Location and Values: The Tasmanian Wilderness occupies 20% of the land area of the island of Tasmania, lying off the southeastern coast of the Australian continent. It covers an extensive contiguous complex of conservation areas in the southwest of the island, including the major national parks of Cradle Mountain Lake St Clair, Walls of Jerusalem, Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers, Southwest and Mount Field National Parks as well as the Central Plateau Conservation Area. The world heritage site encompasses most of the last temperate rainforest in Australia, combining ancient ‘relict’ species originating on the Gondwana supercontinent (such as the southern beech), with extensive tracts of tall Eucalypt forests more characteristic of Australia’s modern-day vegetation. The Tasmanian Wilderness includes large areas of rocky glaciated mountain terrain, alpine meadows and moorlands, highland lakes, swamps, wild rivers and a long rugged coastline. It provides habitat for some of Australia’s most iconic species – such as the platypus and echidna (egg-laying monotreme mammals) as well as the Tasmanian Devil and quoll (carnivorous marsupials) – and its flora and fauna includes an exceptionally high proportion of endemic species, known only from Tasmania.
Conservation Status and Threats. According to IUCN’s most recent Conservation Outlook Assessment (December 2020) the conservation status of the Tasmanian Wilderness is considered to be ‘good, with some concerns’. The exceptional values which are recognized by the site’s inscription on the World Heritage List are not seriously threatened, but a number of issues affecting conservation of the Tasmanian Wilderness are noteworthy, including:
- Climate change. The impacts of climate change are not yet fully understood but may already be responsible for a broad range of changes, increasing the vulnerability of species and habitats to irreversible change. It is expected that climate change will result in (1) sea level rise, (2) the risk of increased fire frequency and intensity due to a general rise in temperatures and increasing drought, (3) increased frequency of severe weather events such as storms, and (4) increases in the populations of alien species, including pathogens.
- Fire. Although fire is a natural feature of the Tasmanian Wilderness, there has been a significant increase in its frequency, intensity and extend over recent decades. If the current trend of landscape-scale fires continues, permanent damage to some of the site’s key attributes (ancient land forms, endemic species, alpine vegetation) is inevitable. In montane and subalpine areas, a change in fire regimes may threaten the survival of fire-sensitive endemic trees such as Huon, Pencil and King Billy Pines, while fire-sensitive palaeoendemic species of the higher alpine zones, such as Pherosphaera hookeriana, Diselma archeri and deciduous beech may also be threatened.
- Invasive alien species. Alien plants and animals are displacing native species and altering habitats in the Tasmanian Wilderness. Amongst the many invasive plants, marram grass and sea spurge are threatening coastal habitats and geomorphological processes while inland areas are affected by species such as blackberry, gorse, ragwort, broom, Canadian pond weed and holly. Amongst the problem animals, 25 vertebrate and 45 invertebrate invasive alien species are recognized including brown trout, common starling, superb lyrebird, European rabbit, feral cat, sugar glider, European wasp and honeybee. Some of these species compete with indigenous species for nesting sites, while others alter the native vegetation or prey on threatened native species.
- Spread of plant and animal pathogens and diseases. Plant diseases and dieback are becoming a major threat, especially the root rot disease Phytophthora cinnamomi. The spread of pathogens has been facilitated by improvements in road and hiking trail access throughout the Tasmanian Wilderness. Four amphibian species in Tasmania are at risk of extinction from amphibian chytrid fungus disease (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), while populations of Tasmanian Devils have suffered a decline of over 75% in some parts of Tasmania (outside the world heritage site) due to the lethal Devil Facial Tumour Disease.
- Development of inappropriate tourism infrastructure. As visitor demand increases so does pressure for development of tourism infrastructure and associated mechanised access to remote areas of the Tasmanian Wilderness (including access by helicopter). This clearly impacts on the wilderness character of the world heritage site.
Official UNESCO Site Details
IUCN Conservation Outlook
UNEP-WCMC Site Description