World Commission on Protected Areas

WCPA Oceania

Lone hiker on Redcliff Beach in Yuraygir National Park, Australia


Penelope Figgis Photo: Penelope Figgis

IUCN WCPA Regional Vice Chair Oceania

Penelope FIGGIS


The IUCN Oceania region is geographically one of IUCN’s largest regions, some estimates say it covers a third of the earth’s surface. It contains the large nations of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, and the many small island states of the Pacific including American Samoa, Christmas Island, Cocos, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Gaum, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pitcairn, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis and Futuna Island. For a voluntary body like WCPA it is a challenging region given the immense distances, diverse nationalities and cultures and according to IUCN Oceania Office some over 7000 languages and dialects. The region varies greatly from Australia as the largest island in the world with a population of over 24million (2016) to tiny coral atoll states like Tokeau with a total population of 1000

Australia is an ancient, geologically stable, largely flat land with 70% of the land mass in arid zone with nutrient poor soils. It has an extreme climate affected by frequent droughts, severe cyclones and subject to frequent fire. It is a land of immense and unique biodiversity; 87% of our mammal species, 93% of reptiles, 94% of frogs and 45% of our bird species are found only in Australia.   Australian wildlife isvery well known from the bizarre platypus and thorny devil to the koala and iconic kangaroo. However, Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world: 30 native mammals have become extinct since European settlement. Conservation is immensely challenged in Australia by the familiar impacts of human settlement and land and sea use but also from a very serious problem of invasive plant and animal species and inappropriate fire regimes. It is also extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts particularly given its scarcity of fresh water.

New Zealand drifted away from the landmass that included the modern continents of Antarctica and Australia around 80 million years ago. This remarkable isolation meant plants and animals evolved into distinctive species, found nowhere else in the world. New Zealand became a land of birds, a land of ancient forest but not of mammals like Australia.

It is a land of mountains, glaciers, fiords and towering volcanoes. It is beset by fairly frequent earthquakes being located on the unstable Pacific Rim of Fire. It is a land of rich fresh water resources of rivers and wetlands. Since the arrival of humans in New Zealand around 1000 years ago the rate of decline of species and habitats has accelerated enormously. Polynesian settlers brought the first terrestrial mammals - dogs and rats and the arrival of European settlers in the late 18th century also brought species and plants which often overwhelmed their natural competitors. These introduced species remain a huge threat to New Zealand’s biodiversity however it has also led to New Zealanders becoming renowned experts on the eradication of invasive species.  

The Pacific Ocean island states are generally very low lying small islands surrounded by large marine Exclusive Economic Zones. The Pacific is an immensely rich ocean with the most coral reef species in the world and more marine species than any other ocean basin, however it is heavily exploited with 70% of the global fish catch from the Pacific and fishing activities impacting on other non-target species.

The estimate 25,000 relatively small islands have a high rate of endemic species including 2,000 species that are only found in one of the Pacific island countries. However these niche species are extremely vulnerable to human impacts and almost half of those are threatened.  The deforestation rate is higher than the global average, harming protective forests and coastal wetlands.   

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