Inland Waters Theme Report

Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Jonas Ball, Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Limited, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06750 7

Aquatic ecosystems (continued)

Protecting, restoring and managing aquatic ecosystems (continued)

Current initiatives in national wetland protection

  • The Ramsar Convention
  • National Wetlands Policy
  • CAMBA and JAMBA - protection for migrating waterbirds
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    In response to the loss of wetland habitat and the species that they support, Australia has become signatory to a number of international agreements. In addition, a range of federal and state government legislative and administrative initiatives have been implemented to afford a greater degree of protection for wetlands.

    The Ramsar Convention

    The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (commonly known as the Ramsar Convention) is an international treaty among governments that provides the framework for international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands (Davies 1994). The broad aims of the Convention are to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and to ensure the wise use and conservation of those that remain. This includes the promotion of rehabilitation/restoration programs for lost and degraded wetlands. Australia was the first contracting party to the Ramsar Convention. Within Australia, implementation of the Convention is the responsibility of the Commonwealth, state and territory governments within each of their areas of jurisdiction. Management is coordinated by the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC).

    General obligations under the Convention include the maintenance of ecological character of listed sites (measured through continuous monitoring programs), the inclusion of provision for wetland conservation in land-use planning and the establishment of nature reserves on wetlands. The Convention does not have any statutory powers over contracting parties; however, it encourages each contracting party to prepare wetlands policies.

    Australia currently has 53 wetlands listed under the Convention which is an increase of 13 from 1996 (see Table 41 and Figure 35). Management plans are being prepared or implemented for 43 of these wetlands.

    Table 41: Australia's Ramsar listed wetlands
    State Site Name
    ACT Ginini Flats Subalpine Bog Complex
    New South Wales Towra Point Nature Reserve, Kooragang Nature Reserve, Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve, Blue Lake, Lake Pinaroo, Gwydir Wetland, Myall Lakes, Narran Lake Nature Reserve
    Northern Territory Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land and Wildlife Sanctuary
    Queensland Moreton Bay, Bowling Green Bay, Currawinya Lakes, Shoalwater and Corio bays, Great Sandy Strait
    South Australia Coorong, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, Bool and Hacks lagoons, Coongie Lakes, 'Riverland'
    Tasmania Moulting Lagoon, Logan Lagoon Conservation Area, Sea Elephant Conservation Area, Pittwater-Orielton Lagoon, Apsley Marshes, East-Coast Cape Barren Island Lagoons, Lower Ringarooma River floodplain, Jocks Lagoon, north-west corner of Lake Cresent, Little Waterhouse Lake
    Victoria Corner Inlet, Barmah Forest, Gunbower Forest, Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes, Kerang Wetlands, Port Phillip Bay, Western Port Bay, Western District Lakes, Gippsland Lakes, Lake Albacutya
    Western Australia Ord River Floodplain, Lakes Argyle and Kununurra, Roebuck Bay, Eighty-mile Beach, Forrestdale and Thompson lakes, Peel-Yalgorup System, Lake Toolibin, Vasse-Wonnerup System, Lake Warden System
    Commonwealth Kakadu National Park (Stage 1), Kakadu National Park (Stage 2), Shoalwater and Corio Bays, Hosnie's Springs, Pulu Keeling National Park

    Source: Environment Australia 2000.

    Figure 35: Distribution of Ramsar sites throughout Australia

     Distribution of Ramsar sites throughout Australia

    Source: Environment Australia 2000.

    National Wetlands Policy
  • Other mechanisms
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    The Wetlands Policy of the Commonwealth Government of Australia 1997 was developed in accordance with Australia's commitments under Ramsar to promote the conservation, repair, and wise use of wetlands and to incorporate the conservation of wetlands into the daily business of the Commonwealth Government.

    The policy outlines the Commonwealth's responsibilities for managing wetlands on Commonwealth land, implementing policies and legislation and delivering Commonwealth programs. Initiatives outlined in the policy are already being implemented with funding from the Commonwealth-administered National Wetlands Program. In September 1999, the Implementation Plan for the Wetlands Policy of the Commonwealth Government of Australia was released. The plan identifies specific actions, timeframes, responsibilities and performance indicators against each of the strategies of the policy.

    Only New South Wales and Western Australia have wetland policies. Both of these are non-legislative instruments which rely on cooperative compliance for their implementation (Jensen 1998). Other states are in the process of preparing wetland policies.

    Case study 15: Status of a Ramsar site - The Coorong and Lower Murray Lakes

    In response to Australia's commitments under the Ramsar Convention and as a result of past wetland degradation, a management plan for the Coorong and Lower Lakes Ramsar Wetlands has been prepared. The site is located at the end of the Murray-Darling Basin where the Murray River flows into the sea at Encounter Bay, in South Australia.

    The plan has embraced the international status of the area and incorporates a number of objectives to ensure the principles of Ramsar are realised through on-ground action and education. Specifically, an objective of the plan is to improve the awareness of all key stakeholders and the wider community of the natural values of the Coorong and Lower Lakes Ramsar Wetlands (Dept. Environment & Heritage 2000). This is to be achieved through the development of a Ramsar Memorandum of Understanding which participating agencies, corporations and individuals can sign to demonstrate their support for Ramsar principles and the objectives of the management plan (Dept. Environment & Heritage 2000).

    On-ground action will be guided by the establishment of a detailed mapping program and database which expands on the initial habitat mapping already undertaken. Also local government will cooperate with the South Australia State Government to ensure that local government planning controls are consistent with protection of the wetland habitats from inappropriate development (Dept. Environment & Heritage 2000). This is significant progress in the conservation of the area as local governments often have the greatest influence over the conservation or otherwise of wetlands.

    The results of this project will be a case study for other rehabilitation works at Ramsar sites throughout Australia.

    Other mechanisms

    Environment Australia, through the National Wetlands Program, undertakes research into wetlands and funds wetland projects nationally, as well as supporting and coordinating activities as part of World Wetlands Day. Most recently they released the Wetlands Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CETA) National Action Plan 2001-2005 to promote wetland education and communication through partnership and information exchange.

    The National Wetlands Research and Development Program is a cooperative venture between Environment Australia and Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation (LWRRDC). The program supports the conservation and sustainable management of wetlands on private and public land through funding targeted research and development projects. Themes of investigation include:

    • processes of exotic plant and animal invasion in wetlands and mechanisms for their control and prevention
    • development of monitoring protocols and rapid assessment methods for determining wetland health.

    Numerous private organisations such as Wetland Care Australia have evolved to work directly with landholders and community groups to provide technical help and practical experience in wetland management.

    While there is a legislative framework in place for legislative protection there are several on-ground issues for wetlands conservation that must be resolved for future management and conservation. These include:

    • gaps in technical knowledge remain a serious 'threat' to wetland protection, as a lack of information hampers sound decision making and integrated policy and management decisions (Jensen 1998)
    • the current need for planning instruments to have 'lines on maps' or some consistent definition of wetland areas to ensure the effective implementation of management actions (Pressey & Adam 1995)
    • despite the general guidance of the Commonwealth's Wetlands Policy within the overall framework of the Ramsar Convention, there is a lack of state policy to manage wetlands.
    CAMBA and JAMBA - protection for migrating waterbirds

    Many birds migrate from the northern to the southern hemispheres each year; therefore, conservation requires international action. Australia is a signatory to several international agreements for the protection of habitat and species of migratory birds.

    The Australian Government has entered into agreements with the governments of the People's Republic of China and Japan for the protection of habitat and the bird species which migrate between these countries, more commonly referred to as CAMBA and JAMBA. The Japan-Australia agreement was signed on 6 February 1974 and the China-Australia agreement on 20 October 1986. Migratory birds listed under CAMBA and JAMBA include shorebirds, seabirds (terns, shearwaters, boobies and frigate birds) and some species of swallow and wedgetail.

    The specific obligations of Australia under CAMBA and JAMBA include measures for conservation of migratory bird habitat through the establishment of sanctuaries. Additionally, the agreements prohibit the removal, sale, purchase or exchange of migratory birds and their eggs.

    The initiatives of CAMBA and JAMBA are strengthened through the East-Asian Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network, and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, to both of which Australia is a signatory. Additionally, for the first time migratory bird species will be specifically covered under the Commonwealth's EPBC Act. All of these measures will contribute to the conservation of migratory birds and wetland habitats throughout Australia.