Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.
Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

Garrett puts spotlight on Darkwood

A RAFT of species never before documented by scientists have been identified at the headwaters of the Bellinger River.

The critters, fish, bugs and plants that are now being described and named were in the spotlight yesterday when the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett officially launched the ground-breaking project which has lead to their discovery.

With magnificent pristine rainforest and crystal clear waters, babbling at his back Mr Garrett revealed the initiative is called Bush Blitz – a pioneering three-year multi-million dollar partnership to document the plants and animals in properties across Australia’s National Reserve System.

“Bush Blitz is nature discovery on a huge scale,” Mt Garrett said.

“Teams of scientists will scour hundreds of reserves and expect to find hundreds of species that are completely new to science,” he said.

When you consider Australia’s reserves system – its network of national parks, nature reserves and protected areas – is bigger than the land masses of England, Germany and New Zealand combined, it’s not inconceivable that many thousands of species are yet to be discovered.

“Australia is home to more than 560,000 native species yet only one-quarter of this biodiversity has been scientifically documented,” Mr Garrett said.

“At the beginning of the International Year of Biodiversity I’m very pleased to say that Australia is leading the world in trying to understand what species are in our reserves system. This is a world-first project,” he said.

Its launch in a world-class setting a six-hour walk upstream from the last properties on Darkwood Road was no accident.

For the past few days, 13 scientists including botanists, zoologists and entomologists have been camped on the banks of the Bellinger River ‘blitzing’ the area. They’ve found at least seven fish that had never before been described, brown tree snakes not previously known to be in the area, plus a multitude of insects which they will study in depth and even DNA bar-code when they return to their laboratories in Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne.

They’ll pack up their camp later this week, but the plan is for six major blitzes or surveys across the country each year. The Federal Government is contributing $6 million to Bush Blitz over the next three years and BHP Billiton has chipped in with $4 million. Members of the innovative partnership are the not-for-profit conservation research organisation Earthwatch and the National Scientific Reference Site Network.

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