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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2013

12 - Plant diversity II – the greening of the land

from Theme 3 - Applying scientific method – understanding biodiversity


The end of Eden – extinctions in the Australian flora

In April 1770, Lieutenant James Cook's ship Endeavour sailed into a natural harbour on the east coast of Australia, south of where Sydney now stands. Cook, originally struck by the number of stingrays, named it ‘Stingray Bay’. Later, impressed by the many plants collected by the ship's naturalists, Joseph Banks, Daniel Solander and Herman Spöring, he renamed it ‘Botany Bay’.

Cook was rightly impressed. We know now that about 90% of the Australian flora is endemic, occurring nowhere else in the world. Wildflower tourism is important in the domestic economy and the international market in Australian cut flowers is valued at more than $440 million annually. Ironically, only about 10% of that revenue is generated locally. The rest comes from countries with extensive horticultural enterprises, such as Israel. Australia also has industries based on products such as timber and eucalyptus oil, but they too are challenged by overseas growers of Australian plants.

Today, Botany Bay, where the first great collection of Australian plants was made, is the site of Sydney's Kingsford Smith airport, but the headlands are protected in the Botany Bay National Park. The park's management plan stresses preserving sites of historical significance, and endangered species and ecological communities. The issue of conservation in the face of development occurring at Botany Bay is reflected throughout Australia.