National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Australian Government Update
In 2011, to ensure Australia meets its international obligations in the management of Ramsar sites, the Australian Government, in partnership with state and territory governments and private land owners, continued the pilot phase of the rolling review of Australia's Ramsar wetlands. The review serves to document the current status of Ramsar sites across Australia. The methodology for future phases of the review is being finalised, putting in place a process for describing and measuring change in the condition of Australian Ramsar wetlands.
Ecological character descriptions for Australian Ramsar sites were published to describe the ecosystem components, processes, benefits and services that characterise each wetland and to inform future management planning.
Preparations were undertaken for the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, to be held in July 2012 in Bucharest, Romania.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) protects matters of national environmental significance, which include Ramsar listed wetlands. Actions which have or are likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of the Ramsar wetland must be referred to the Australian Government Environment Minister for approval.
On 24 August 2011, the Australian Government responded to the independent review of the EPBC Act undertaken by Dr Allan Hawke with a reform package which represents a major step towards a streamlined, cooperative and harmonised national approach to conserving Australia's environment and resources. Aspects of the reform package which are relevant to the conservation and wise use of wetlands include more strategic assessments and regional environment plans, a more streamlined assessment process, producing a single national list of threatened species and ecological communities, identifying and protecting ecosystems of national significance and providing more public information.
- Australian Government response to the Report of the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Queensland Wetlands Program
The Queensland Wetlands Program, jointly established by the Australian and Queensland governments, provides support for improved management of Ramsar sites, national wetland priorities, communication and stakeholder engagement. During 2011 projects have delivered a variety of new mapping, information and decision-making tools as well as educational products.
Water for the Future
The Water for the Future initiative aims to secure long-time water supplies for the nation and to better balance the water needs of communities, farmers and the environment. A major focus is on the Murray-Darling Basin, where action is being taken to improve the health of basin rivers and wetlands and the communities that depend on them.
A range of ecological benefits resulted from higher rainfall and improved river flows throughout 2010 and 2011 after many years of drought. An increased volume of Commonwealth water entitlements for the environment were purchased to improve the health of rivers and wetlands through the Restoring the Balance program.
This water is contributing to ecological benefits including better health of the river red gums and improved habitat for birds, fish and frogs. Highlights included:
- more than 100 gigalitres of water delivered to hundreds of wetlands along the Murrumbidgee River
- inundation of the Gwydir wetlands and the Macquarie Marshes for the first time in a decade was extended with use of environmental water
- delivery of more than 80 gigalitres of Commonwealth environmental water to the Lower Lakes and Coorong, helping to reduce the risk of acidification and improve habitat for waterbirds and other species.
Murray-Darling Basin Plan
The independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority released the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan on 28 November 2011. The purpose of the Basin Plan is to achieve a healthy working Basin. It includes:
- basin wide environmental objectives for ecosystems in the Murray-Darling Basin
- environmentally sustainable limits on the amount of water that can be taken from the Basin's water resources (known as sustainable diversion limits or SDLs). These limits are enforceable, and apply to both surface water and groundwater
- an environmental watering plan, to achieve the best outcomes from coordinated use of environmental water in the Basin
- a water quality and salinity management plan
- rules for water trading to ensure water reaches its most productive use
- requirements for catchment-level plans prepared by states to align with relevant settings of the Basin Plan.
A formal process has been established to accept public submissions during the 20 week consultation period on the draft Basin Plan from 28 November 2011 to 16 April 2012.
Caring for our Country
Through Caring for our Country, the Australian Government has invested in protection of coastal environments and critical aquatic habitats. Priority activities have included improving the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, protecting and rehabilitating areas for endangered species and migratory shorebirds, improving the quality of water discharged into coastal environments, and protecting Ramsar wetlands.
High ecological value aquatic ecosystems (HEVAEs)
A framework is under development to identify HEVAEs (including rivers, wetlands, floodplains, lakes, inland saline ecosystems, groundwater-dependent ecosystems and estuaries). It is based on criteria relating to international recognition, diversity, distinctiveness, vital habitat, evolutionary history, naturalness and representativeness.
As part of the framework, the Australian National Aquatic Ecosystem (ANAE) Classification Scheme is being developed to establish a consistent and systematic method of identifying all aquatic ecosystems across the Australian landscape.
Clean Energy Future Plan – Land Sector Package
The Prime Minister announced the Clean Energy Future plan on 10 July 2011, including funding for a Land Sector Package of $1.7 billion over six years.
The Land Sector Package includes a suite of measures to reward activities that tackle climate change and/or improve landscape resilience to climate change. Among these are the NRM Planning for Climate Change measure and the Biodiversity Fund.
The Regional NRM Planning for Climate Change measure will provide funding for regional NRM organisations to update regional NRM plans to be ‘climate-ready’. The updated plans will be endorsed by the Australian Government and will help guide decisions on the location and nature of carbon abatement and biodiversity projects across the landscape.
The Biodiversity Fund will be an ongoing program, with $946 million allocated to it over the first six years. It will support establishment, restoration and management of biodiverse carbon stores in priority landscapes such as wildlife corridors, wetlands and waterways. Assistance will be available for activities that:
- establish new mixed species plantings (reforestation and revegetation activities)
- restore, manage or enhance existing biodiverse carbon stores (including wetlands)
- manage invasive species in connected landscapes.
For more information see:
- Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities – Clean Energy Future
- Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency – Carbon Farming Initiative
- Clean Energy Future – Land use
Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth
The Australian Government has announced funding of $168 million for the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth recovery project to manage the ecological values of the lake system through revegetation, salinity reduction, community partnerships and early works. Major achievements include the removal of the Narrung Bund to restore more natural flow between Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, and preparatory work for the full removal of the Goolwa Channel regulators to restore connectivity in the channel also partly funded by the Murray Darling Basin Authority. Large scale revegetation works have also commenced to deliver a healthy and resilient wetland through planting to restore habitat. An additional $10 million in Australian Government funding was also provided for revegetation works under the Bioremediation and Revegetation Project.
For more information see:
- Media release – Connectivity to be restored through the Goolwa Channel
- Media release – $118 million for Coorong and Lower Lakes recovery
Acid Sulfate Soils
In 2011 a national guidance document was released on the management of acid sulfate soils in inland aquatic ecosystems, to help people limit disturbance to these soils and mitigate the potentially harmful effects such as water quality decline, fish kills and damage to ecosystems.
Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment
The Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment will provide the science needed to inform the development and protection of northern Australia's water resources, so that development is ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable. A project to assess the likely impacts of development on aquatic ecological assets in northern Australia commenced in early 2011.