Australia has always been a land of droughts and flooding rains and this past year (2021-2022) was no exception. Climate change is now here. The outlook for the Australian environment is not good and we can already see the heavy impacts of climate change on the Georges River catchment.

The bad news is, as predicted, we are seeing an increase in temperatures, heavier and more frequent rainfall events, floods, pathogens and pest species. Waterways and marine environments are increasing in temperature and intermittent flows.

The Australian environment is very resilient to extreme conditions as it has always had to manage and respond to various extreme events, such as droughts, fires, floods, and cyclones to name a few. However, what has changed is the frequency or the rate of change, being too fast for the natural environment (flora, fauna, macroinvertebrates, fungi etc.) to adapt. Species cannot evolve fast enough to compete with the rate of climate change.

The definition of ecological resilience is the ability of the species or ecosystem to survive, recover and maintain ecosystem functions after episodic destruction. To assist the environment to become more resilient there are several things we (the local community, visitors and governments) can do.

Governance is more important than ever and funding grants for environmental works need to be 3 years in duration, at a minimum, and ideally 10 to 20 years to ensure consistency and ecological resilience is established. We need to identify the natural areas in all urban, peri-urban, rural and regional locations, where we can save (through preservation, protection, enhancements, rehabilitation and legislation) and those we cannot (severely degraded). Areas that have any form of natural resilience should be identified and managed accordingly.

Regeneration projects which are going to survive in these extreme conditions should be identified, valued and frequently monitored. It would be wise to invest in many remediations and natural measures like artificial water sources, habitats, hollows and nesting sites to increase fecundity and ensure the survival of as many species (flora and fauna) and ecological areas as possible.

Nevertheless, extreme weather events can present opportunities, like the recent floods, which emphasised the vulnerable and resilient areas of the catchment so we can target and manage these areas accordingly. Extreme weather events like bushfires mean we can get into areas otherwise inaccessible and eradicate and/or reduce weed and pest species. Pathogens and pest species will also increase if climate changes continue on this predicted path without intervention, so it is best that we try and eradicate them now.

As we have seen around the world, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, plants and animals took advantage of the absence of people. Insects flourished, African penguins and loggerhead turtles bred more successfully, the famous Venetian canals ran crystal clear and the water quality improved in the Ganges River. There is still hope and possibility, however the window to slowing, stopping and reversing climate change is rapidly closing.