Australia designates six new sites, and extends another

Australia designates six new sites, and extends another

14 February 2003

The Ramsar Bureau is delighted to announce that Australia has designated six new Ramsar sites and extended one of its earlier ones. Australia now has 63 Wetlands of International Importance, totaling 7,287,645 hectares - actually these new sites were added to the Ramsar List as of 21 October 2002 but are only now being presented to the wetland public as we catch up with outstanding issues following COP8 in Valencia. The splendid new sites include three coral reef Nature Reserves far out to the north and northeast of the continent, all in near-pristine condition, as well as a collection of seven watercourses on the west side of Christmas Island, The Dales, off to the west. Another new site is the well-known Banrock Station Wetland Complex, where the Banrock Station Wines company has combined wetland rehabilitation, commercial wine-making, and education and public awareness so effectively that the company was awarded the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award at COP8 in November 2002. The sixth site is a pair of small swamps, Fivebough and Tuckerbil, settled pretty comfortably in amongst the surrounding land uses near Leeton in New South Wales, another good example of the "wise use concept".

In addition to these new sites, Environment Australia has added a tiny 45 hectares to the existing Kooragang Nature Reserve site (2,926 ha), designated for the Ramsar List back in 1984 - a small addition, but what an excellent choice, for it's the well-known Shortland Wetlands, connected to Kooragang by a wildlife corridor, the site of the pioneering Wetlands Centre, founded in 1986 with the objectives of wetland rehabilitation and educational/public awareness activities, now an innovative leader in wetland CEPA activities.

Here are brief descriptions

Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve. 21/10/02; External Territory of Ashmore & Cartier Islands; 58,300 ha; 12°20'S 123°0'E; Nature Reserve. The reef itself is one of only three emergent oceanic reefs in the northeastern Indian Ocean and the only one in the region with vegetated islands. The site comprises numerous marine habitats, including seagrass meadows, intertidal sand flats, coral reef flats, and lagoons, and it supports an important and diverse range of species, including a significant sea snake community, a possibly genetically distinct population of Dugong, highly diverse marine invertebrate fauna, and numerous endemic species, particularly of sea snakes and molluscs. Nesting and feeding sites are supported for Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and especially Green Turtles, as well as an estimated 50,000 breeding pairs of various species of seabirds. A high abundance and diversity of sea cucumbers, over-exploited near other reefs in the region, can be found, with some 45 species recorded. The site is located some 500 nautical miles west of Darwin. Traditional fishers from Indonesia are permitted partial access for shelter and fresh water, but there are otherwise few visitors because of the site's isolation. Feral introductions pose a threat, though the alien rat population is now thought to have been eradicated; poachers constitute another possible concern. A management plan is in place. Ramsar site no. 1220.

Banrock Station Wetland Complex. 21/10/02; South Australia; 1,365 ha; 34°11'S 140°20'E. A floodplain wetland that serves as a unique example of site restoration in the Murray-Darling Depression to a near-natural hydrological regime. Severely degraded after 67 years of permanent inundation, the water regimes were restored in 1992 by reinstating wetting and drying cycles that are semi-natural and intermittent. The site supports several regionally or nationally threatened species, including Regent Parrot, Southern Bell Frog, and River Snail, and provides seasonal habitat for at least eight species of migratory waterbirds listed under Australia's international agreements. It also serves as an important pathway for fish migrating around the Lock 3 fish barrier during spring floods and provides fish breeding and nursery habitats in warm shallow flood waters. The site adjoins a commercial viticultural enterprise, Banrock Station Wines of BRL Hardy Wine Company, which manages the wetland complex and promotes ecologically sustainable land use practices; its Wine and Wetland Centre also provides educational and recreational opportunities for the public. It is said that "this combination of wetland conservation and rehabilitation, with raising awareness of wetland values and functions, and private enterprise, is a good demonstration of the Ramsar wise use concept", and for this reason Banrock Station Wines received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award in 2002. As rehabilitation work continues, rising saline groundwater and introduced species in the area are perceived as potential threats. Ramsar site no. 1221.

Coral Sea Reserves (Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays). 21/10/02; Coral Sea Islands Territory; 1,729,200 ha; 17°04'S 150°39'E; Nature Reserves. Oceanic islet and reef habitats, centered some 440km east of Cairns, Queensland, that are representative of the Coral Sea region and in near-pristine condition. Several islets within the site comprise undisturbed sandy habitat used for nesting by the globally endangered Green Turtle Chelonia mydas, along with forest and shrubland that supports important breeding populations of terns and other seabirds. Coral reef habitat within the site supports a distinct community of marine benthic flora and fauna, a relatively rich diversity of decapod crustacean and hydroid fauna, and significant feeding habitat for migratory shorebirds and seabirds. Marine algal communities are a particularly important feature of the site, frequently covering a greater area than the corals. A large number of shipwrecks lends the site marine archaeological significance. There is no resident human population, and the site is used for nature conservation and scientific research, with some recreational diving; only 10 commercial tour groups of up to 30 passengers each are permitted per year, though small numbers of others arrive by private yacht. A management plan is in place. Ramsar site no. 1222.

Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve. 21/10/02; Coral Sea Islands Territory; 188,000 ha; 29°41'S 159°06'E. Nature Reserve. Located 50km apart in the northern Tasman Sea, said to be the southernmost coral atolls in the world. The coral structures of these two reefs occur atop isolated, oceanic sea mounts and are influenced by both tropical and temperate ocean currents. They support a diverse marine fauna, including uncommon and heretofore undescribed fishes and several endemic species of mollusc, and provide the only habitat for these species in a vast area of ocean. To date, some 314 fishes of 174 genera and 75 families have provisionally been recorded within the site, far more than at other Tasman Sea islands. A large number of shipwrecks makes the area of considerable marine archaeological significance. There is no resident human population, and limited recreational diving and fishing is not seen as a potential threat. Ramsar site no. 1223.

Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps. 21/10/02; New South Wales; 689 ha; 34°30'S 146°23'E. Fivebough Swamp is a permanent but fluctuating, fresh-brackish, shallow wetland, and Tuckerbil is a seasonal, shallow, brackish-saline wetlands. Both are of international importance because of the presence, abundance and diversity of waterbirds that have been recorded there, including migratory shorebirds and threatened species. Both wetlands function as important waterbird habitat and refuge within an agricultural landscape and in fact gain some of their habitat values from the human uses of the area, such as grazing, flood mitigation, and sewage treatment. As such, the site is described as a good demonstration of Ramsar's wise use principle which also has considerable potential for waterbird-related ecotourism. The area has cultural and historical significance for local Aboriginal communities. Fivebough Swamp is considered to have great potential as an educational resource, as well as as a national and international tourist destination for nature-based recreation focusing on the rich birdlife. Careful planning is needed to ensure that the site is not affected by possible nearby urban and industrial developments. Ramsar site no. 1224.

"The Dales", Christmas Island. 21/10/02; Christmas Island Territory; ~57 ha; 10°28'S 105°33'E. National Park. A near-pristine system of seven watercourses located within the Christmas Island National Park, including permanent and perennial streams and permanent springs and most of the surface water on the island. It is the first Australian Ramsar site to include surface and subterranean karst features. The site's numerous wetland types support important populations of endemic and/or threatened species including Christmas Island Hawk-owl Ninox natalis and Brown Goshawk Accipiter fasciatus natalis, Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti, the shrew Crocidura attenuata trichura, the gecko Lepidodactylus listeri, and the Blind Snake Ramphotyphlops exocoeti. There is also a unique stand of Tahitian Chestnut Inocarpus fagifer. The coastline included within the site provides breeding and spawning grounds for Red and Blue Crabs. The Dales are a popular sightseeing destination for local people and tourists and one of them, Hugh's Dale, has religious significance for Buddhist inhabitants of Chinese background. The principal threat to the site comes from introduced species, particularly the Yellow Crazy Ant Anoplolepis gracilipes, which was accidentally introduced in the first half of the 20th century and whose "supercolonies" proliferated markedly in the mid- to late 1990s. A proposed new Immigration Reception Centre to house up to 1200 people, and a proposed satellite launching centre, may raise new threats to the ecological character of the site. Ramsar site no. 1225.


Hunter Estuary Wetlands. 21/02/84; New South Wales; 2,971 ha; 32°52'S 151°43'E; Nature Reserve. Comprises the Kooragang Nature Reserve (designated as a Ramsar site in 1986) with the addition in October 2002 of the nearby Shortland Wetlands, which are connected by a wildlife corridor including Ironbark Creek and the Hunter River. Kooragang is an artificial, estuarine island subject to tidal inundation. Habitats include mangrove forest, saltmarsh, saline pastures, Casuarina forest, brackish and freshwater swamps, standing open water, mudflats, beaches and rock walls. The site is of great importance for migratory waterbirds such as Pluvialis fulva and Numenius madagascariensis and mangroves are important for fisheries production. The reserve is used primarily for ornithological research and birdwatching, while surrounding areas are subject to grazing and heavy industry. Shortland is a small but unique complex of wetland types, including Melaleuca swamp forest, freshwater reed marsh, and mangrove-lined creek, surrounded by urban development - previously degraded, it has been restored with the objectives of wetland conservation, education, and community involvement. The site provides habitat for a diverse range of wetland species, including waterbirds at a critical stage of their lifecycles, and some threatened species. The site has historical significance for Aboriginal communities. The well-known Wetlands Centre (formerly called Shortland Wetlands Centre), founded in 1984 on the model of Slimbridge in the UK, has long been an innovative leader in wetland education and public awareness. Ramsar site no. 287.