Most Australians think climate change is real, about two-thirds view themselves as environmentalists "at heart", and just over half say the government should not allow new coal mines in the country, according to data gathered by WWF and Roy Morgan.
Combining attitudes towards nature collected over two decades with a wide-ranging survey of 1800 respondents at the end of last year, the groups found a strong - and lately, rising - interest in protecting habitats on land and sea, writes environment reporter Peter Hannam in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Great Barrier Reef was chosen by 89 per cent of those surveyed in the Backyard Barometer Report as one of the top three places to protect, ahead of the Daintree rainforests of north Queensland and Tasmania's forests - both at 38 per cent.
“The reef is certainly an iconic place that is clearly at the heart of Australia," Mr O'Gorman told Fairfax Media. "They care deeply about it and want to see it saved."
The back-to-back mass coral bleaching in the summers of 2015-16 and 2016-17 "really changed the psyche of how Australians see the reef," he said. "They were like two killer punches to a boxer."
Just over half of respondents viewed the current state of the reef as "already bad", with 84 per cent saying it was "declining" or "getting worse".
Bilbys and whales were next favoured at 30 per cent each, while sharks - many of which are faring poorly despite media interest in occasional bites - drew just 9 per cent support for protection.
Long-running data sets going back to the late-1990s found Australians' concerns about the environment tend to waver during periods of economic turmoil, such in the global financial crisis that erupted in late-2007 and lasted four years.
Still, 81 per cent in March last year agreed with the view that "if we don't act now, we will never control our environmental problems", and 63 per cent supported the "at heart, I'm an environmentalist" description.
Climate of change
Despite perennial debate among politicians, the year-end survey found the great bulk - 86 per cent - agree that climate change is happening, with 65 per cent accepting humans are causing it, the report found.
Almost six in 10 named solar as their preferred energy source, ahead of wind at 15 per cent. Just seven per cent picked coal and 4 per cent gas.
“Coal is definitely on the nose and 69 per cent agree that coal and gas are putting the planet at risk," Mr O'Gorman said. “That’s a clear message to politicians but also...to electricity and energy providers that their licence to operate is disappearing extremely fast."
In that vein, 52 per cent of those surveyed supported the statement that "the federal government should not allow new coal mines", with only 22 per cent rejecting that statement, the report found.
The survey also produced a generational divide between respondents aged 18-24 compared with those older than 65 years.