Australia: 80% of Blue Mountains and 50% of Gondwana rainforests burn in bushfires
20 January 2020 | Adaptation
At least 80% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area and more than 50% of the Gondwana world heritage rainforests have burned in Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis.
The scale of the disaster is such that it could affect the diversity of eucalypts for which the Blue Mountains world heritage area is recognised, said John Merson, the executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute.
The data is based on a Guardian Australia analysis of areas burned in New South Wales and Queensland and was confirmed by the NSW government.
Australia reported in December that 20% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area had been affected by fire in the early months of the crisis.
Four times that amount has now burned in what Merson said were fires of a scale that “has never happened before”.
“This is totally, totally unique. As everybody keeps saying, it’s unprecedented,” he said.
The Blue Mountains world heritage area covers one million hectares of national park and bushland and is dominated by temperate eucalypt forest.
The area is renowned for the diversity of its vegetation and is home to about a third of the world’s eucalypt species.
While most are fire-adapted and can regenerate, many of the species depend on long intervals between fires, Merson said.
“We had a very large fire in 2013. It’s only six years after that,” he said.
“The eucalypts can be very badly reduced in diversity if fires come through in too short and intense intervals. Their numbers will virtually collapse.”
He said the full impact on tree species and wildlife would not be known until more assessments were done as fire grounds became accessible.
But there are concerns about the effect on breeding and feeding habitats for species including the spotted-tail quoll and the brush-tailed rock-wallaby.
The fires have also burnt swamp communities that release water slowly and are important water resources. They flow into streams that feed into Sydney’s water supply and provide water for wildlife.
It was revealed this week that a rescue mission by NSW fire crews was able to save the only known natural grove of Wollemi pines, so-called “dinosaur trees” that fossil records show existed up to 200m years ago.
Merson said the fires had entered areas that had not burnt previously and the need for the rescue mission was indicative of the intensity of the fires in the region.
“This is climate change in its most fundamental form,” he said.
“This is right in our face. We’re living it.”
Further north, the fires have devastated parts of the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area, a collection of reserves of subtropical rainforest that span 366,500 hectares across NSW and Queensland. 53% of the Gondwana rainforest area has burned.
Source: The Guardian