Ediacaran dawn-of-life site in South Australia's Flinders Ranges to get national park protection

Ediacaran dawn-of-life site in South Australia's Flinders Ranges to be protected.

The internationally significant fossil site in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, described as the dawn of animal life, became part of the Ediacara Conservation Park in 2019. The Ediacara fossils found at Nilpena Station, about 500 kilometres north of Adelaide, are more than 500 million years old and some of the oldest examples of multicellular complex organisms.

The South Australian government signed agreements in 2019 to give the fossils more protection, on top of their national heritage listing. That included expanding the national park, starting a Flinders Ranges Ediacara Foundation, and a deal with the owners of Nilpena Station for the government to buy 60,000 hectares at the site.

The agreement cost $2.2 million but more than $500,000 is from philanthropists, mostly through the foundation that will promote and preserve the site. The protected site will be the centrepiece of the state government’s case for UNESCO world heritage listing of the Flinders Ranges.

The fossils were discovered in the Flinders Ranges by geologist Reg Sprigg in 1946, in an area known as the Ediacara Hills –  now the name of a geological period 645-542 million years ago. Scientists have identified fossil impressions of more than 40 species of animals on what was an ancient seabed seabed.

The United States’ NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) funded research at the site to learn how life might evolve on other planets. American geologist Mary Droser has returned to the site for more than 17 years to research the fossils that were featured in David Attenborough's Life documertary.

Nilpena Station owner Ross Fargher hoped to get more protections for the fossils that were discovered on the north edge of his property. The original discoverery site had been nearly totally stripped away. The Ediacara fossils, on open ground, are at risk of theft for the black market. Some have been stolen, including a piece worth about $600,000, found in a Tokyo warehouse in the 1990s.

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