ANOTHER 53 million hectares of land must be safe guarded to meet the minimum level of protection for Australia’s unique terrestrial ecosystems.

That’s according to the Federal Government’s State of the Environment 2016 report, released yesterday.

WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor contributed to the report, producing the analysis that revealed the 53-million-hectare gap (pages 126-127 in the Biodiversity sub report).

WWF set as a minimum standard of protection that at least 15% of the pre-European distribution of each forest ecosystem should be inside a protected area.

This was based on the targets for forest protection in theAustralian Government’s JANIS report from 1997.

Dr Taylor analysed the extent to which Australia’s 6249 ecosystems were protected to minimum standard across five broad categories: wet forests, forests, woodlands, grass/shrublands, and wetlands.

In 2010, the gap was 61 million hectares and it has been reduced by 8 million hectares as of 2016. Protected areas include public, private and indigenous lands that are protected.

“We must move faster to close the 53-million-hectare gap so that all of Australia’s unique ecosystems have at least the minimum level of protection,” Dr Taylor said.

“If we don’t pick up the pace on protection then some of these ecosystems and the wildlife they protect like koalas, wombats and wallabies, could disappear forever on our watch,” he said.

WWF estimates that at least $170m needs to be allocated by the Australian Government every year out of the existing environment grants budget of about $500m. This could secure new national parks as well as protected area agreements on Indigenous and private lands.

Dr Taylor’s analysis revealed that Queensland is the state with the biggest gap at 17.5 million hectares across 1636 ecosystems, while Tasmania only has a gap of 200,000 hectares.

For reference, the Queensland gap represents 10% of the state’s total land area, 5.2% of which is already national park.

Marine protected areas

WWF-Australia stresses that protection for marine areas is as important as terrestrial ecosystems. WWF-Australia notes that Australia’s network of Commonwealth marine reserves requires additional funding and key bio regions still require additional protection.