National guidance on notifying change in ecological character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands (Article 3.2)

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2009

Module 3 of the National Guidelines for Ramsar wetlands — Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia

Executive summary

Australia is committed to promoting the conservation of listed Ramsar sites and the wise use of Australian wetlands. This guideline describes the process for the notification of change to the ecological character of Ramsar-listed wetlands within Australia under Article 3.2 of the Ramsar Convention. It defines roles and responsibilities and establishes guidance on a number of policy issues in the Australian context.

Under the Convention a notification of change is required if the ecological character of a site has changed, is changing, or is likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference. Notification concerns changes to the ecological character of a site, rather than changes to the criteria for which the site was originally listed. While change in ecological character can be positive or negative, a change in ecological character for the purposes of notification is limited to 'human-induced adverse alteration'.

The following principles have been established to guide notifications in Australia.

  • Assessment of change will be undertaken with respect to critical components, processes and benefits/services of the ecological character of the site.
  • An assessment of change to support a notification must be based on best available science.
  • The fact that a site was undergoing human-induced ecological character change at the time of listing does not preclude the need for an assessment, and possible notification of change, if there is evidence of significant ongoing adverse ecological change.
  • Where the natural variability of a site cannot reasonably be established for the critical component (process, benefit or service) against which change is being assessed, a notification, if made, will only be on the basis of 'is likely to' change.
  • A notification will not be made where the apparent character change has been identified as arising from the use of inadequate data sets at the time of listing.
  • A notification will not be made where climate change is the principal cause of identified ecological character change.

A formal notification is made after the completion of an assessment, acceptance of the case for change by the Administrative Authority (DEWHA), and consultation with the parties responsible for the ownership and management of the site. This is followed by the preparation of a Response Strategy. The Strategy sets out the management goals and objectives for the site following the notification, the suite of activities underway to meet the objectives, and the roles and responsibilities of the relevant parties.

Once the objectives identified in the Response Strategy have been achieved, the Convention Secretariat will be advised of the outcome. This will be one of two things: the site's ecological character will have been restored; or where remediation to the ecological character of the site at the time of listing is neither possible nor feasible, agreed revised objectives for the site will have been met.