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Protection and Preservation of Australia’s Palaeontological Heritage

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Australia’s rich and diverse fossil heritage includes many unique and world famous localities of critical importance to palaeontology. Though some sites are well managed and adequately protected, others, due to their remoteness and difficulties associated with 24-h policing, have suffered from vandalism or theft. Under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, designed to prevent the export of culturally and scientifically valuable material, Federal (Commonwealth of Australia) law only protects fossil specimens, rather than the localities at which they occur. Several iconic sites have attained World Heritage recognition. Legislation to protect palaeontological sites varies considerably across state and territorial jurisdictions, ranging from inclusion in National Parks to local reserves created specifically to preserve fossils. Unfortunately, some of the latter completely lack any protective measures and only serve to highlight the existence of collectable specimens. In Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania, collection of fossils is partly restricted under regulations governing fossicking, whereas in the other Australian states and territories, the legal situation regarding collecting requires clarification. In legislating against unregulated exploitation and potential destruction of fossil sites, and developing mechanisms to protect scientifically valuable specimens, governments should be wary of imposing restrictions against collecting which would deny the public their right to enjoyment of fossils as a recreational and educational hobby. The PaleoParks initiative, developed by the International Paleontological Association, provides a model with a flexible approach to site preservation and collecting (where appropriate) with a minimum of bureaucratic management.

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I thank an anonymous colleague for their review. The views expressed in this paper on the management of palaeontological heritage and related matters are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions nor policies of the government department of which I am an employee. This paper is published with the approval of the Executive Director, NSW Resources and Energy.

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Correspondence to Ian G. Percival.

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Percival, I.G. Protection and Preservation of Australia’s Palaeontological Heritage. Geoheritage 6, 205–216 (2014).

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