Analysis of possible change in ecological character of the Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach Ramsar sites
for Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
About the document
Following reports that a change of ecological character may have occurred at the Roebuck Bay and Eighty-Mile Beach Ramsar wetlands, the Department commissioned a report to assess the situation.
Australia is required to monitor and report to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, through notification under Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention, if the ecological character of any Australian Ramsar wetland has changed, is changing or is likely to change since the time of listing, due to technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
The report assessed migratory shorebird numbers at the site, and the possible cause of any decline. Their analysis suggests that there has been no significant decline in migratory shorebird use of Roebuck Bay.
At Eighty-Mile Beach, a decline in the numbers of migratory birds using the Northern end of the site was reported. While the report stated the evidence was not clear that this was representative of the site as a whole, it concluded that low numbers were likely to continue, indicating a change in the ecological character of the Ramsar site.
Given the serious nature of these findings, a peer review was undertaken to ensure their accuracy. While questioning the accuracy of the findings, the review agreed that it was correct to conclude that a change of character, based on counts of low numbers of migratory shorebirds, had occurred at Eighty-Mile Beach.
Both reports conclude that it was not likely that anthropogenic activity in the Ramsar site had brought about the change. Further studies need to be completed before we could be certain that anthropogenic activities in the East Asian-Australasian flyway are seriously impacting migratory bird numbers in Australia.
The outcomes of this project highlight the limitations of poorly defined limits of acceptable change, and the potential for decisions to be inappropriately influenced by these limits of acceptable change. Lack of reliable data and the highly mobile nature of migratory birds means they have not proved to be a suitable indicator species for this kind of assessment of change in character.