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The challenge

Securing biodiversity in the Pilbara

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is a vast and ancient landscape, covering over 178 000 km2 and is home to approximately 50 000 people.

Dubbed the 'engine room of Australia' due to the region's vast mineral wealth, the Pilbara is also home to a suite of iconic and fascinating plants and animals, many of which are found nowhere else on earth.

Indigenous Australians have inhabited the Pilbara for tens of thousands of years and the region is home to the most abundant collection of rock engravings of the world.

The Pilbara is characterised by extensive arid coastal plains, rolling spinifex grasslands on stony pavements and inland mountain ranges with roughened escarpments and deep gorges.

The ecosystems within the ancient and arid landscape of the Pilbara are under growing pressure from a number of threats including increases in total grazing pressure by native, feral and domestic ungulates and herbivores, invasion by exotic plants and animals, predation by feral predators and altered fire regimes.

The Pilbara has the potential to build upon its reputation as a region with exceptional biodiversity values in addition to exceptional mineral resources.

An opportunity exists to implement a region-wide conservation strategy to protect the Pilbara conversation significant species and conserve the diverse biota of this unique and ancient region and we provide some of the critical information required to do so.

Our response

Experts identify conservation strategies

We identified 17 technically and socially feasible management strategies for protecting conservation-significant plants and animals in the Pilbara.

The strategies were defined by 49 experts in the ecology, management and people of the region.

The report outlines the relative ecological cost-effectiveness of each strategy, indicating which strategies will provide the greatest return on investment. Cost-effectiveness was calculated as the expected benefit to the persistence of 53 key threatened native fauna and flora species that a particular strategy would generate, divided by the expected cost of that strategy.

Without management intervention, 25 per cent of the 53 conservation significant species are likely to be lost from the Pilbara in the next 20 years, including the greater bilby, spectacled hare-wallaby and De Grey saltbush.

The results

A cost-effective solution to a complex problem

The report has determined the top three most cost-effective strategies for protecting biodiversity in the Pilbara, each with an expected cost of less than $1 million per year, including:

  • managing feral ungulates (i.e. donkeys, camels, horses, cattle and pigs)
  • creating predator proof sanctuaries
  • managing feral cats.

Investing in these strategies, and in the other 14 management strategies identified in the report would have benefits far beyond conservation of threatened species.

Examples include:

  • protecting species and communities that are not currently listed as threatened
  • enhancing ecologically sustainable mining, tourism and pastoral activities
  • creating jobs
  • improving carbon sequestration, soil health, water quality and drought tolerance
  • increasing resilience to changes in climate
  • meeting the conservation and land management goals of Indigenous communities in the Pilbara.

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