Case studies

Showing results 1 - 7 of 7
Case Study Australian sandalwood – native forest product or threatened species?

Richard McLellan, Charles Sturt University

The Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), also known as walarda (Wajarri), waang (Noongar) and dutjahn (Martu), is a tree native to semi-arid and arid areas in southern and western Australia. This important tree is in dramatic population decline – it is estimated that only around 10% of its original extent remains, and it appears that virtually no new trees have emerged in the wild for 60–100 years. 

Indigenous people revered the tree for thousands of years, using it, for example, in smoking ceremonies and bush medicine. Commercially harvested since the 1840s, forest products from Australian sandalwood have been widely used as aromatics and cosmetic products. Over the past 175 years, it has become one of the world’s most valuable timbers. Although extensive plantations have been established for domestic use and export, wild populations continue to be commercially harvested because of commercial expediency and the fact that old-growth trees produce the best-quality oil.

The species is being affected by the cumulative impacts of commercial harvesting, land clearing, altered fire regimes, overgrazing (mainly by introduced herbivores) and lack of regeneration, all compounded by the effects of climate change. Sandalwood seedlings require 3 consecutive good years of rainfall to establish from seed, which, in the current climate regime, is a rarity in arid and semi-arid Australia. The loss of commensal species, such as burrowing bettongs that provided seed dispersal services, has also impacted the recruitment of new individuals.

The fate of the Australian sandalwood tree demonstrates the combination of land-use and climate stressors that are currently impacting many old-growth, slow-growing native species. Dramatic declines are overlooked until the population crash becomes unequivocally evident, requiring immediate and reactive responses. Yet often the cascading signs of collapse in many species can be predicted decades earlier by understanding their biology, ecology, land-use history, and altered climate and disturbance regimes that lead to changes that adversely impact the species’ persistence.  

Figure 09 Dead sandalwood tree

Case Study The 10 Gigawatt Vision

Monica Tan and Jane Carter, Beyond Zero Emissions

Published in 2019, the 10 Gigawatt Vision is a comprehensive plan to use abundant sunshine and low-cost solar energy to transform the Northern Territory’s economy. Developed in a partnership between Beyond Zero Emissions and the Environment Centre NT, the report shows that, by 2030, the Northern Territory Government could drive investment in 10 gigawatts of renewable energy, creating more than 8,000 jobs and $2 billion in new annual revenue. The report also showed how home electricity bills could fall by one-third by 2030, and electric vehicles could save households as much as 80% off transport fuel bills. 

The Northern Territory Government has incorporated large parts of the plan in its climate and energy policies, and the report won the 2020 Environmental Philanthropy Award sponsored by Philanthropy Australia. This vision for the Northern Territory is demonstrated by Australia’s most ambitious renewable energy project: Sun Cable’s Australia–ASEAN Power Link, which, if built, will be one of the world’s largest dispatchable renewable electricity systems, supported by the world’s largest battery and solar farm in the Barkly region near Tennant Creek.

The vision depends upon meaningful engagement and negotiation with, and informed consent of, Traditional Owners across the Northern Territory. It could support Indigenous people’s aspirations for economic development through opportunities such as community ownership of renewable infrastructure.

Figure 19 Solar panel array, Northern Territory

Case Study Conservation through an integrated landscape approach

James Hattam, Tasmanian Land Conservancy

National parks and other public reserves play an important role in protecting landscapes and wildlife. But, under a rapidly changing environment, they alone are not enough.

By increasing the extent and diversity of habitats protected, private land conservation is increasingly playing a very important role in achieving effective and long-term conservation outcomes.   

Nowhere is this more evident than on the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast, which contains a network of protected land, conserved through both public and private efforts. 

The iconic Freycinet National Park was Tasmania’s first national park and contains the jagged granite peaks of The Hazards, which dominate the landscape. Ecologically significant features occur in the national park and throughout the surrounding landscape. 

In this landscape, public reserves are surrounded and strengthened by a network of properties protected under private land conservation initiatives. Private land initiatives have been steadily increasing over the past 3 years, and are critical in creating and maintaining ecological links across the landscape. 

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people stop at the popular Cherry Tree Hill lookout (Figure 28) to appreciate this remarkable landscape. From Cherry Tree Hill, you can see the protected landscapes of The Hazards, Freycinet National Park and the Ramsar-listed Moulting Lagoon. Look back over your shoulder, and from there you can see more than 60 privately protected conservation properties scattered through the landscape. These include 2 Tasmanian Land Conservancy reserves, 2 Bush Heritage Australia reserves, 30 covenanted private properties, 8 Revolving Fund properties and 20 Land for Wildlife properties. Collectively, these private land programs conserve more than 5,000 hectares of this ecologically important landscape. 

Figure 28 Cherry Tree Hill lookout, Tasmania

Photo: James Hattam

Case Study Innovative biological control helping red crabs to recolonise and migrate across Christmas Island

Dr Andy Sheppard, CSIRO

Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean is famous for its red land crabs, an ecological keystone species, along with more than 20 other species of endemic land crabs. Invasive yellow crazy ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes) have killed tens of millions of red crabs on the island, as well as decimating the island’s population of the world’s largest robber crab, the biggest terrestrial arthropod on earth.

Since the early 1990s, yellow crazy ants have created supercolonies, sometimes covering hundreds of hectares, with thousands of queens and up to 10,000 ants per hectare (Parks Australia 2015). This has been driven by mutualistic relationships that the ants developed with introduced honeydew-producing scale insects, especially the yellow lac scale (Tachardina aurantiaca).

In December 2016, a biocontrol agent was released to indirectly suppress yellow crazy ants. The agent uses a natural enemy of yellow lac scale, the parasitoid wasp Tachardiaephagus somervillei from Malaysia. The wasp acts to suppress the population of yellow lac scale, reducing the supply of honeydew.  

Following release of the wasp, ant numbers declined sufficiently at 3 of the 8 monitoring sites to allow recolonisation by red crabs. In 4 of the monitoring sites, red crabs were able to safely migrate through the area (Parks Australia 2021). This is a significant success story, as it is both the first biocontrol of invasive ant populations and the first indirect biocontrol program in the world.

Although many sites still support supercolonies of ants, fuelled by honeydew from other scale insects, the success so far gives confidence that targeting these other scale insects could achieve self-sustaining, long-term suppression of yellow crazy ants throughout Christmas Island.

Figure 31 Clockwise from top left: red crab; scale insect; parasitic wasp

Case Study Australians investing in natural capital

Source: Kilter Rural 

Every year, trillions of dollars are available in the private market for investment. And there is a growing demand for investment products that deliver environmental benefits as well as financial profit for investors.  

Finding ways of mobilising private funds for projects that achieve economic and environmental protection outcomes, while delivering sustained and low-risk returns to investors, is one avenue for significantly increasing the amount of funding available to restore and protect Australia’s environment.  

In Australia, a growing number of businesses are seeking to tap into this market by mobilising new institutional capital into agricultural, water and ecosystem investment projects. In Victoria, Kilter Rural has been working for decades to achieve sustainable agricultural production while managing its total natural capital assets to include substantial environmental protection and restoration. Balancing agricultural production with environmental protection delivers sustained returns to investors with reduced risk. 

Kilter Rural has 2 impact investment funds with around $500 million in assets: 

  • The Kilter Australian Farmlands Fund offers investment in natural capital through the purchase and regeneration of Australian farmland and water. Financial returns are delivered through the regeneration of underused irrigation farming operations for high-value specialist crops, balanced with ecosystem protection to deliver long-term returns to investors (70/30 area split). In 2021, Kilter has about 12,000 hectares under management. Within the irrigated cropping area, up to 40% of the farms are designated for organic crop production. Approximately 4,000 hectares of native revegetation delivers biodiversity rehabilitation and protection along with a net carbon sink, with intended total fund returns of 10–12% per year. The fund has several carbon projects registered with the Australian Government to accumulate Australian Carbon Credit Units.
  • The Murray–Darling Basin Balanced Water Fund secures water for agriculture and the environment through investment in Australia’s southern Murray–Darling Basin water market. In dry years, up to 90% of water entitlements are allocated to irrigators through leases and allocation trade; in wet years, up to 40% of the fund’s entitlements are allocated to deliver water to wetlands. This approach ensures that water is available for farming communities when they need it most, with wetland watering occurring primarily in years when water is less constrained. The fund is jointly managed by Kilter Rural and the Nature Conservancy Australia with the Murray–Darling Wetlands Working Group, which collaborate closely with state and national environmental water holders. Since 2015, more than 6,000 megalitres has been delivered for environmental watering over 26 wetlands. In 2021–22, the fund will donate close to 4,000 megalitres of water to the environment. The fund has delivered returns of around 13% annualised since inception.

Photos: © Sarah Ning, Murray–Darling Wetlands Working Group 

Case Study The Australian restoration economy

Renee Young, Western Australian Biodiversity Science Institute

Australia, as a large, sparsely populated, politically stable country, is well placed to take advantage of major national and international investment opportunities through the restoration economy (Young et al. in press). The restoration economy is defined as the market consisting of a network of businesses, investors and consumers engaging in economic activity related to ecological restoration (BenDor et al. 2015).

Internationally and across Australia, major private, philanthropic and government investments are driving large-scale restoration efforts by obtaining carbon credits through biodiverse plantings. Carbon credits issued by the Clean Energy Regulator have increased from 100,000 tonnes (t) per month in 2018 to 350,000–400,000 t in 2020 (pre-COVID-19) (Foley 2021). The international market price for carbon is projected to double in the next 15 years (EDF 2018), and carbon projects that deliver co-benefits will return a premium price. Further, it is likely that industry will soon need to report on nature-related risks to support a shift in global financial flows towards nature-positive outcomes (TFND 2021), giving additional value and security to the market.

Australian philanthropists are pledging tens of millions of dollars to fight climate change – for example, Norman Pater and Gita Sonnenberg are aiming to restore 1 million hectares and testing carbon farming models at scale. Queenslanders Julie and Jeff Wicks set up the ACME foundation, which directs funding to 25–30 organisations, including Beyond Zero Emissions (Sommer 2020).

Investment in the restoration economy translates to jobs, predominantly in our regional communities. Government economic stimulus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a boost in ‘green’ jobs, with direct funding going towards environmental projects. These include Western Australia’s $15 million Native Vegetation Rehabilitation Scheme, which has created more than 1,000 jobs.

Coupled with these economic activities is the realisation that well-designed, biodiverse and knowledge-rich restoration has the capacity to deliver environmental, social, economic and cultural co-benefits that:

  • support environmental assets such as improved biodiversity and habitat for threatened species, as well as healthier soils, wetlands and water systems
  • improve the resilience and strength of regional communities by supporting direct and indirect jobs, and increasing economic opportunities
  • provide on-Country business opportunities and new service delivery businesses, as well as supporting cultural and customary connections (Land Restoration Fund 2020).
Case Study Armchair citizen scientists double their efforts to address Australia’s big challenges

Sources: Atlas of Living Australia and the Australian Museum

A growing band of citizen scientists across Australia are helping to protect our environment by contributing to science through the crowdsourcing platform DigiVol.

Identifying animals to help support bushfire recovery efforts is one of the many areas where citizen scientists are making a significant contribution.

DigiVol was first developed in 2011 by the Australian Museum in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia. Since then, more than 10,000 citizen scientists have used the DigiVol volunteer portal (Australian Museum 2021) to transcribe specimen labels, field notes and Wildlife Spotter images.

DigiVol provides a way to harness the power and passion of volunteers to help in the digitisation effort to make more information available to science. The DigiVol platform is an inclusive solution to addressing challenging problems, enabling a range of organisations to process images, specimens and field notes. It produces data to assist scientists in transcribing their images much more quickly than was previously possible. 

Along with its success in attracting citizen scientists, DigiVol is an excellent example of infrastructure designed to meet many objectives. 

In recent years, DigiVol has added capture of camera trap data by citizen scientists to its portfolio through Wildlife Spotter. Wildlife Spotter allows organisations to upload images captured on cameras mounted in the environment, and volunteers then identify and tag animals in the photographs. This process produces large volumes of high-quality data to assist in monitoring Australia’s fauna species, including helping to understand the impact of fire and recovery of fauna in fire-affected areas.

Following the Black Summer bushfires and national lockdowns in 2020, the number of volunteers using DigiVol doubled to more than 9,000 individuals. Since then, DigiVol volunteers have contributed more than 6 million transcriptions to expeditions across the platform.

In the future, DigiVol is looking to integrate artificial intelligence into its software to complement the workflow and support the public’s effort in species identification.

Figure 37 The DigiVol platform allows anyone with access to a computer and the internet to contribute to science

Photo: Australian Museum