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Welcome to a comprehensive guide to Australia's Greatest Natural Resource. The wilderness can be part of our lives, if only for a few days each year, and nowhere else is it easier to realize that than in Australia. For Australia has one of the largest and greatest national park systems in the world, covering over 24 million hectares, with such diversity as lush rain forest to waterless desert.

The outstanding natural and cultural values of our national parks have led to many being proclaimed World Heritage Area's. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come each year, to experience the wilderness, and to learn about the Aboriginal Dreamtime - something that little of us know anything about, and which is perhaps one of humanities greatest secrets.

Australia is the driest continent in the world and is part of a former giant land mass, Gondwana, which connected the southern continents of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India and South America, and broke up more than 100 million years ago.

More than 58 million hectares (ha) of protected areas cover about 7.55 per cent of Australia's continental land area. In addition to the national parks on the mainland, there are others located on Australia's external territories, including Norfolk Island (650 ha), Christmas Island (8952 ha), Pulu Keeling (2602 ha), Heard and McDonald Islands (1 138 260 ha) and the Australian Antarctic Territories (1 153 610 ha). With these areas included, a total of 60.4 million ha (7.85 per cent) of Australia's land area is protected.

Under the Australian Constitution, the creation and management of national parks and other nature conservation areas is the responsibility of State governments. However, 15 parks and reserves are administered by the federal government.

Five hundred and sixteen national parks cover 3.42 per cent of the land surface (25.7 million ha) and are registered under federal and State legislation. In addition, more than 2700 designated conservation areas are found all over Australia and cover 3.57 per cent of the land surface. They include fauna and flora reserves, conservation parks, environment parks and Aboriginal areas as well as national parks. These too are protected by federal or State legislation.

There are also 145 marine protected areas, which cover almost 38 million ha. They range from Commonwealth Marine Parks, such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, to fish habitat reserves, fish sanctuaries, aquatic reserves, conservation areas, marine parks and marine and coastal parks. Of these, the federal government has responsibility for 19 areas, New South Wales eight, the Northern Territory three, South Australia 15, Tasmania three, Victoria three, Western Australia 13 and Queensland 81.

Australia has 11 World Heritage properties, totalling 42.6 million ha. Each contains outstanding universal values. Most are also designated as national parks.



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