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UNESCO conservation advisory IUCN elevates concern for World Heritage Gondwana rainforests

By Melissa Martin, Friday December 4, 2020 - 13:34 EDT
ABC licensed image
Nightcap National Park, in northern NSW, is one of the Gondwana rainforests devastated by fire a year ago. - ABC licensed

Ecologist Mark Graham has studied Australia's Gondwana rainforests for decades and, after years of drought and bushfires, says things have never looked so dire.

"To bear witness to the loss of some of these ecosystems . . . it's a very upsetting thing to observe," he said.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] this week rated Gondwana rainforests a "significant concern". In 2017 the same report rated the forests as "good, with some concern".

The IUCN is the official advisor on nature to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

The report also found climate change was a threat to 69 per cent of Australia's 16 World Heritage sites, including the Great Barrier Reef, more than double the global trend of 33 per cent.

Burnt rainforests 'still suffering'

The Gondwana subtropical rainforests stretch from the Hunter region in NSW to south-east Queensland and were entered on the World Heritage List in 1986, with extensions in 1994.

The 41 national parks and reserves ranging from 10 hectares to 102,712 hectares contain more than 200 rare or threatened plant species and have been compared with the Galapagos Islands in terms of global importance.

Mark Graham said more than a year after major bushfires, some parts of the rainforests were still suffering.

"There are definitely [some of] these really ancient forests that have burnt, and a year or more on there's very little, if any, life in them," he said.

"Thankfully, in some of our fire grounds, there is recovery occurring."

'Other threats increasing'

Mr Graham said the real concern now was more fires that might further reduce the size of the rainforests.

The IUCN report points out that while management has so far been effective in addressing challenges, further management responses will be required to address increasing threats, particularly those posed by bushfires as well as invasive species, pathogens, and climate change.

"There is wide recognition that considerable conservation actions will be required," the report says

"However, there is the lingering prospect that the catastrophe is a clear sign of the impact of climate change on weather patterns, and that these changes will not be reversed easily."

The reports highlights effective fire management as one of the main challenges for the protection and management of the Gondwana rainforests, as well as the threat of "posed by wildfire, invasive species and pathogens, and climate change".

Mr Graham said while the report was concerning, he was glad to see the plight of the Gondwana rainforests raised on an international stage, which he hoped could help protect the forests into the future.

"I do celebrate that we have, particularly around Coffs Harbour, the greatest unburnt expanses of the most incredible forest on the planet all around us and we need to do whatever we can to keep fire out . . . and to look after this green refuge," he said.


© ABC 2020

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