The Conventions CEPA Programme
What does it mean to be a "Ramsar" wetland?
What does it mean to be a "Ramsar" wetland?
an article written for "The Wetlander" magazine in New South Wales, Australia,
reproduced here with the permission of the author:
Kylie Yeend, Project Officer, Hunter Ramsar Communication Strategy,
The Wetlands Centre, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
The Lower Hunter has an internationally recognised wetland here on its doorstep!
Shortland Wetlands and Kooragang Nature Reserve are listed as a wetland area of international significance under the Ramsar Convention. Otherwise known as the Hunter Estuary Wetlands, this wetland area covers almost 3000 hectares, representing the largest single estuarine reserve in NSW.
What is the Ramsar Convention?
The Ramsar Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, and came into force in 1975. Originally the Ramsar Convention emphasised the conservation and wise use of wetlands because of their importance as waterbird habitat. The official name of the treaty reflects this - The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. Over the years, however, the Convention has broadened its scope to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognising wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation in general and for the well-being of human communities.
Australia was the first signatory to the Ramsar Convention in 1974. It now has 64 wetlands nominated on the List of Wetlands of International Importance, covering a total of about 7.3 million hectares (an area greater than the size of Tasmania).
To be listed as a Ramsar site, wetlands must meet one or more internationally accepted criteria in relation to their zoology, botany, ecology, hydrology or limnology and importance to waterfowl.
Being a part of the Ramsar Convention
There are four main commitments to Australia's signing up to the Ramsar Convention:
1. Listing wetlands for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar List).
2. Consideration of wetland conservation in all national land use planning and policy-making so that wise use of wetlands in their territory is promoted and implemented ('wise use' being synonymous with 'sustainable use').
3. Establishing nature reserves in wetlands and promoting training across the fields of wetland research, management and stewardship.
4. International cooperation especially in the conservation and wise use of transfrontier wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species (e.g. migratory waterbirds).
So, what does it mean for the Hunter Estuary Wetlands to be listed under the Ramsar Convention?
In many ways The Wetlands Centre is already fulfilling these commitments. It provides an example of Ramsar on-the-ground and at the local level; it plays an important role as a 'flagship' wetland for others to learn from regarding wetland conservation and wise use. Being part of the Ramsar Convention also encourages us to think more globally and recognise the connections we share with other wetland sites in Australia and overseas.
Obligations and responsibilities
Along with its Ramsar listing The Wetlands Centre entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Commonwealth Government, the State of New South Wales and Newcastle City Council. Each of these signatories has agreed to principles for management and cooperation that include:
Maintaining the ecological character of the Hunter Estuary Wetlands.
Maintaining and enhancing the habitat over the wetlands.
Maintaining the hydrological value of the wetlands.
Preserving and restoring water quality.
Controlling and where possible eradicating exotic species.
Managing public access without compromising the ecological character of the wetlands.
Undertaking relevant monitoring programs.
The Hunter Estuary Wetlands provide an excellent opportunity to promote wise use of wetlands. A mosaic of land uses exists within and around the wetlands including recreation, conservation, education and research, residential and industrial development, and utilities maintenance. All may influence the wetland area, and simultaneously the wetland influences land use.
Some land users operate sensitively and wisely within the wetland environment, others in ignorance and/or isolation. One of the challenges of wisely using this natural asset is gaining cooperation from those who work in the vicinity. Another is the need to build an appreciation amongst these organisations and individuals of their responsibility for the sustainable management of this significant ecosystem.
Tackling the challenges
The Hunter Ramsar Communication Strategy (HRCS) plays an important role in addressing these issues. This document was prepared alongside the Ramsar listing of Shortland Wetlands during 2002. It charts out a number of priority actions to be carried out this year. Log onto TWC's website to find out more information on the HRCS (www.wetlands.org.au).
TWC received funding through the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) to implement the HRCS. The project commenced in November 2003 with activities so far including:
Hosting free World Wetlands Day activities on 1st February '04.
Distribution of the Wetlands, Discover the Magic! brochure (an initiative of the Australian Wetlands Information Network), which is now available at 57 wetland education and ecotourism nodes nationally.
Preparation of a pamphlet - Wetland Plants of the Hunter Region - which will be distributed to participating nurseries and made available at community events.
Promotion of TWC services, facilities and programs through direct contact with potential clients, and information stalls at Australia Day celebrations at Speers Point Park and the Newcastle Show.
Initial organisation for TWC staff and volunteer training day (June 2004) and a Wetland Innovations Forum (September 2004).
Development of a contact database of those who have a responsibility or interest in wetland management across the Hunter region.
For more information on the Ramsar Convention or the Hunter Ramsar Communication Strategy, contact:
Kylie Yeend, Ramsar Project Officer, at TWC on (02) 49516466.