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Australia and the environment

World heritage properties

Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Properties on the World Heritage List have outstanding universal value in their natural and/or cultural heritage, and are important to all peoples of the world, irrespective of their location.

Australia ensures high quality management of its World Heritage areas through national legislation to protect World Heritage values involving strict environmental assessment process and a very high level of community and Indigenous involvement in management. There are 17 Australian properties on the World Heritage List, which is administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization:

The Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s first World Heritage areas, was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values. It is the world’s largest coral reef system and the largest World Heritage area. There are an estimated 1500 species of fish and approximately 400 species of hard, reef‑building corals. Close to 5000 mollusc species and over 400 species of sponges have been identified.

Kakadu National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in three stages over 11 years for both outstanding cultural and natural universal values. Kakadu contains features of great natural beauty and sweeping landscapes and living Aboriginal culture dating back tens of thousands of years. Its focal points are the internationally important wetlands and the spectacular escarpment and outliers.

The Willandra Lakes Region is a 240 000 hectare semi-arid landscape of dried saline lake beds vegetated with saltbush, fringing sand dunes and woodlands with grassy understoreys. Located in the Murray Basin area in far south-western New South Wales, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List for outstanding cultural and natural universal values.

The Tasmanian Wilderness was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural and cultural universal values. This World Heritage area is one of the largest conservation reserves in Australia. At 1.38 million hectares, it covers approximately 20 per cent of the land mass of the island of Tasmania. It is one of only three large temperate wilderness areas remaining in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Lord Howe Island Group was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural universal values. Located 700 kilometres north-east of Sydney and covering an area of 146 300 hectares, the Lord Howe Island Group comprises: Lord Howe Island; Admiralty Islands; Mutton Bird Islands; Ball’s Pyramid; and associated coral reefs and marine environments.

Uluru–Kata Tjuta National Park was inscribed on the World Heritage List in two stages, initially for its outstanding universal natural values and then for its outstanding universal cultural values. The park, covering an area of 132 566 hectares of arid ecosystems, is located close to the centre of Australia in the traditional lands of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal people (locally known as Anangu).

Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia): In 1986, a number of rainforest reserves located on the Great Escarpment of eastern New South Wales, known as the Australian East Coast Sub-tropical and Temperate Rainforest Parks, were inscribed on the World Heritage List for their outstanding natural universal values. Large extensions, including reserves in south-east Queensland, were listed in 1994 under the new title of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (Australia).

The Wet Tropics of Queensland was inscribed on the World Heritage List in recognition of its outstanding natural universal values. The Wet Tropics World Heritage property lies between Townsville and Cooktown on the north-east coast of Queensland and covers an area of approximately 894 000 hectares. The area is a region of spectacular scenery and rugged topography with fast-flowing rivers, deep gorges and numerous waterfalls. The mountain summits provide expansive vistas of undisturbed rainforests.

Shark Bay is located on the most western point of the coast of Australia and covers an area of 2.3 million hectares. The region is one of the few properties inscribed on the World Heritage List for all four outstanding natural universal values. The Shark Bay region is a meeting point of three major climatic regions, forming a transition zone between two major botanical provinces—the South West and Eremaean provinces.

Fraser Island, stretching over 120 kilometres along the southern coast of Queensland, is the largest sand island in the world (184 000 hectares). It was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural universal values. The island is a place of exceptional beauty, with its long uninterrupted white beaches flanked by strikingly coloured sand cliffs, its majestic tall rainforests and numerous freshwater lakes of crystal clear waters.

The Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh/Naracoorte) was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural universal values. Over 2000 kilometres separate the two sites that form the World Heritage property. Riversleigh (10 000 hectares), located in north-western Queensland, is confined to the watershed of the Gregory River. The site at Naracoorte, South Australia, covers 300 hectares and is located in flat country, punctuated by a series of stranded coastal dune ridges that run parallel to the present coastline. The Australian Territory of Heard Islandand McDonald Islands was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its outstanding natural universal values, including the only active volcanoes on sub-Antarctic islands and populations of plants and animals largely unaffected by the negative impacts of human activities or introduced species. The islands lie isolated in the stormy sub-Antarctic waters of the Southern Ocean, approximately 4000 kilometres south-west of Western Australia. This is near the Antarctic Polar Front, a region where Antarctic and warmer waters converge. Heard Island was discovered in 1853.

Macquarie Island was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 on the basis of its outstanding natural universal values. Macquarie Island is situated about 1500 km south-south-east of Tasmania, about half way between Tasmania and Antarctica at around 55 degrees south. It is the only island in the world composed entirely of oceanic crust and rocks from the mantle deep below the earth’s surface.

The Greater Blue Mountains Area, over a million hectares of mountainous landscape and eucalypt forests just west of Sydney, as inscribed on the World Heritage List in December 2000. It was listed for its outstanding representation of Australia’s unique eucalypt vegetation, and for its exceptional biodiversity, including ancient species. It is an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep, inaccessible valleys and swamps teeming with life. It also contains globally significant ancient species such as the Wollemi Pine.

Purnululu National Park is located in the East Kimberley Region, where Australia’s tropical and arid zones meet. With its world famous Bungle Bungle beehive formations, it is one of Australia’s most recent World Heritage listings. It was inscribed in July 2003 for its outstanding universal natural and cultural heritage values.

The Royal Exhibition Building and the surrounding Carlton Gardens in Melbourne are the latest to achieve World Heritage listing, for their cultural value, in 2004. The building, Australia’s first to attain a World Heritage listing, reflects the globalinfluence of the international exhibition movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement showcased technological innovation and change, which helped promote a rapid increase in industrialisation and international trade through the exchange of knowledge and ideas.

The Sydney Opera House was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2007. The building, a masterpiece of late modern architecture by Jørn Utzon, was a daring and visionary experiment that has had an enduring influence on late 20th century architecture and beyond. Today, the Opera House is one of the busiest performing arts centres in the world, each year staging up to 2500 performances and events, drawing around 1.5 million patrons, and attracting an estimated four million visitors. It is instantly recognisable, and it fascinates, excites and attracts people from around the globe.

Caring for our country

In 2008, the Government committed $2.25 billion over five years for a new program to protect Australia’s unique natural environment and improve the sustainable management of our natural resources. Caring for our country promotes biodiversity, sustainable farm practices, natural resource management in remote and northern Australia and the development of community skills, knowledge and engagement in environmental protection. It supports our natural icons, coastal environments and critical aquatic habitats and the National Reserve System (a series of protected areas currently encompassing more than 11 per cent of Australia’s continental land area). Under the Caring for our country program, funding has been allocated for programs to protect the Great Barrier Reef, repair fragile coastal ecosystems, save the endangered Tasmanian Devil, fight the Cane Toad menace and control other feral animals and weeds, improve water quality in the Gippsland Lakes of southern Australia, employ additional Indigenous rangers, expand the Indigenous Protected Area network and assist Indigenous Australians enter the carbon trading market.

This fact sheet is also available to download (PDF)

last updated May 2008