The Great Victoria Desert is the largest desert in Australia, and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It’s located in Western Australia’s southern range-lands, and extends into the western half of South Australia. The Great Victoria is one of the 10 most notable Australian deserts. The Great Victoria Desert occupies an area of 161,680 square miles, and spans 435 miles at its longest extent, according to Australia’s Alinytjara Wilurara’s Natural Resources Management (NRM). The Great Victoria Desert is largely a weed-free landscape, though there are 9 threatened plant species in it, according to Australia’s Environment Department. Its landscape is dotted with seasonal, shallow playa lakes, as well as clay pans, red sand dunes, and stony plains. There are no permanent water sources in the Great Victoria Desert.
The Great Victoria Desert was named after the then-ruling United Kingdom monarch, Queen Victoria, by explorer Ernest Giles. Giles was the first ever explorer to crisscross it with his team on camels, doing so from May to November of 1875, according to South Australian History. David Lindsey was the next explorer to have crossed the Great Victoria Desert from North to South in 1891. Frank Hann then followed, traversing the desert from 1903 to 1908 in search of pastures suited for grazing and the presence of gold deposits. Len Beadell, a surveyor for the Australian Army, also crossed the desert as he worked in the building of the Anne Beadell Highway from 1953 to 1960. According to Australian Geographic, aboriginal communities have lived in the Great Victoria Desert for at least 15,000 years. Oak Valley, Watarru, and Walalkara are the parts of the desert where the largest of these communities live.
In Australia, according to the country’s government, desert tourism influences nearly all other the industries in the Great Victoria region, including their infrastructure and the quality of life among the populations there. Tours to deserts like the Great Victoria Desert contribute $94.8 million daily to the economy. This desert is endowed with unique flora and fauna, and many tourists and researchers visit here just to see them. Other tourists are more allured by the opportunity yo get to experience the aboriginal culture.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The climate at the Great Victoria Desert is characteristically arid, and the mean annual rainfall is in the range of 150 millimeters to 200 millimeters, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Summers are the hottest, with temperatures between 32 and 35 degrees Celsius. This climate sustains the open woodlands of eucalyptus gongylocarpa, pyriformis and socialis, casuarinas, and hummock grass, as well as Acacia aneura. There also are shrubs like Maireana sedifolia and Dodenaea attenuata to be found there. The Great Victoria Desert is home to 15 bird species, of which 4 are threatened, according to NRM. Some of these birds are the Princess parrot, Mallee fowl, and the Scarlet-Chested parrot. There also are 95 reptile species, 10 threatened mammal species, and the largest known population of Sandhill dunnarts (a small marsupial carnivore).
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Weapons testing ( especially nuclear) and mining are the main threats to the Great Victoria Desert's biodiversity, according to World Wildlife Fund. They pollute and cause vegetation to be cleared and fragmented, thereby destroying the desert’s ecological balance. Past nuclear tests conducted there between 1953 and 1963 left sections of the deserts in Maralinga and Emu contaminated with radionuclides. Plutonium-239 deposits in the long term also threaten the health of animals in the desert if inhaled, due to their long radioactive half-lives. Road building and vehicles being driven off of designated tracks also disrupt the desert ecosystems. As such, permits for off-trail drives are needed. Introduced animals like camels, rabbits, and house mice, which increase during rains, also feed on, and thereby take away from, native vegetation fed on by native mammals of the Great Victoria Desert.