COVID-19 has taught the world a lesson about invasive species – their ability to spread, create havoc in unexposed populations and evolve to exploit our vulnerabilities.
As an island nation with a trove of unique wildlife that evolved in isolation from the rest of the world, Australia has proved highly susceptible to biological invasions. They have caused the majority of species extinctions over the last 230 years and remain the highest impact threat.
Our mega-biodiverse country – one of only a few on the planet – is in the grips of an extinction crisis. Since 2009, 3 unique animals have been wiped out and 2 others lost from the wild. Four of these recent extinctions were due to invasive species. Hundreds more native species, including more than half our nationally listed threatened species, are imperilled by invasive species. The economic costs of invasive species are also staggering – an estimated $25 billion a year, more than 1% of Australia’s GDP.
For such reasons, strengthening biosecurity – stopping new invasive species arriving and establishing and limiting the harm caused by established invaders – must be an Australian government priority of the highest order. While stopping invasive species is often difficult, past achievements show that with dedication and resources, Australia can achieve world-leading results. We have, for example, eradicated several red fire ant populations, as well as rats and cats from many islands, and beaten back terrible weeds through biocontrol or concerted removal (bitou bush, sea spurge and prickly pear, for example). So far, we’ve been able to keep out destructive new invaders such as the Asian black-spined toad, giant African snail and wattle rusts.
But in many places invasive species are running riot. To protect and restore Australia’s ecosystems, we need a more concerted effort to tackle the likes of feral cats, yellow crazy ants, carp, myrtle rust, gamba grass and hard-hoofed invaders such as feral deer and horses. We also need stronger, more collaborative, better funded biosecurity to prevent and eradicate new invaders and stop the spread of others.
Extinction is a choice – a choice expressed in the laws passed by governments, the money invested in protection or destruction and the actions we all take. Collectively, Australians can choose to ensure that Australia’s unique species persist and thrive.
In this document, we outline initiatives and policies to improve Australia’s capacity to keep nature safe from new and established invasive species. It is not a simple task – it will take concerted action and an ambitious, long-term vision shared by all parts of society, with strong leadership by our national government.