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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

2 February 1999

WORLD WETLANDS DAY MAKES A SPLASH IN THE BARMAH FOREST


World Wetlands Day is a marvellous opportunity to celebrate the spectacular natural flora and fauna thriving in our own internationally recognised wetland, the Barmah Forest, Federal Member for Murray, Sharman Stone MP, said today.

The Barmah Forest covers an area of 28,515 hectares and is home to 556 plant species and 31 different types of wildlife. Together with the neighbouring Millewa Forest, it is the largest River Red Gum forest in Australia.

"The Barmah Forest has been internationally protected as part of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Iran 1971) because of its thriving ecological and genetic biodiversity," Sharman Stone said.

World Wetlands Day celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention. The Barmah Forest was first proclaimed as a Ramsar site in 1982.

"Australia was the first signatory to the Ramsar Convention. Now 118 nations are member countries, protecting significant wetlands around the world for future generations."

The Barmah Forest features a variety of permanent and temporary wetlands including lakes, swamps, lagoons and flooded forests. Tree species include Red Gums, Grey Box, Yellow Box and Black Box, grasslands, woodlands and other wetland vegetation.

The Barmah wetland is home to numerous local and migratory birds.

"Over 5% of the Victorian population of the Superb Parrot live in the Barmah forest, and it is also a vital safe haven for our endangered state bird the Regent Honeyeater."

"It's also an important breeding ground for the Scared Ibis. During flood years, cormorants, egerts and spoonbills flock to Barmah to breed."

The Barmah Forest is also a major tourist and environmental attraction. During 1988 an estimated 100,000 visitor days were spent trekking through the forest and camping on site at the Dharnya Information Centre.

The Barmah Forest functions as a single floodplain wetland system which is dependent on regular flooding from the River Murray.

"Barmah has been particularly affected by changes in the water regime caused by damming, timber harvesting and stock grazing. As a result, natural flooding levels have been substantially altered, in turn threatening endangered flora and fauna habitats. Rising saline groundwater levels are also a legacy of misuse."

Sharman Stone said the Barmah-Millewa Forest Water Management Strategy recognised the importance of protecting and restoring the wetlands as well as the social, agricultural and economic imperatives the region.

"What makes Barmah such as successful wetland area is the close community involvement, particularly in relation to water management strategies.

In 1998-99, $250,000 has been allocated by the Murray Darling Commission for a range of water management works, monitoring and evaluation and research, as part of the strategy .

"Since European settlement began over half of Australia's wetlands have been destroyed or modified for urban development or agriculture. That's what makes our commitment to wetland's conservation so important," Sharman Stone said.

Sharman Stone said wetlands have also been recognised as a vital part of the Government's $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust. The National Wetlands Program supports local projects such as the Coopers Point Wetlands Restoration Project, the brainchild of the Kyabram Branch of the Victorian Field and Game Association.

For further information contact: Justin Johnson (03) 5821 9003 (Shepparton) or Nicole Johnston 02 6277 2016 (Canberra)

Commonwealth of Australia