
project to create a seasonal calendar database that captures Traditional Ecological
Knowledge to ‘describe the interactions between changing weather patterns and
flora and fauna behaviour’. This information can be
used by rangers and Indigenous Protected Area managers to inform conservation
activities. The results of the project, which is in development, will help to
identify ‘culturally appropriate land management strategies in response to
Ecosystem services provided under this category include: nutrient
cycling, soil formation, primary production, photosynthesis. There was little specific
evidence on supporting services, and discussion on relevant areas has been
included with other ecosystem services.
Incorporating ecosystem services into decision making
The Committee agrees with the view that ‘the value of biodiversity and of
ecosystem services should be recognised in public policy decision making’.
The Committee heard of the importance of studying human health and
environmental health as a single, complex system, so that when looking to
improve the resilience of the natural environment and human communities they
are considered together.
The Committee heard that all biodiversity policy development processes
must include human health impact assessments to evaluate the implications for
The Climate and Health Alliance recommended that investment in research
that looks at the costs and benefits of the risks to human health posed by the
loss of biodiversity be undertaken and shared with the community in order to
help build understanding and increase support for public policy in that area.
Measuring the economic value of biodiversity
The Committee acknowledges the view that ‘much of the value of
biodiversity as an ecosystem service is not captured in markets, and
consequently is not included in national accounts’, resulting in a failure to
represent the true value of biodiversity to society.
The Committee learned that this has flow on effects of reducing the urgency to
reverse the loss of biodiversity, and of underinvestment in biodiversity
conservation. The Committee learned
further of the importance of understanding the difficulties economic systems
have in dealing with biodiversity and the need to overcome these difficulties
in order to improve the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation.
In its submission, DSEWPAC stated that full valuation of biodiversity
relies on understanding the goods and services that ecosystems provide, and
acknowledged that there is further scope to measure the full value of ecosystem
services. DSEWPAC highlighted the
market-based instruments that are providing opportunities to value ecosystem
services, including environmental offsets, water pricing, and conservation
The Australian Government has acknowledged biodiversity banking as a
market-based mechanism to deliver environmental offsets. Biodiversity banking
is a system that places financial value on biodiversity assets and a mechanism
to trade biodiversity credits to offset the impacts of land use changes that
degrade the conservation value of an area.
The following are two examples of economic indicators in environmental
areas currently in use, and show how they can be used in comparison to other
areas of the economy:
n The Institute for
Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) stated that we are extracting a large
economic benefit from our oceans, through marine tourism, oil and gas,
shipping, fishing and aquaculture industries. The Australian Institute
of Marine Science (AIMS) 2012 Index of Marine Industry set the total measurable
value of economic activity based in the Australian marine environment in 2009‑10
at $42.3 billion, a four per cent decrease
n The Index of Marine
Industry figure of $42.3 billion was compared to the gross value of all
agricultural production in Australia in 2009‑10 ($39.6 billion), and
the sales and service total income from automotive and automotive parts
manufacturing in the same period ($19.4 billion).
Economic indicators of this kind, if applied to considerations of biodiversity
and economic productivity, could provide a better understanding of the state of
biodiversity in relation to the rest of the economy.
National environmental accounts
As demonstrated above, the loss of Australia’s biodiversity could have
detrimental effects on our economy. It is a long held view of this Committee,
and predecessor committees of previous parliaments, that environmental accounts
should be established. In the 2009 Managing our coastal zone in a changing
climate report, a predecessor committee recommended to the Australian
Government that a system of national coastal zone environmental accounts be
established, through the Council of Australian Governments.
The Australian Government agreed with this recommendation in principle,
referring to the development of its National Plan for Environmental
The Committee welcomed evidence from many individuals and organisations
about the need for and importance of setting up a nationally consistent set of
environmental accounts. Various models and their current status and viability
are discussed below.
The Planet Ark Environmental Foundation (Planet Ark) stated that a
precautionary approach to safeguarding biodiversity loss should be adopted,
while the social and economic value of biodiversity is being identified by
global initiatives such as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.
Dr Sean O’Malley, Research and Technical Manager with Planet Ark, stated that
people need to see the monetary value of ecosystems in order to see that
ecosystems and biodiversity are critical and need to be preserved.
Dr O’Malley highlighted the role of the Australian Government as overseeing and
coordinating the process of funding environmental management and putting
economic values on ecosystems.
Mr Graham Tupper, the National Liaison Manager with the ACF recommended
that Land and Water Australia—a rural research and development corporation that
operated between 1990 and 2009, focussing on research into sustainable land
use—or an equivalent body, be restored under the planned national environmental
system. He further suggested
that the national environmental accounting system must have integrity and
credibility, be accessible and understandable in the community, use
satisfactory measures to monitor the environment, and be tested by external
bodies such as this Committee.
The Committee heard that natural resource management (NRM) groups
nationally are working on establishing national environmental accounts.
The Western Catchment Management Authority, as an example, stated the necessity
to implement a mechanism that recognises an economic value of environmental
The Committee heard that a natural asset accounting framework, such as
had been developed by the Australian Natural Resources Atlas (no longer being
updated) ‘needs to be developed as part of a national strategy on NRM’.
Australia’s Regional NRM Chairs released a paper in July 2010 on Australia’s
NRM governance system. This document discussed the challenge of assessing
environmental condition across Australia:
… the lack of a nationally consistent framework means it is
not possible to know with any certainty whether condition is improving or not
across the nation – or whether interventions are having an impact – or even
where the greatest need for investment really is. This issue has been on the
work program of the NRM Ministerial Council [now discontinued] for many years
without completion. The National Land and Water Audit has been discontinued.
Meanwhile the Wentworth Group has proposed an approach based on accumulating
simple regional catchment health assessments up to the national level … but it
has not found formal acceptance in government at this stage. The review of the
EPBC Act (Hawke 2009) also addressed this issue in its recommendation:
… invest in building blocks of
a better regulatory system such as national environmental accounts, skills
development, policy guidance, and acquisition of critical spatial information.
This is a crucial issue for good NRM governance.
Accounting for Nature
In response to questions on notice asking what elements should be
included in a national environmental account, BirdLife Australia supported the
Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists’ Accounting for Nature model for
building the national environmental accounts for Australia.
This model identifies five asset classes for inclusion in national
n land: native
vegetation, fauna and soils
n water: rivers,
wetlands and estuaries
greenhouse gas emissions
n marine and coastal
resources: fish stocks, reefs, beaches and estuaries
n towns and cities: air
quality, waste, water use and consumption.
Ten of the 56 regional NRM organisations are participating in a trial of
the Accounting for Nature model (stage three of the trial is expected to
conclude in 2014), in which the organisations are testing whether it is
possible to construct asset condition accounts using a common unit of
measurement (based on the established science of reference condition
benchmarking), and whether it is feasible to do so.
Another of the important elements of this model is the requirement for
scientific accreditation of the account and information supporting it, which
will encourage markets and decision makers to accept ecosystem accounting as an
accurate measure of asset condition.
United Nations System of Environment‑Economic
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) discussed the United Nations’
System of Environmental‑Economic Accounting, an initiative to standardise
ecosystem reporting which incorporates environmental and economic information
in a common framework. The benefits of the system were described as allowing
for ‘consistent analysis of the contribution of the environment to the economy,
the impact of the economy on the environment, and the efficiency of the use of
environmental resources within the economy’. The System of Environmental‑Economic
Accounting will include a framework for experimental ecosystem accounting, in
the development of which ABS was taking part. The ABS stated that ‘it is
recognised that spatially referenced environment and economic data are
essential for ecosystem accounting’, and that socio‑ecological landscape
units were emerging as the preferred unit of reference.
ABS Land Accounts
The ABS discussed its Land Accounts and how they have the capacity to,
among other things, ‘provide a system into which monetary valuations of land
assets and environment related flows can be incorporated with physical data, to
assess the monetary implications of environmental actions’.
The benefits of Land Accounts were described as: providing a powerful decision
making tool for planning by industry, government and the community; to inform
debate; and as a critical tool in ecosystem management.
One example given by ABS that demonstrated these benefits related to
Australia’s population growth:
With Australia’s population projected to be between 31 and 43 million
people by 2056 … and further impacts from climate change forecasted, land use
changes such as the loss of agricultural land to urban growth or the clearance
of native forests for agriculture will become a key policy and planning issue
for some locations. Land accounts would provide information for policy makers
to make informed decisions about the economic and environmental impact of the
location of new suburbs, towns and cities.
Committee conclusions on environmental accounting and information
The Committee understands that putting a value on ecosystems and
biodiversity is a global challenge, and acknowledges the need to properly ascertain
the economic value of biodiversity in Australia. This is required in order to
be able to accurately measure the impacts of climate change on biodiversity,
the effects of policies and management practices on biodiversity, and in order
to be able to adapt to prevent future losses and minimise the effects of the
losses of biodiversity on the community. The Committee notes Australia’s
support for the Communiqué on Natural Capital Accounting, arising out of the
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June 2012,
aimed at strengthening the implementation of natural capital accounting. The
Committee notes the November 2012 report entitled Independent Review of
Australian Government Environmental Information Activity, which is discussed
in greater detail in chapter five, in the context of a national biodiversity
In recognition of the critical role of accurate environmental accounting
on a national level, the Committee proposes that this issue be included on the
agenda of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to ensure that
appropriate frameworks be developed with the assistance of lead Commonwealth
agencies, as well as input from states and territories.
The Committee recommends that in the course of developing
and implementing an effective and sustainable system of national
environmental accounts, the Australian Government include on the agenda of
the Council of Australian Governments a requirement for five-yearly reports,
using the existing framework of the national State of the Environment Report,
and equivalent reports of each state and territory. Such reports should
include assessments of the state of all significant national parks and
and quantitative analysis of native biota including any loss of distribution,
and quantitative analysis of invasive species of flora, fauna and pathogens,
including any increase of distribution.
Community engagement through education programs and citizen science
Together with establishing a framework for managing national
environmental accounts, the Committee heard that education, engagement and
communication programs are important in helping the community to understand and
play an active role in finding solutions to biodiversity loss.
Evidence received throughout the inquiry focussed on the need for biodiversity
education programs, including citizen science initiatives, to highlight the
relevance of biodiversity to human communities.
The importance of community engagement to highlight the relevance of
biodiversity was described by Dr Gretta Pecl, a Senior Research Fellow at the
Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies in Tasmania:
Public acceptance and understanding of the impacts of climate
change on biodiversity is quite low, yet that is probably a necessary
prerequisite … for the development of adaptation options. For example, in our
fishing industry, development of adaptation options to changing climate depends
on acknowledging that climate change is real, acknowledging that there are
changes in the marine environment, and then linking that to their own
activities, and, further, that there is something constructive they may be able
to do to help with that. Those links are not there for large sectors of our
Citizen science initiatives are also important in ensuring that
communities understand climate change impacts. The Range Extension and Database
Mapping (REDMAP) project launched in 2009 in part evolved from:
… research in a project [Dr Pecl] was involved in [which] demonstrated
that up to 80 per cent of commercial fishers did not think climate change
existed nor that it was an issue for their industry … That research has
recently been published in the Journal of Marine Policy. Surveys
conducted by the Tasmanian Seafood Industry Council suggest similar numbers for
lack of acceptance of climate change.
During the course of site inspections, the Committee observed various
biodiversity education programs and citizen science initiatives, including:
n Community engagement
in Sydney Olympic Park
n Melbourne Museum’s
n Museum Victoria’s
Reef Watch Victoria
n BirdLife Australia’s
Birdata and Atlas of Australian Birds
n The REDMAP project
n CSIRO supported acid
sulphate soil monitoring program in the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth
region in South Australia
n Reef HQ Aquarium in
Townsville’s formal school education program and the Reef Guardian program.
These and other programs and initiatives were described in the Committee’s
two interim reports, so will not be examined in detail in this report. Some
general observations about the utility of such programs can provide some
insights into establishing and maintaining effective links to ensure the
relevance of biodiversity to human communities is better understood.
Biodiversity education programs
The Conservation Council of South Australia highlighted the need to
support and strengthen environmental education in order to connect people to
the importance and value of biodiversity, as well as promote participation in
local biodiversity conservation initiatives. It further suggested
that the Australian Government use the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity to
‘launch a community-wide program to upgrade ecological literacy, and improve
skills in biodiversity management’.
Mr Tupper of the ACF suggested that biodiversity education programs
needed to look outside of successful environmental programs to places like
sporting club outreach programs and broader public health initiatives, like the
efforts made to deal with smoking. Further, that direct
feedback to the community is required, for example by way of a sign on the side
of the road saying what the daily consumption of water was the day before.
Mr Tupper described the need for more programs allowing ‘schools to connect
with parks and reserves and experience the things that are important … food,
veggie gardens, local suppliers, where milk comes from …’.
Dr Sinclair urged the Committee to recommend that ‘schools and universities be
supported to create teacher-friendly, classroom-ready resources to help
Australians understand the shared interest we all have in replenishing our
natural life support systems’.
Mr Kevin Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the National Parks Association
of New South Wales, discussed how the Association communicates biodiversity
protection issues to the public and helps people understand those issues,
through its website, various publications and the biodiversity survey work it
undertakes. The biodiversity survey allows the public to meaningfully
contribute by doing simple scientific assessment under supervision, by entering
a sighting or absence of a particular bird in the national park, for example,
with the information being put into the Atlas of Living Australia.
Mr Evans further highlighted the need for nationally consistent, simple
communications to the public on climate change and invasive species issues, and
suggested that the design of such educational material could be discussed
The Committee heard numerous ideas for biodiversity education in
schools, including that park agencies should be encouraged to develop programs
at low cost for school children, to teach them about the cultural and natural
values of the environment.
The Committee heard about the tourism and recreation activities
undertaken by a large number of visitors to the Australian Alps, and how they
present an ‘opportunity to educate the general public about the outstanding
natural heritage values of the Australian Alps, and their vulnerability to
climate change and other human impacts’.
Another example of community engagement in education programs is the
school excursions undertaken at the conservation sites, the Education Centre in
Bicentennial Park and the wetlands at Sydney Olympic Park, as discussed in
greater detail in the Committee’s first interim report.
Citizen science initiatives
The Committee considered numerous citizen science initiatives throughout
the inquiry, and notes the value of these initiatives in directly engaging
members of the community on biodiversity and climate change issues. Citizen
science uses local observations and expertise in larger scale analyses,
and in the case of examples provided below, it is used to gather nationwide
Atlas of Living Australia
The Atlas of Living Australia is an online biological collection
database— with records uploaded by citizen scientists, from museum and herbaria
collections and other biological collections—that makes biodiversity knowledge
accessible to the nation. Community events have been held with local residents
and scientists to conduct surveys of local biodiversity, using tools to assist
in capturing biodiversity data to input into the Atlas.
Dr John La Salle, Director of the Atlas, stated that the Atlas was
working with CSIRO education (its host agency), the Academy of Science and the
Australian Science Teachers Association, to promote the availability of the
database and the usefulness of the data, including working on creating mobile
data capture tools to collect records on hand‑held devices.
In terms of accuracy of the data, the Committee was informed that:
Every one of those 32 million records has had over 40 data
cleaning tools run over … Additionally, for any record, anybody can go in … and
report an issue or flag an issue with the record … If you are doing an
analysis, you can do your analysis just on the dataset that represents
vouchered museum specimens, or Birds Australia data. So you can cut out all of
these citizen science sightings and not use them at all if you do not trust
them … What we are finding is that the people who want to contribute data to us
are in general trying to do a pretty good job of keeping it nice and clean and
The identification and control of invasive species in a governance
context is discussed in chapter seven. Dr La Salle discussed the issue of
invasive species’ identification in the Atlas, as follows:
… the atlas, as an aggregator of data, does not make
decisions on what is invasive or what is not invasive. What we would do is
create a list of agreed names for all organisms in Australia and then ask
someone to provide us a list of those names that are invasive, and then we
would flag them … In the first instance, we would not make any decisions on
invasive species; we would ask someone else to supply us a list.
Range Extension Database Mapping Project
The Committee heard that REDMAP—hosted by IMAS in Tasmania—promotes
education and awareness of marine and climate change issues, successfully
engaging a broad audience in marine monitoring, including directly engaging
with fishers and divers, and engaging with school groups and local events to
promote marine issue awareness. The REDMAP project is a
volunteer research program inviting community members to report observations of
marine species from outside their known distributions; the resulting data will
show the marine species that are shifting range as a result of warming waters.
IMAS stated that REDMAP lets people ‘discover for themselves how the
seas are changing by collecting their own ‘data’; and over time will show
marine industries – on a map – which species are on the move’.
Dr Pecl of IMAS stated that citizen scientist data had been used to fill
research gaps, by being added to scientific survey information to be used in
journal articles. Dr Pecl also commented
on the importance of reporting back to the community on how the information
gathered by citizen scientists is being utilised, with the methods used in this
case being through a Facebook page and a quarterly newsletter.
The Committee heard that participation in initiatives such as REDMAP is
very important as it engages local communities to provide important information
to the public whilst providing valuable scientific information for use by
scientists. The Committee heard that
there are 3.5 million recreational fishers in Australia, thousands of
commercial fishers and thousands of divers that can help with this monitoring, in
the process engaging with biodiversity and marine climate change issues.
It was also suggested that the REDMAP framework could be duplicated in other geographical
Reef Life Survey
The Reef Life Survey uses recreational divers trained to collect
scientific data compatible with data collected by scientific teams using scientific
methods. The Committee heard
that the Reef Life Survey is ‘the most comprehensive ecological dataset for the
marine system’ with 1200 sites, and is a ‘hugely valuable resource in terms of understanding
how threats are distributed in the marine environment’ and also in ‘providing a
baseline to assess changes through time’.
Australian Seed Bank Partnership
The Australian Seed Bank Partnership suggested that it will work with
the Botanic Gardens Education Network to ‘design and launch a citizen science
program to engage communities in the diverse work of the Partnership and
encourage greater use of the growing seed biology information’.
In its submission, the Partnership stated that it was also working with the
Atlas to create national standards for recording data on wild species
collections, and to build an accessible online seed resource.
The Committee is supportive of the many citizen science initiatives observed
during the course of the inquiry, and views these initiatives as powerful tools
that can be used to engage the community in climate change and biodiversity
issues. The Committee acknowledges the need for accurate and useful information
to be gathered in a structured and consistent way, so that it can be used in
scientific research projects, and to provide data that can be supplemented in
future to build Australia’s environmental knowledge base.
Conclusions and recommendations
The Committee acknowledges the benefits the community derives
from biodiversity education programs and citizen science initiatives, and the
importance of local, regional and national programs and initiatives to
highlight the relevance of biodiversity to human communities.
The Committee acknowledges the importance of engaging the
community in biodiversity issues, and the opportunities afforded by citizen
science to involve the community in collecting environmental data and in that
way contribute to biodiversity research and the collection of baseline
environmental information. The Committee notes the unique opportunity to
use these initiatives to educate the public on the importance of biodiversity
to human communities, our way of life and the economy.
The Committee considers that national programs should be organised and
promoted by the Australian Government, utilising existing programs and
initiatives (discussed above) to develop a nationally consistent, clear
education program, the material and framework of which could be discussed at
the COAG forum.
The Committee concludes that the Atlas of Living Australia (Atlas) is
one such important tool in community education on biodiversity issues, and
encourages the Australian Government to provide funding to develop and broaden
its community engagement functions, and also to develop its information
technology data collection tools to improve the quality and quantity of data
collected (see further discussion in chapter five).
Further, in regard to the Atlas and the development of a national
database for environmental information (discussed further in chapter five), the
Committee considers that a national list of invasive species would assist the
Atlas in categorising invasive species on its database. Invasive species
management is discussed further in chapter seven.
The Committee was impressed by the REDMAP project and suggests to the
Australian Government that it look into the viability of extending this concept
to be implemented for other ecosystems.
The Committee acknowledges the considerable potential of developing
existing citizen science databases into a single consistent and adaptable
national database for monitoring biodiversity and the environment.
The Committee considers that the Australian Government must view
provision of this information in an accessible format as a priority, in order
to assist the community to understand the effects that biodiversity loss has on
the community and the economy, and to assist land managers and policymakers in
measuring the effects of policy implementation on biodiversity, and to ensure
that adaptive management is a priority.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government,
through the Council of Australian Governments, develop a central national
database, incorporating a consistent and adaptable model of uploading and
storing information which is able to be scientifically accredited.