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Australia fiddles while Pacific wildlife disappears

A leading scientist says Australia is ignoring a wildlife extinction crisis on its doorstep, doing little to help Pacific nations deal with overwhelming conservation problems.

On the eve of the Pacific Islands Forum in Cairns next week, Sydney University ecologist, Prof Richard Kingsford, has urged Australia to draft a regional treaty to guarantee environmental aid to developing island nations.

Despite its ‘palm trees and paradise’ image, Prof Kingsford says the Pacific region has the worst wildlife extinction record on Earth.

More than 80 percent of plant and animal species in eight Pacific nations are threatened by land clearing and urban development.

A study co-authored by Professor Kingsford, published this week in the international journal Conservation Biology and quoted in The Canberra Times, is reviews more than 24,000 scientific publications on conservation issues in the Pacific.

The list of environmental threats includes over-harvesting of corals, shells and tropical fish; bird diseases such as avian malaria and cholera; over-fishing; illegal wildlife trade, and the spread of root-rot fungus or dieback, which is killing forests in Western Australia.

“Australia is not exactly throwing conservation aid into the region despite the Pacific’s importance as a world hotspot for biodiversity.  What little aid is offered tends to be poorly targeted, poorly resourced, and short term,” says Prof Kingsford.

Feral animals and weeds cause 75 percent of all mammal and bird extinctions and more than 1200 of the region’s bird species are extinct.

Prof Kingsford accuses some large global conservation groups of practising ’conservation neo-colonisation’ by ignoring the need to invest in local conservation training.

“It’s a transitory conservation effort, flying in foreign experts to save particular species. There isn’t much thought given to building capacity among local people.

“Earth is experiencing its sixth greatest extinction event, uniquely attributable to humans, and our impact on the Pacific has been particularly dramatic.”

Source: Article by Canberra Times science and environment reporter, Rosslyn Beeby. 29 July 2009. Thanks to Don Hook


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