The Territory is renowned for its big rivers full of barramundi and crocodiles, its vast deserts and woodlands that are home to unique and amazing wildlife, and its shallow seas are a refuge for dugong and sea turtles.
Globally significant conservation values
The Top End is the heart of the world’s largest relatively intact tropical savanna woodlands and grasslands, which stretches 3000 km between Cairns and Broome across Northern Australia. Patches of rainforest are seen along river banks and in coastal areas, and shelter in the deep sandstone gorges of the Arnhem Plateau.
Free-flowing rivers carry life giving waters through the long hot Dry Season from May to November. When the monsoon rains come, they rise in flood to inundate millions of hectares of floodplain wetlands. The floods re-set the clock for many species of wildlife.
The Arafura Sea and Gulf of Carpentaria are shallow tropical seas that scientists have rated as being the least disturbed shallow tropical seas in the world. They are home to six species of sea turtles, and provide a stronghold for these beautiful animals that are threatened in many other parts of their range worldwide.
Wildlife and ecosystems at risk
But the Territory’s wildlife and habitats face rising pressures, and need your help.
Habitat loss is primary driver of wildlife destruction. On the land this is caused by weeds, wildfire, feral animals, land clearing and over-grazing by cattle. The extinction crisis sweeping small and medium sized mammals is likely due to both habitat loss and degradation, as well as predation by cats, with even our best managed areas like Kakadu National Park not safe refuges.
The Territory sorely needs a network of protected areas across the land and river catchments that effectively conserves wildlife and habitat, supports the conservation economy, provides jobs to Indigenous Rangers, and stores carbon. Just 3.5% of the Territory is in National Parks and other reserves managed by the Territory Parks and Wildlife Service.
Effective on-ground management and strong partnerships have improved landscape management and turned around the loss of some species. For example, a gradual recovery of Gouldian finch populations is happening through better management of fire and exclusion of cattle from feeding areas. Millions of hectares of vegetation that was previously burned every year or two by hot wildfires is now being managed through cool-season burns to reinstate vegetation mosaics with differing fire histories. The removal of cattle and feral herbivores such as camels, donkeys or horses from riverbanks, springs and wetlands has cut erosion and helped wildlife to return and thrive.
In the marine environment, habitats and wildlife are damaged by bottom trawling, sewage and port pollution, agricultural run-off, ghost nets, and over-fishing by recreational anglers close to Darwin. But new threats are rapidly emerging, such as the risk of oil spills from rigs in the Arafura and Timor Seas, seabed mining and a new port and heavy industry on Maria Island in Limmen Bight.
That’s why we’re seeking a science-based network of marine parks, stronger action to cut sewage and port pollution, and a ban on seabed mining.
Despite the efforts of many landholders and agencies, most of our amazing waterways and wetlands are infested with aquatic ,weeds such as mimosa and para grass. Buffalo, pigs, camels and feral horses erode and pollute them as well. Top End rivers, which are almost completely free of introduced fish, are now at risk from tilapia, an exotic fish from Africa.
The development of large scale irrigation threatens some rivers, particularly the Daly, upper Roper and Keep Rivers, and there are long standing plans to dam the Adelaide River for a new water supply for greater Darwin. Plans by the federal Coalition to make the north the foodbowl of Asia add to these pressures.