Although many only know Australia for it’s temperate zones where golden skin is prevalent, coastal ecosystems suitable for a thriving surfing culture, and highly enviable accents, this continent is currently facing various pertinent environmental degradation issues. Their wetlands enduring serious environmental turmoil, there have recently been dramatic declines in the abundance of many species, as well as a notable scarcity of natural resources as vital as water.
According to “Environmental Problems in Australia” on wwf.panda.org, there are a multitude of pressing issues plaguing the natural components of the area. This first factor takes form with large-scale deforestation. When forests and vegetation are cut, there is a great increase in the salinity of the soil in that area as a result. The draining of this saline water can then go on to affect downstream or downslope water quality. The article discusses that “around 7% of the agricultural area of western Australia is suffering from this problem following deforestation.” Studies have shown that these soils in the wet tropics have limited ability to recover from deforestation, which is causing an estimated $1 billion annually in land degradation costs as a result.
Another major environmental issue pertaining to Australia is agricultural clearing and overgrazing. Due to clearing of agricultural land, “around 13% of Australia’s original vegetation has been removed since European settlement.” This problem of overgrazing is negatively affecting the biodiversity of species on this continent, and currently less than 2% of the original grasslands remain in the temperate ecosystems. Promoting susceptibility to desertification as well as erosion, it is also a major cause of the spread of invasive plants in these habitats.
Overfishing and illegal fishing are also creating noticeable strain on the environmental stability of this continent. Some areas in Australia have low biological productivity (so fish stocks do not regenerate as quickly) and paired with intensive fishing efforts by recreational and commercial fisheries, these waters are troubled by a major depletion in fish stocks as of late. A study taken in 2005 assessed that “17 of 82 species…in Australian waters were classified as overfished.”
Perpetuating the environmental degradation in the area, the introduction of exotic species to the continent has caused a variety of new problems. As stated in the article, “It is estimated that Australia gains around 20 new pests or diseases each year” (one better known example being the cane toad). These foreign animals are responsible for local extinctions and significant reductions in the populations of native species by means of predation and habitat modification, which is negatively affecting the balance of these niches. Exotic weeds and 2,500 introduced plants have also invaded every part of the landscape; adding additional pressure to the ecosystems.
Other environmental issues rampant on the continent of Australia include pollution and infrastructure development. According to the online article, “Modeling predictions estimate that each year almost 19,000 tons of phosphorous and 141,000 tons of nitrogen are discharged to rivers flowing to the coast.” A major concern is this area is also simply an increasing population growth of human inhabitants along the coastline. Massive metropolitan centers are continually being formed, which is causing an unforeseen population density.