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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Australia a global leader in biodiversity knowledge

Media release
PG/344
29 September 2009

Download the PDF

Environment Minister Peter Garrett today released the only report in the world to document the planet's known animal and plant species - all 1,899,587 of them.

"This work by Australian scientists, which has been praised by internationally acclaimed naturalist Sir David Attenborough, is a fantastic contribution to the global fight to conserve biodiversity," Mr Garrett said.

"It also gives us new insight into how valuable Australia's plants and animals are, revealing we have even more unique mammals, reptiles and plants than we previously had thought.

"For example, the figures in this report, updated for the first time in 20 years, show 87 per cent of our mammals and 93 per cent of our reptiles are found nowhere else in the world.

"The report shows that the science of species discovery is alive and well - in the past three years in Australia, we've discovered 48 reptiles, eight frogs, eight mammals, 1,184 flowering plants and 904 spiders, mites and scorpions.

"But we have a long way to go - we have discovered and named only about a quarter of Australia's estimated number of flora and fauna. We need this essential information to do a better job of managing our biodiversity against the threats of invasive species, habitat loss and climate change.

Mr Garrett announced a new $1.2 million partnership between the report's publishers, the Australian Biological Resources Study, and BHP Billiton to name and describe 500 reef species over the next three years.

"This is a great partnership between government and industry to build our scientific knowledge, " Mr Garrett said.

"This work will add value to the CReefs project, a four-year quest to discover new species at three Australian tropical reefs: Heron and Lizard Islands on the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia," Mr Garrett said.

"The Australian Institute of Marine Science is leading the species discovery, BHP Billiton is funding the expeditions, and the Australian Government and BHP are each contributing $600,000 over three years to ensure the discovered species are named and described. Cash and in-kind contributions from the grantees takes the total investment to $2.7 million."

To download a copy of the Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World report visit: www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/index.html

Attachment 1: Statement from Sir David Attenborough on Numbers of Living Species

Attachment 2: Details on scientists funded by ABRS and BHP Billiton or visit www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/funding-and-research/creefs-grants/index.html

Attachment 1

Statement from Sir David Attenborough on Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World

‘The identification and naming of species is the very foundation of the natural sciences. Unless we can be certain of exactly what organism we are considering, we cannot protect it, still less understand it. Listing species is the beginning of that essential process. So this report will provide a crucial reference point for all those who are acting to protect our planet for future generations. I congratulate all those involved in producing it.'

25 September 2009.

Attachment 2

Details on scientists funded by ABRS and BHP Billiton

Dr John Hooper, Queensland Museum ($90,000 p.a.) – octocorals (soft corals)

Octocorals provide pivotal ecological services, removing significant wastes from the ecosystem. They have also a demonstrated economic value, as sources of new bioactive compounds with potential therapeutic applications. Dr Hooper and his team have collected around 300 octocoral species so far, with a large number of new species amongst these to be described. With participation in future CReefs expeditions, this number may eventually exceed 500 species.

Dr Rob Adlard, Queensland Museum ($90,000 p.a.) – coral reef fish parasites

Fish parasites (e.g. flatworms, tapeworms) represent at least one-third of the total animal diversity of coral reef ecosystems, but are a rarely-seen, cryptic component. These infections pose significant challenges in the commercial fishing sector and are also of concern for Australia’s biosecurity. Dr Adlard will collect 20 species of previously unexplored fish, resulting in about 50 new species of parasites.

Dr Niel Bruce, Museum of Tropical Queensland ($70,000 p.a.) – isopods (crustacean)

Marine isopods are known as the ‘vultures of the sea’ and perform and important role vacuum cleaning the seabed. Dr Bruce aims to describe 35-50 new species and redescribe 8-10 genera.

Dr Pat Hutchings, Australian Museum ($90,000 p.a.) – polychaetes (marine worms)

Marine worms play an important role in bio-erosion of reefs, providing a food supply for many organisms, recycle nutrients and breakdown organic matter. Dr Hutchings will describe at least 20 new species and new records, and 1 or 2 two new genera.

Dr Carlos (Fred) Gurgel, University of Adelaide ($70,000 p.a.) – algae

Marine macroalgae are one of the most important organisms in coral reefs. Dr Gurgel and his team will describe about 150 species of red algae.

Commonwealth of Australia