Australia’s desert heartlands are known for their dramatic reddish sands and Uluru rocks, but the area is sparsely populated by the harsh living conditions.
The outback is home to 70% of Australia, but because of the desert climate, 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coast, according 2016 statistics.
Is technology able to help at least partially regreen this hot, dry central area? Environmentalists have been asking this question for years.
Australian animals and people are all at risk from environmental disasters such as droughts, fires that can cause massive destruction, record temperatures, floods, or even famine. In the 2019 summer season, the country was particularly affected by bushfires.
AirSeed, a brand new Australian company, is now planning to plant millions of trees in 2024. The firm plans to drop seeds from the sky onto areas where vegetation is already dead or destroyed by clearing and fires.
The company collaborated with ecologists to design planting patterns and produce seed and nutrient capsules for drones that drop in the chosen area.
Andrew Walker, AirSeed’s boss, stated to dpa that AirSeed’s core mission “is to restore lost biodiversity at large by planting native species trees, shrubs, and grasses that will be beneficial to a particular ecosystem.”
Drones can reach remote areas and are very promising.
Walker states that the solution is 25 times faster than manual methods and 80% cheaper than manual planting. There are hundreds of thousands more to come in the months ahead.
Reforest Now is also committed towards reforestation but isn’t focusing on the outback. Instead, it plans to plant trees in the rainforests of the tropical north and subtropical Northeast of the country.
Reforest Now states on its website that “We do not do this because it is easy, but because we live in the driest continent of Earth and it is desperately in need of reforestation.”
Greening Australia, a non-profit founded 40 years ago, has a wider approach. It works to restore habitats in the outback and protect the Great Barrier Reef. The organization is committed to creating “healthy, productive landscapes that allow people and nature to thrive”.
This team is also focused on seeds. They are looking to establish a national network to collect seeds and to find new ways to grow native seeds.
But, the country’s climatic conditions can be unpredictable and difficult.
“Australia is a dry country. It has rainfall that is unpredictable and in large amounts.”We have many years of dry and then a lot of rain – it goes from poor conditions for production and then suddenly opportunity where it’s greening up.”
Wardle heads a research group on desert ecology. He has doubts about the possibility of re-greeting arid and semiarid outback areas.
“It is probably an erroneous belief that you can artificially plant Australia,” she said.”Yes, rain water is available, and ground water is also available, but it’s finite. A constant supply is necessary to keep a desert healthy. But that supply would be hard to find.
She says it’s still a good idea to plant again with similar mixtures and densities.
However, not all foresting solutions are the best.
“We don’t want to make forests where they shouldn’t be,” Wardle says. Wardle states that we must take care to ensure that other areas are not deforested or modified. Bush Heritage Australia was established by Bob Brown, Greens politician. Its mission is to preserve and buy ecosystems that are especially endangered. 39 reserves totalling 1.2 million hectares were acquired since 1991 when the company was founded.
The group also works closely with indigenous landowners to help preserve millions more acres.
Anke Frank, an ecologist, said that although there are some national parks or nature reserves, there are still too many landscapes not protected at all.
She lives in the 233,000ha Pilungah Reservation in Queensland’s Simpson Desert. This protected area, which has historically belonged to the Wangkamadla Aborigines, is where she lives and works.
She says that the common circular spinifex grasses in arid areas are protected.
“It’s very prickly. Predators have a problem trapping animal under it.”
However, too much forestation can lead to the grass being trampled by livestock and even destroyed. – dpa