Five Australian species are at ‘immediate’ risk of extinction and a further 41 species are on course to be listed as ‘critically endangered’, correspondence between the Threatened Species Scientific Committee and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek reveals.

Most of the species recommended for listing as ‘critically endangered’ have not previously appeared on Australia’s list of threatened species.

“This correspondence between the Environment Minister and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee makes one thing clear: nature in Australia is in big trouble,” said Australian Conservation Foundation nature campaigner Peta Bulling.

“Plants and animals that make this land unique are being pushed towards extinction at a truly alarming pace.

“In the context of the government’s ‘no new extinctions’ goal, the fact the Threatened Species Scientific Committee has immediate concerns for five species, including Tasmania’s extraordinary maugean skate, highlights the need for urgent action to protect these species.

“Of the 41 species identified by the Committee, the majority have never even been listed as threatened under our national environment laws, yet here they are making their first appearance in the code red category of ‘critically endangered’.

“The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko measures is about 20 centimetres long and lives in a remote part of Queensland. It has large eyes and a long, slender body and limbs.

“It has only been known to western science since 2013, when it was voted one of the top 10 new species discovered that year. A decade later and it still hasn’t been formally protected by our national environment laws.

“Other species have been officially protected for years, but they are clearly in trouble.

“The Mary River Turtle is arguably one of Australia’s most unusual species. It is only found in the Mary River in Queensland and can extract oxygen from the water through a gill-like structure in its cloaca, which is why it is sometimes known as the ‘bum-breathing turtle’.

“It also has a habit of growing algae on its head and shell, which gives it an undeniably cool punk rock look.”

A Mary River Turtle (pic Rob Downer, Shutterstock)

Above: A Mary River Turtle (pic Rob Downer, Shutterstock)

“From 2007–09 ACF campaigned to stop a Queensland government plan to build a dam on the Mary River, because of the damage it would do to the Mary River Turtle, the Mary River cod, the Queensland lungfish and other species.

“In 2009 then Environment Minister Peter Garrett refused the Traveston Crossing dam environmental approval and that particular threat was averted.

“But now this correspondence shows the Mary River Turtle is at risk of extinction.

“Australia’s threatened species list already has more than 2,000 species on it. It’s clear our nature laws aren’t stemming the tide of extinction in this country.

“Habitat destruction is the leading cause of extinction in Australia, directly contributing to the listing of 60% of Australia’s threatened species.

“Habitat destruction is a threat to humans and wildlife, as we rely on the same forests and landscapes for our food, water, oxygen, medicines, physical and mental health and climate control – to name just a few benefits nature provides.

“Australia urgently needs strong outcome-driven environment laws, active conservation and recovery planning and an end to harmful activities like land clearing and native forest logging.”

ACF research shows our ineffective laws are letting many hundreds of thousands of hectares of threatened species habitat be bulldozed without penalty.

Nearly 8 million hectares of threatened species habitat in Australia have been destroyed since 2000 and recent ACF investigations show this destruction is continuing.

Header image: Ninian Bay, Cape Melville national park, Cape York Peninsula (pic by Kerry Trapnell)

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