Sydney – red sand, endless remote landscape, in the middle of the famous massif of Uluru: the interior of Australia fascinates and makes long-distance travelers from all over the world curious. But for the country and its people, the dry center is a real challenge.
Because of the harsh living conditions, they are sparsely populated. According to a 2016 statistic, 85 percent of Australians live within 50 kilometers of the coast. Because in the so-called outback, which makes up 70 percent of Australia, desert-like conditions can reign with temperatures over 40 degrees.
Therefore, environmentalists and companies are interested in the question of whether the red continent can at least partially turn green again using modern technologies in order to defy the worst consequences of climate change. Droughts, devastating fires, record temperatures, floods – humans and animals constantly face new disasters. There have been particularly devastating bushfires in the Australian summer of 2019/2020.
Planting trees with drones
The young Australian company AirSeed now wants to plant millions of trees by 2024 – from the air. These are the places where fires most severely attack the vegetation cover. The company, which was founded in 2019, works with environmental scientists to create cultivation patterns and produce capsules containing seeds and nutrients, which are then dropped from drones in a designated area. “Our main task is to restore lost biodiversity by planting native trees, shrubs and grass species,” said managing director Andrew Walker of dpa. “Everything we grow should benefit the local ecosystem.”
The drone can reach the most remote areas. “Our approach is about 25 times faster and 80 percent more cost-effective than manual cultivation methods,” Walker said. So far, AirSeed has planted 150,000 trees in this way, and hundreds of thousands will follow in the coming months.
Reforest Now is also committed to reforestation – however, the organization is not for remote areas, but for parts of the rainforest in the tropical north and in the subtropical northeast. “We don’t do it because it’s easy, but because we live in the world’s driest continent, and reforestation is sorely needed,” the site says.
The organization wants to build a network of seed collectors
The work of Greening Australia, a non-profit company that has been around for 40 years, is a broader business. Through projects that include restoring damaged remote habitats, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and green cities, the organization wants to achieve its vision of “healthy and productive landscapes where people and nature thrive”. Among other things, environmentalists want to build a national network of seed collectors and at the same time find new ways to produce local seeds.
But the climatic conditions are difficult and cannot be calculated. “Australia is a dry continent. There are many years of drought and then torrential rain,” says Glenda Wardle, professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Sydney. So out of bad circumstances come the sudden opportunities where they are green.”
But the scientist – who heads a research group on desert environment – is skeptical about the permanent greening of arid and semi-arid hinterland. “It’s probably a misconception that Australia can go artificially green permanently,” she says. There is rainwater and groundwater, but the resources are limited. To keep the desert green, you’ll need a steady supply – and there isn’t one. “
However, it is a good idea to replant the devastated areas “with similar native species and with similar density.” However, afforestation isn’t always the right answer: “We shouldn’t plant forests where they don’t belong,” Wardle says. Instead, it must be ensured that no other areas are trimmed or otherwise modified.
The organization privately buys endangered ecosystems
Bush Heritage Australia is committed to preserving endangered lands. It was founded in 1991 by green politician Bob Brown with the goal of purchasing and preserving particularly endangered ecosystems. Meanwhile, 39 reserves with a total area of 1.2 million hectares have already been purchased. In addition, the organization works with indigenous and other landowners to help protect millions of hectares of land.
“We have quite a few national parks and nature reserves, but there are still a lot of landscapes that are either completely unprotected or insufficiently protected,” says ecologist Ank Frank. The German lives and works on one of the protected lands – the 233,000-hectare Bilonga Reserve in the Simpson Desert of Queensland, traditionally owned by the indigenous Wangkamadla people.
For example, the cinefix weeds that grow in a circle and spread in arid regions are protected here. “The grass provides a lot of protection,” Ank Frank says. “It’s very prickly and predators have trouble catching the animals underneath.” But if there is a lot of forest, then the grass on the lawn will be crushed and destroyed by cattle, for example. The expert is convinced: Reforestation in the wrong place can spoil the ecosystem – or even destroy it.
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