Australia has a long history of establishing protected areas and they are now the cornerstones of its national and regional conservation strategies, covering over 13% of the country. There are large regional variations in levels of coverage, with most large protected areas placed far from dense human populations and away from productive agricultural land. Most of the recent growth in coverage has been driven by Indigenous Protected Areas and private protected areas, a trend that is likely to increase in the future. It is difficult to say how effective protected areas are in conserving biodiversity due to shortcomings in monitoring and evaluation, but the data that exist show that biodiversity outcomes are variable and that management effectiveness could be substantially improved. Threats to the protected area system are currently increasing with strong government pressure to allow extractive industries, such as mining, logging and grazing, and damaging recreational uses such as hunting to occur on land that is currently protected. If this trend continues, the future holds a great deal of uncertainty for Australia’s protected areas.
For centuries people all over the world have set aside places to which they ascribe special values. The reasons for this have been many and various but they are linked by a central purpose – to protect something that humankind perceives as valuable. Over the past century, as human populations have grown and their use of natural resources has increased, so the need to protect the remaining natural areas has also grown. Formally protected areas have become the centrepiece of the global strategy for nature conservation. These are areas where human activities are restricted and that are managed with the primary purpose of nature conservation (Dudley 2008). Australia is no exception in using protected areas as the cornerstones of its national and regional conservation strategies and is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD is an international legally binding treaty that commits Australia to achieving a number of conservation targets.
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