The natural environment, human wellbeing, and economic progress are strongly linked. It is therefore important to have good information about the health of our natural resources and trends in environmental quality.
The outlook for the South Australian environment is strongly linked to global climate change, ongoing and future patterns of economic activity as well as to the effectiveness of the range of measures by government at all levels, business and industry, the community and individuals to protect and improve the natural environment
Population and economic growth have major impacts on the environment, particularly in urban areas. South Australia’s population increased by 4.5% (about 70 000 people) between 2006 and 2011—the largest increase since the early 1970s. The economy also continued to grow, fuelled by exports of food and minerals. Nearly 40% of South Australia’s exports are agricultural products reliant on healthy soils and adequate water.
Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to increase. In South Australia, emissions per person have decreased from 2006–07 to 2011–12 but remain high in comparison with the world average. Wide-ranging effects of climate change are already being seen, and more challenging changes are expected. Global average temperatures rose by just over 0.7° C from 1910 to 2009, with further increases in average and extreme temperatures expected. Average rainfall has declined in southern Australia since 1970; this trend is likely to persist with obvious implications for future water supplies and agriculture.
South Australia’s water resources and trends in water quantity and quality are critical issues for the state’s future, particularly given the changes in rainfall expected as climate change progresses. Since the previous state of the environment report in 2008, total and per person water use decreased with water restrictions and more efficient use. Agriculture remains the largest consumer of the state’s water. The diversity of water sources has increased, including wastewater recycling, stormwater reuse and desalination. South Australia has the highest percentage of households with rainwater tanks in Australia.
South Australia has many important and endemic species. The state’s biodiversity has been greatly altered and affected by historic human activities, including largescale clearance of vegetation for settlement and farming. The trend in status of 20 indicator species is variable to positive and there has been an increase in the number of recovery plans and actions. However, the status of threatened species and ecological communities remain poor and is declining, with the number of threatened species and ecological communities increasing.
The coast and adjacent marine waters are subject to a diverse range of pressures including pollution from wastewater and stormwater, physical development, commercial and recreational fishing, shipping, and aquaculture. Better regulation and management practices have seen a decrease in impacts from aquaculture from nutrients, disturbance and waste. However, an assessment of coastal regions found the extent and condition of coastal ecosystems is highly variable and declining. In spite of an increase in marine protected areas, the condition of habitats and species in marine parks and sanctuary zones is also declining.
The state of the environment report, produced by the Environment Protection Authority, assesses the condition of South Australian environmental resources, identifies trends in environmental quality, and reviews the effects of programs and activities that aim to protect, restore and improve the environment.
The 2013 report reveals mixed results in the condition of the state’s natural assets and trends in environmental quality over the last five years.
There is good news—such as sustained growth in generation of renewable energy, more efficient use of water and electricity, and continued increases in recycling.
There is also cause for concern—such as further decline of already poor biodiversity, increased use of natural resources, increased average temperatures, increased development and industrial activity in sensitive areas such as the coastal zone, increased use of private motor vehicles, reduced water flows for the natural environment from the River Murray, and changes in the acidity, salinity and temperature of the marine environment.