Understanding and documenting ecological character is central to maintaining and protecting the values of wetlands and underpins best practice management of Ramsar wetlands. Descriptions of ecological character provide more detailed information about the various components, processes and services at a site than that included in Ramsar Information Sheets.
Australia has developed a more systematic and strategic approach to the management of Australia's Ramsar wetlands to ensure Australia's responsibilities under the Ramsar Convention are discharged effectively and efficiently. As part of this process the National framework and guidance for describing the ecological character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands establishes a standard method for describing ecological character for wetlands in Australia.
Towra Point Nature Reserve Ramsar Site
Over a number of years Australia has been actively developing ecological character descriptions (ECDs) for each of its 64 Ramsar sites. These descriptions provide the baseline description of the wetland at a given point in time (i.e. the time of listing) and can be used to inform management of the site and assess changes in the ecological character of these sites.
ECDs for many Australian sites are now in the process of being finalised. Indeed, recently three were uploaded to the Ramsar Sites Information Service http://ramsar.wetlands.org/: Towra Point Nature Reserve, Paroo River Wetlands and Forrestdale and Thomsons Lakes Ramsar Sites. More ECDs are now in the process of being uploaded.
Paroo River Wetlands Ramsar Site
Changes to the ecological character of a wetland outside natural variations, or normal range for artificially maintained sites, may signal that uses of the site or externally derived impacts on the site are unsustainable and may lead to the degradation of the ecological, biological and hydrological functioning of the wetland. Descriptions of ecological character are a useful mechanism to determine whether change is occurring or has occurred.
Whilst the ECDs improve the description of Australian Ramsar sites, a number of issues were identified during their development. For example, preparing ECDs to the new standard, required more data, took longer and was more costly than anticipated. Setting appropriate limits of acceptable change (LACs) was also difficult particularly in environments where natural conditions are extremely variable. Finally, referencing ECDs and LACs back to the date of listing has usually been made more difficult by the inadequacy of historic data.
Australian Ramsar Administrative Authority - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC)