If you venture to the heart of Western Australia, you’ll find yourself in the Great Western Woodlands, a blossoming bullseye of biodiversity. As the world’s largest remaining Mediterranean woodland — a habitat type that has been cut down to less than 60 percent of its original range — this region is an irreplaceable natural treasure.
With nearly 40 million acres (15 million hectares) of native vegetation, the Great Western Woodlands are still largely intact, blanketing one percent of the Australian continent and supporting some of the world’s most unique and vulnerable ecosystems. The Nature Conservancy is part of an innovative collaboration between conservation groups, government, Indigenous communities and mining companies that is working to provide the Great Western Woodland’s people and wildlife with the tools to conserve their homes.
Located in the southwestern corner of Australia, the Great Western Woodlands form an area of global “mega-diversity,” meaning they contain a mind-bogglingly varied array of life. More than 20 percent of Australia’s plant species are found here. That figure includes hundreds of species of rare eucalypts and numerous types of banksias, plants with spiky flowers that serve as a life-sustaining food source for Australian birds, insects and even marsupials.
Iconic species — such as kangaroos, wallabies and emus — all dwell in the Great Western Woodlands. So do echidnas, turtle frogs and the malleefowl, a bird that creates massive nesting mounds that measure nine feet across. The Great Western Woodlands also support more than 30 threatened or near-threatened vertebrates, including the western quoll.
But these species could become even more threatened, as their home is besieged by environmental threats. In the decades following World War II, two thirds of the vegetation in southwestern Australia was cleared to make way for agriculture. Today, the region is beset by a different set of challenges, which include large-scale mining, habitat fragmentation, salinity, invasive species and climate change.
The Conservancy is helping to provide solutions for these challenges. The Great Western Woodlands lie at the eastern end of the Gondwana Link project area, where our scientists have been working for nearly a decade.
The Nature Conservancy is now working with partners to secure long-term conservation management for the woodlands by implementing key strategies such as:
Through these strategies, we are helping to guide the region’s conservation future and limit threats such as wildfires and infrastructure development across the vast majority of the woodlands.
Our work around the Great Western Woodlands extends beyond the region’s shrublands and forests. The Conservancy has been engaging the government to gain increased visibility for the region, contributing to and signing the Woodlands Declaration, a document urging immediate conservation action that was endorsed by more than 50 prominent Australian and international scientists. Also, a Conservancy-funded study found the Great Western Woodlands hold 95 million tons of stored carbon dioxide — that’s more than six times the amount of carbon the country emitted in 2008.
As an extension of our terrestrial work in the Great Western Woodlands, we’re working with the state of Western Australia, NGO partners and the fishing industry to designate more than 80 million acres of coastal areas as marine protected areas.
Those waters are crucial to the natural splendor of Australia, one of only five countries in the world with Mediterranean environments. We’re working throughout the Great Western Woodlands to keep that number at five — and you can help
Read Annamaria Weldon's prize-winning essay that won the first-ever Nature Conservancy Australia Nature Writing Prize.