Fires Engulf Australian Lands

By: Jinyi Hu (Correspondent)

Australia is on fire, spelling out a huge loss in natural biodiversity and devastation for Australia’s residents.

The devastating wildfires have swept through at least 27 million acres of land, which is more than five times the land area of Massachusetts, killing 30 people and burning 2,500 homes. Additionally, an estimated one billion animals are reportedly dead, according to Chris Dickman, a biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney.

Australia is home to over 300 native species of mammals, including 244 species of marsupials, monotremes, and placentals. Of these three major groups of living mammals, 81 percent are found exclusively in Australia. Needless to say, the continent is teeming with a rich, diverse collection of organisms, which makes the fires even more damaging to its biodiversity. 

“It’s been pretty brutal. I have family in Australia and they shared this story about a koala which begged for water despite the fact that they typically hate interacting with humans,” said Alysha Posternak, a senior at Sharon High School.

“Hundreds of species have been affected by these fires,” said Sarah Legge, an ecologist at the Australian National University, in an interview with Vox. “That includes many dozens of threatened species; some of these will be brought to the brink of extinction as a result of this event. And if they’re not made extinct by this event, I think this is the beginning of the end for them. Because this event will reoccur. It’s awful. It will be ecosystem collapse in a lot of cases. And we’re not exactly sure what we’ll end up with at the end of it all.”

“The whole concept of an ecosystem is about connectivity,” said ecologist Manu Saunders of the University of New England in Australia. “Across whole forests there are millions of individuals, and hundreds of different species in those forests that all rely on each other. And if you lose one, it’s like a link in a chain, you then lose the others that it is connected to.”

“The fire has also burned some habitats that just … don’t burn normally. Some of the [UNESCO] listed subtropical rainforests along the Queensland-New South Wales border have burned. And we don’t even know how it can recover from fire because in our experience, in our living knowledge, they don’t burn,” added Legge.

“Some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world,” said the University of Sydney in a statement on the loss of wildlife due to the fires.

According to the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the bushfires have released around 400 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The smoke of the fires have also been damaging to the residents of Australia.

“The pace at which the bushfires have spread and the subsequent heavy smoke have made it difficult for emergency services to access and evacuate some communities, at times forcing residents to flee to beaches and other water bodies to avoid impact and await rescue,” reported the Red Cross on January 8th. 

“Power, fuel, and food supplies have been severely interrupted to some communities and road closures have been common,” the Red Cross added. “This has resulted in some communities being isolated, or only accessible by air or sea (when smoke conditions allow).”

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s 2018 State of the Climate report, the 1° C increase in Australia’s climate since 1910 has resulted in “a long-term increase in extreme fire weather, and in the length of the fire season, across large parts of Australia.”

“[The wildfires] are a symptom of a much larger problem, so if people want to help, the best thing to do would be to push for more action on climate change,” said Posternak.

Despite the shocking destruction that the fires have caused, the government has been reluctant to acknowledge the role that Australia’s coal trade plays in more extreme natural disasters.

“The suggestion that any way shape or form that Australia, accountable for 1.3% of the world’s emissions, that the individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in November 2019.

“I’m honestly shocked by the lack of concern by the general public and the American media for the Australian wildfires. The millions of animals, homes, wildlife that are being destroyed by the second should have a bigger impact on our media. I think a factor might be our current ignorance of global warming and environmental issues,” said senior Deepti Murthy. 

To help with recovery efforts in Australia, consider donating to the WWF, Australian Red Cross, New South Wales Rural Fire Service, the Country Fire Service Foundation in South Australia, or the Country Fire Authority in Victoria.

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