Championing Conservation in Australia

The Gondwana Link region of southwestern Australia

Michael Looker is the director of The Nature Conservancy’s Australia program.

Why will you become a Conservation Champion?

For me, the answer’s simple. As a child, I recall watching my father go out into the garden each day after returning home from work. He tended a plot outside our house in suburban Melbourne, Australia, and he grew a variety of vegetables there that fed our family year-round.

As I myself grew, I confess that memory germinated into something far larger than my father could have predicted. Despite an initial impulse to study chemistry at university, I fell into botany. That led to London, where I studied every plant you could imagine at Kew Gardens; to my Ph.D. research, which found me writing about the patterns of variation in a single tree species which grows down the east coast of Australia; and, finally, a career in conservation.

Why conservation? For one thing, being abroad made me realise that there was a lot I could do using what I’d learned overseas back here in my own country. And it’s increasingly obvious that there’s still a lot—for all of us—to do.

Here in Australia, the environment is seemingly under threat from every direction. Climate change is increasing the risk of water scarcity and bushfires. Our mammal extinction rate is the world’s worst, and habitat loss and invasive species are further compounding the stress felt by the incredible landscapes that help define our national character.

I have the privilege of leading an organisation that confronts many of these issues, not only getting things done but getting them done at a large scale—but it’s that general lack of popular uproar that most worries me. I know that a great deal of Australians not only are affected by our deepening, shared environmental crisis but care deeply about fixing it. And, as The Nature Conservancy embarks on a new era here in Australia, we’re looking to give those Australians—people like you, hopefully—an opportunity to become Conservation Champions who protect our backyard and all the benefits it provides.

In Australia? Become a Conservation Champion today!

One of the problems is that we Australians don’t always live where the problems lie. These days, 61 percent of us live in Australia’s five biggest cities; a full 89 percent of us live in urban areas. Many of our most pressing environmental problems are not immediately apparent to those of us living in cities—it’s not until you get out into the dusty, desiccated country that you realize the impacts.

Of course, there is also amazing beauty out there in the bush, which is why it’s imperative that we act now. More than a decade ago, standing on a ridge in northwestern Victoria along the Murray River, I looked at the river red gums and expansive plains below me, which were already ailing, and I remember thinking: if we don’t acquire this property, this will all be wiped out.

The Nature Conservancy and the organisation I then worked for, Trust for Nature, did purchase that property—and today, through intelligent management, Ned’s Corner has made a remarkable comeback. It’s a cornerstone of the National Reserve System and it’s also become a hallmark of the Conservancy’s large-scale, high impact approach. Over the last decade, we’ve collaborated with a wide array of partners to support conservation efforts across more than 120 million hectares of Australia’s land and waters.  And we’ve assisted Indigenous groups with the protection of 13 million hectares of Indigenous Protected Areas across northern and central Australia.

But if we’re to achieve more than just local, isolated change—if we’re really serious about saving not just limited patches of land but our entire country—we need to broaden our thinking.

The Gondwana Link region of southwestern Australia

My aspiration is to have a culture that respects and cares for the environment, one that takes our natural resources into account whenever we act. We need to roll up our sleeves and become champions for conservation; we need to speak out for a crucial cause that’s languished in obscurity. In cities—where we don’t always see conservation but feel its effects whenever we pour a glass of water or visit the supermarket—we need to start raising our voices in defence of the natural resources to which we are intimately connected.

My father made that connection evident to me through his gardening. He was an aeronautic engineer by day, but he was a Conservation Champion as soon as he stepped into the garden. In the same way that he passed on a love of nature to me, I’m trying to do the same for my three children: I hope to leave them with a world every bit as magnificent as the one I’ve enthusiastically explored. I’m a Conservation Champion not only for the plants that have fascinated me all of my life, but also for my family.

So, I ask again: why will you become a Conservation Champion?

[First image: The Gondwana Link region of southwestern Australia. First image credit: Ami Vitale. Second image: Michael Looker. Second image credit: Heidi Taylor/TNC.]

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