Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update 2010

Issue No. 18
Annual update for Australia's wetland community, January 2010
ISSN 1446-4843

Welcome to the 2010 edition of Wetlands Australia, an annual publication by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Wetlands Australia brings together information and resources from across Australia relating to wetlands conservation, management and education.

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Ministers' Foreword to Wetlands Australia 2010

Australia's natural environment, our biodiversity and the ecological services it provides, underpin our quality of life, our economy and much of our national identity. We are one of the world's 17 mega-diverse countries, with more endemic animal species than any other country. However, places such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park, which are ecosystems of international significance as well as part of our national identify, are at risk from climate change.

Climate change is one of the greatest economic, social, and environmental challenges of our time, but the Government is meeting that challenge. We are getting on with the job of preparing for a future with less water. A drying climate and rising demand for water means added pressure on Australia's rivers and wetlands. A high proportion of species – about 85 per cent of terrestrial mammals, 91 per cent of flowering plants and 90 per cent of reptiles and frogs found only in Australia – are also potentially at risk due to climate change.

This edition of Wetlands Australia focuses on “wetlands, biodiversity and climate change”, in keeping with the theme for World Wetlands Day 2010. It also coincides with the United Nations designation of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. Climate change is a permanent fixture in the media and understood at least at some level by many people, so now is the time to focus on wetland ecosystems and their biodiversity, the impact of climate change and importantly, what we can do about it.

In response to climate change, the Australian Government has developed Water for the Future, an initiative that provides national leadership in water reform for all Australians. This long-term $12.9 billion package aims to secure our water supplies, use water wisely, take action on climate change and support healthy rivers. A key priority under Water for the Future concerns the future of the many communities, rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin.

In the Murray-Darling Basin, the challenges of climate change and extended drought have been compounded by decades of mismanagement. No government can make it rain, but this government is enacting a three-point plan to put the Murray-Darling Basin back onto a sustainable footing: 1) We have taken over Basin-wide planning and for the first time will place a scientifically-based cap on Basin water use. 2) We are investing in irrigation infrastructure to help our farmers and Basin communities and to protect food security. 3) We are buying back water to help restore health to the Basin's rivers and wetlands.

To protect our biodiversity and use Australia's natural resources wisely, Caring for our Country, the Australian Government's environmental management initiative, targets clear national priorities and measurable outcomes. This includes recognising aquatic ecosystems as significant environmental assets that provide a wide range of services which are fundamentally important to the Australian lifestyle and economy. These national priorities are designed to make a real on-ground difference to wetland health, and ensure that funding goes to those areas and projects across the nation that best meet the ecological challenges we face.

Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment. They protect our shores from wave action, reduce the impacts of floods, absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else. It is vital that these critical ecosystems and their biodiversity are maintained, protected and given resilience to meet the challenges of climate change.

The Australian Government takes the challenge of climate change seriously and is already acting to protect our environment. We are doing this on every front, including by looking at the effectiveness of our national environmental legislation, significantly expanding our investments in the National Reserve System and providing communities and landowners with the tools and capacities they need to safeguard our natural resources over the long term.

The projects featured in this edition demonstrate the nationwide, on-ground battle against climate change to protect wetlands. These actions made today will have consequences for decades. Whether you are monitoring water quality in a local stream or helping to revive internationally-significant wetlands, every single action makes a difference and the Australian Government acknowledges each individual effort.

Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Minister for Climate Change and Water

The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts