The first European visitor to Western Australia was the Dutch explorer Dirk Hartog, who visited the Western Australian coast in 1616. The first European settlement of Western Australia occurred following the landing by Major Edmund Lockyer formally took possession of the western third of the continent for the British Crown. This was followed by the establishment of the Swan River Colony in 1829, including the site of the presentday capital, Perth.Western Australia achieved responsible government in 1890, and federated with the other British colonies in Australia in 1901. Today its economy mainly relies on mining, agriculture and tourism. The state produces 46% of Australia's exports. Western Australia is the secondlargest iron ore producer in the world.Western Australia is bounded to the east by longitude 129E, the meridian 129 degrees east of Greenwich, which defines the border with South Australia and the Northern Territory, and bounded by the Indian Ocean to the west and north. The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) designates the body of water south of the continent as part of the Indian Ocean in Australia it is officially gazetted as the Southern Ocean.The bulk of Western Australia consists of the extremely old Yilgarn craton and Pilbara craton which merged with the Deccan Plateau of India, Madagascar and the Karoo and Zimbabwe cratons of Southern Africa, in the Archean Eon to form Ur, one of the oldest supercontinents on Earth (3 3.2 &160billion years ago).Because the only mountainbuilding since then has been of the Stirling Range with the rifting from Antarctica, the land is extremely eroded and ancient, with no part of the state above 1,245 metres (4,085&160ft) AHD (at Mount Meharry in the Hamersley Range of the Pilbara region). Most of the state is a low plateau with an average elevation of about 400 metres (1,200&160ft), very low relief, and no surface runoff. This descends relatively sharply to the coastal plains, in some cases forming a sharp escarpment (as with the Darling Range/Darling Scarp near Perth).
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The extreme age of the landscape has meant that the soils are remarkably infertile and frequently laterised. Even soils derived from granitic bedrock contain an order of magnitude less available phosphorus and only half as much nitrogen as soils in comparable climates in other continents. Soils derived from extensive sandplains or ironstone are even less fertile, nearly devoid of soluble phosphate and also deficient in zinc, copper, molybdenum and sometimes potassium and calcium.The infertility of most of the soils has required heavy application by farmers of chemical fertilisers, particularly superphosphate, insecticides and herbicides. These have resulted in damage to invertebrate and bacterial populations. The grazing and use of hoofed mammals and, later, heavy machinery through the years have resulted in compaction of soils and great damage to the fragile soils.Largescale land clearing for agriculture has damaged habitats for native flora and fauna. As a result, the South West region of the state has a higher concentration of rare, threatened or endangered flora and fauna than many areas of Australia, making it one of the world's biodiversity 'hot spots'. Large areas of the state's wheatbelt region have problems with dryland salinity and the loss of fresh water.The southwest coastal area has a Mediterranean climate. It was originally heavily forested, including large stands of karri, one of the tallest trees in the world. This agricultural region is one of the nine most biodiverse terrestrial habitats, with a higher proportion of endemic species than most other equivalent regions. Thanks to the offshore Leeuwin Current, the area is one of the top six regions for marine biodiversity and contains the most southerly coral reefs in the world.