Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update 2011

Issue No. 19
Annual update for Australia's wetland community, January 2011
ISSN 1446-4843

Wetlands Australia is an annual publication by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Wetlands Australia brings together information and resources from across Australia relating to wetlands conservation, management and education.

About the document

Australia's wetlands number in the many thousands. There are 64 Ramsar listed wetlands (covering around 8.1 million hectares) and over 900 nationally important wetlands in Australia. These wetlands include coastal estuaries, mudflats and saltmarshes, coral reefs, floodplain lakes and billabongs, swamps and marshes, and alpine bogs and peatlands.

Wetlands are extremely rich in biodiversity with many plants and animals being completely dependent on these ecosystems. They also provide critical habitat for threatened species such as the northern corroborree frog and Murray cod. Wetlands are important sites for migratory species and many support large numbers of waterbirds (more than 20,000), using wetland habitats for critical stages of their life-cycle, such as feeding and roosting.

Our wetlands are of enormous value to the Australian community, as they deliver important ecosystem services. Wetlands from our coasts to our river systems enhance water quality, mitigate floods, and protect our shores from wave action. They also support wildlife breeding habitats, provide refuge for wildlife in dry seasons, and are crucial for sustaining grazing after floods have receded. It is critical that we use these environmental assets wisely so they can continue to provide services to biodiversity, our economy and our communities' quality of life.

This edition of Wetlands Australia aligns with the theme for World Wetlands Day 2011 ‘wetlands and forests - forests for water and wetlands’. This year is extra special as it is the fortieth anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. It also coincides with the United Nations designation of 2011 as the International Year of Forests.

Forests and wetlands are closely related. The health of all forests in our catchments is linked to wetlands, whether forested or not. Australia protects its native forests by building reserves, integrating conservation and sustainable use at the regional level, putting a value on our natural environment and improving the use and quality of our natural resources. Across Australia, over 70 per cent of known old growth forests are in conservation reserves.

Forests play a crucial role in the hydrological cycle and as a consequence, in the health of our wetland ecosystems. Forested wetlands include habitats such as mangroves, nipah swamps, freshwater swamp forests, floodplains, forested peatlands and seasonally flooded forests. An example of a forested wetland in Australia is Barmah-Millewa Forest on the Murray River.

Farmers, Indigenous communities, and other private land managers manage approximately 77 per cent of Australia's land area, including many wetlands. Conservation of biodiversity on private land is recognised by the Australian Government as an important way to protect Australia's environmental assets. Caring for our Country is an Australian Government initiative that supports environmental management of our natural resources, including the management of wetlands and forests through the National Reserve System. The goal of Caring for our Country is to achieve an environment that is healthier, better protected, well managed, resilient, and provides essential ecosystem services in a changing climate.

Water for the Future is the Australian Government's long-term initiative to better balance the water needs of communities, farmers and the environment. Australia is facing major challenges due to over-allocation, climate change, climate variability and reduced water availability. Water acquired under Water for the Future is already benefiting several wetlands across the Murray-Darling Basin through allocations of environmental water. Regional communities will also benefit from more efficient irrigation infrastructure funded through Water for the Future programs.

The stories told in this edition reveal the considerable work undertaken across the country to protect and restore our wetlands. A number of these articles describe work underway to increase our understanding of wetlands. There are also stories describing co-operative arrangements that include the community and Indigenous peoples' involvement in wetlands management and demonstrate the importance of communities in decision-making associated with wetlands.

These stories acknowledge the relationship between wetlands and people, and the ways in which Australia's wetlands are used wisely. Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment and research, conservation and sustainable management will help ensure the on-going conservation and wise use of our wetlands and the ecosystem services they support.

Previous editions of Wetlands Australia are also available: