When people think of Australia, the first things they probably think of are cuddly koalas and the Great Barrier Reef. They probably never think of cows.
Our image is very different to reality. While the koala population has dropped to around 48,000 in the wild, the population of cows has risen sharply to 25,000,000. That’s roughly the same as the human population. The largest cause of the koala’s decline is clear cutting of their homes, the forests. Of these 25 million cows, 11.7 million are found in the cattle capital of Australia, Queensland. There are more than twice as many cows in Queensland as humans. 98% of Australian cows are grass fed and this is much better for the cows themselves. Unfortunately, the effect on the wild animals in Australia is terrible.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) included eastern Australia as one of 11 deforestation hotspots worldwide. Australia is the only developed nation on this list. Between 1988 – 2015, forest the size of 11 million rugby fields was cut down for pasture. That’s 3/4 of a rugby field every minute. 91% of all this land was cleared for pasture.
Government introduced land clearing laws in 2006 and clearing slowed down. Unfortunately, the Liberal National Party reversed these laws in 2013 and the clearing continued.
There are 5 million cows in New South Wales. The situation there isn’t much better.
Clearing forests is a disaster for wildlife. The trees release carbon when they are cut down. Also, the soil underneath them contains tons of carbon that also escapes. This carbon isn’t included in livestock’s official greenhouse gas figures. Therefore, livestock’s official emissions in Australia are much less than scientists say. The official record is 10%, but some scientists believe this number to be about 50%.
The tree clearing also affects the Great Barrier Reef: The world’s largest living thing.
How do cows affect the reef?
Large scale clearing causes soil to enter streams and rivers. This soil is washed into the seas around the reef.
75% of the reef’s sediment is from beef production. Additionally, 54% of the phosphorus and 40% of the nitrogen are also from Australia’s beef industry. Coral reefs require sunlight for growth. When the waters around the reef are heavy with sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen, sunlight is blocked out. This has caused the outbreak of Crown of Thorns starfish, allowed algae to take over, and other coral diseases.
If Australia continues to cut down trees to graze cows, then the days of the cuddly koala and Great Barrier Reef are numbered.