Ramsar Snapshot Study - Final Report
for Department of the Environment and Water Resources
Chapters of the report
- 1 Introduction (PDF - 273 (KB) | (RTF - 781 KB)
- 2 Methodology (PDF - 95 KB) | (RTF - 255 KB)
- 3 Results (PDF - 594 KB) | (RTF - 3457 KB)
- 4 Data gaps and recommendations (PDF - 132 KB) | (RTF - 317 KB)
- 5 Conclusions (PDF - 55 KB) | (RTF - 89 KB)
- 6 References (PDF - 40 KB) | (RTF - 17 KB)
- Appendices (PDF - 4,111 KB) | (RTF - 1200 KB)
- Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce response to the Ramsar Snapshot Study Final Report (PDF - 19 KB) | (RTF - 25 KB)
The Australian continent, off-shore islands and reefs together cover a vast area and contain a wide range of wetland types. At present, there are 65 Australian wetlands of international importance, hereafter referred to as Ramsar sites or Ramsar wetlands. The Paroo River Wetlands (site 65) was nominated for inclusion as a Ramsar site during the course of this study and has since become a listed site.
As a Contracting Party to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar, Iran 1971, known as the Ramsar Convention), Australia is required to meet its obligations under the Ramsar Convention in terms of reporting, management planning and provision of supporting information on Ramsar wetlands. These obligations are implemented at the national level through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and associated regulations, policies and funding programmes.
Currently Australia does not have a systematic reporting process to allow government stakeholders and other resource managers to gain an overarching view of the state of Australia's Ramsar estate at any given time. In response to this, BMT WBM was commissioned by the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEW) to undertake a preliminary review (Snapshot) of the current status and management of all of Australia's Ramsar-listed wetlands.
The objective of this review is to provide the Australian Government with:
- An assessment of the level of information on the current state of Australia's Ramsar estate, including aspects such as the currency of each site's Ramsar Information Sheet, site maps and whether they have management plans in place;
- An assessment of quality and quantity of information regarding Ramsar wetland management currently held by the Australian Government;
- An analysis of the financial investment in Australia's Ramsar estate to date;
- An initial assessment of major threats and management issues facing the sites, including information on documentation gaps, and other on-ground issues, and analysis of anticipated key pressures in the future and their strategic management; and
- Recommendations to inform the development of a long-term rolling review of Australia's Ramsar Estate.
The study process involved four key stages: (1) Identification of Study Objectives and Information Needs, (2) Data Collation and Collection (existing data together with questionnaire completed by site managers) (3) Data Analysis, and (4) Priority Assessment. One part of the study was to collect and consider all available data, to validate their accuracy and to identify data/information gaps. DEW supplied an initial list of relevant information held by the Australian Government, which was compiled and integrated into a database (MS Access 2000) with provision for the existing data, and also for data entry from the questionnaire responses and results. The data fields within the database and questionnaire represent indicators that consider the status of Ramsar wetlands in Australia. Most of the indicators tend to focus on the management status and arrangements for Ramsar listed wetlands, which primarily represent 'management response' type indicators. Following compilation of the data gathered in the questionnaire stage, an interpretation of data for gaps and trends, analysis of key pressures likely to impact on the future management of the Ramsar estate and strategic approaches for their management was undertaken.
Wetland Inventory and Status
Approximately 69% of the sites are located within four states/territories: Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. Based on the Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Type, most Ramsar wetlands consist of inland wetland habitat types (47% of wetlands), whereas 25% of wetlands have both marine/coastal and inland wetland habitat types. Several wetland types are either not represented or poorly represented in Australian Ramsar estate. These include: karst and cave systems; forested peatlands; freshwater springs; coastal freshwater lagoons; coral reefs; and arid zone wetlands. The lack of or poor representation of some wetland types is likely to reflect their rarity (or non-existence) within Australia and its external territories, or possibly an inadequate knowledge of wetland types both within and outside Ramsar sites. Alternatively, coral reefs (e.g. Great Barrier Reef) and to a lesser extent coastal freshwater lagoons are well represented in Australia, and many are likely to fulfil Ramsar wetland listing criteria. However, for many of these areas there are existing management regimes such as marine parks that may already be providing adequate protection of wetland resources.
Threats to wetlands differ between marine and inland wetland types. Wetlands containing both inland and marine components reportedly had a similar suite of threats as inland wetlands (i.e. water regulation and use, water quality degradation, habitat loss, pest species), together with a small number of other threats more typically recorded in marine wetlands (most notably fishing). While site managers ranked the top known/threats within each site, these results are not weighted or scaled according to the magnitude of impact at the site. There is also no means of validating the accuracy of these data, as there is no systematic description of threats (and impacts) and their magnitude within listed Ramsar wetlands. This is identified as a key information gap that should be addressed through initiatives at the site-specific, state and national levels and through the rolling review process.
Ramsar Information Sheets (RISs) and detailed maps are essential communication tools developed by Contracting Parties for Ramsar sites. For a site to be designated as a Ramsar wetland, a RIS must be submitted to the Ramsar Secretariat that describes the ecological character of the site along with a suitable map or maps that outlines the boundaries of the nominated site. The provisions within the EPBC Act establish principles that are intended to promote national standards of management. The Australian Government works cooperatively with the States and Territories to develop management plans in accordance with these principles and to ensure Australia's obligations as a Contracting Party to the Convention are met.
Management Plans (MPs) have been developed for all sites covering part or all of the wetland in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and the Commonwealth. MPs at sites within South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania were in varying states of preparation. On comparison of information supplied by DEW (including publicly available information obtained through internet searches), and information received from questionnaire respondents, it was found that DEW held the most recent management plans (MP) for 43 of the 64 listed sites. DEW held all of Victoria's most recent MPs, and >50% of NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Commonwealth administered wetland MPs.
From the information collated by the questionnaire respondents, only 19% of MPs were seen by the respondents as being fully (100%) consistent with the Australian Ramsar management principles adopted from the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000 (EPBC Regulations) that were listed in the questionnaire, although 43% of respondents believe that their management plans cover between 50%-99% of the management principle requirements.
Fifty-four (54%) percent of RISs held by DEW were up-to-date (eg. current within the 6-year Ramsar Convention revision requirement). However, DEW held more up-to-date RISs for Australia and its external territories than the Wetlands International (WI) website, perhaps indicating not all of the up-to-date RISs had been sent through and/or posted on the website.
Over half the Ramsar sites did not have an Ecological Character Description (ECD) at time of reporting. No State or Territory in Australia had finalised ECDs for all sites within their jurisdiction. Five sites had undertaken informal assessments (e.g. an assessment has taken place since the listing of the site, however no ECD has been completed), while sites 25 (Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert) and Site 63 (Banrock Station Wetland Complex) have undertaken more detailed formal assessments to determine whether the ecological character of the wetland has changed since being declared a Ramsar wetland.
In terms of spatial data, based on the information received from site manager questionnaires, 54 of the listed 64 sites indicated that both electronic copy and hard copy maps were available for the site. More than 50% of these plans conformed to the electronic boundary data standards as referenced in the questionnaire.
The questionnaire also sought information from respondents about the degree of integration between water resource allocation processes and water management requirements for Ramsar wetlands. Overall the water requirements were described as 'well known' at 11 sites and 'partly known' for another 15 sites. These results indicate that there is a fundamental knowledge gap in the key environmental driver of most (inland) Australian Ramsar sites.
A desktop financial analysis was undertaken as part of the study that involved interrogation of the DEW/Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) financial database using "Ramsar" and other relevant word search combinations. From this analysis, it was found that a total of $21,291,998 has been allocated through 159 funding events since the 1997/1998 financial year.
Site managers, as part of the questionnaire responses, also provided information about funding for Ramsar sites. From this information, thirty-five precent (35%) of the identified financial funding for Ramsar sites in Australia is in the form of State Government funding programmes, followed by NHT (including Envirofund) Regional funding and other Australian Government funding under the NAP Program.
However, it should be acknowledged that this data from the database and questionnaire responses is likely to be incomplete in terms of total investment in Ramsar site management across Australia.
Key Gaps and Recommendations
Section 4 of this Report provides a summary table of data status and information gaps observed as part of this study. Key gaps and recommendations include:
- the need to continue to develop and implement wetland survey and mapping programs for Ramsar wetland sites;
- the need to develop and implement a standardised national scale of tenure categories to better understand and compare the tenure classifications across Ramsar sites;
- the need to develop a systematic method for describing, comparing and reporting threats and impacts (and their magnitude) among and within Australia's Ramsar wetlands. This will require the development of threat and impact indicators relevant to the wetland type under consideration. The outcomes of such assessments should be documented within each site's ECD and should be tied in to the rolling review (see below);
- the need to develop a formal mechanism facilitating the transfer the range of administrative documents (management plans, RISs, ECDs, etc.) between the Commonwealth and State/Territory agencies. As a priority, there is a need to develop and implement a communication and reporting protocol to facilitate this process.
Development and implementation of a rolling review system that will allow the receipt, storage and retrieval of information/documents supplied to DEW is seen as the primary vehicle for addressing these information and data gaps. Implementation of a rolling review process would provide a more accurate national Snapshot of Australia's Ramsar Estate that could be maintained over time. With appropriate resources and methodologies in place, the rolling review process would be able to provide valuable information and analysis about the Ramsar estate across both spatial and temporal scales. This Review would assist in addressing reporting requirements for the Ramsar Convention as well as provide up-to-date information across the national estate for site managers operating at various levels of Government.