Report and photos by Anna Ryan, Ecotourism Manager, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Australia
First decade as Ramsar Site Celebrations were held in Newcastle NSW on 29 November to mark 10 years since Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia was listed as a Ramsar Site. Celebrations were marked with a cake and a group photograph, restaging a photo taken in February of 2003 shortly after the listing was announced.
Hunter Wetlands Centre is a community owned and managed 42 hectare property in the Hunter Region of NSW. It includes restored wetlands, a visitors’ centre and an education centre. In 1980 the property was owned by a local Rugby Club and featured a clubhouse and a range of sporting fields. At the edges of the property a remnant stand of swamp forest was being used annually for nesting by four species of Egrets.
Newcastle University Professor Max Maddock saw an opportunity when the Rugby Club went into receivership. He formed a group that successfully gathered support and applied for a government grant to purchase the property to restore the wetlands and open the site for wetland education. The Shortland Wetlands Centre Ltd was formed in 1985 and the centre opened its doors to visitors and students in 1986. Over the next 14 years many individuals were involved in pursuing the restoration work and building the organization.
The proposal to list the property as part of the local Ramsar Site was first raised in February of 2000 and the first meeting to discuss the proposal was held in June of 2000. This began 2 years of meetings and preparation to meet all the requirements. In October 0f 2002 Shortland Wetlands was approved as an extension of the newly renamed Hunter Estuary Ramsar Site. This was announced formally by Australia at COP 7 in Valencia, Spain.
On the following World Wetlands Day in 2003 the now famous photo was taken at Hunter Wetlands Centre, to celebrate the listing, complete with a cake and a Ramsar flag. But in the end Ramsar listing is a pretty subtle thing and there was every chance that after all of the excitement died down the listing would gather dust and become something that no one really understood or even cared about or that because it comes with responsibilities, it would become a burden. What unfolded at Shortland over the last 10 years is really at the other end of the spectrum.
Overall we have benefited immensely from securing Ramsar listing for the property. The Ramsar listing has connected Hunter Wetlands to a bigger wetland story, one that goes far beyond the boundaries of our site. In Australia the Hunter Estuary Wetlands is number 24 on the Australian Ramsar Site list and links Shortland with 64 other wetlands. Worldwide, Shortland is linked to 2064 other wetlands in 163 countries.
The Ramsar listing has really become an integral part of everything that happens at HWCA. At the national level we stay in touch with the Administrative Authority and do our best to maintain contact with all the other wetland centres in our region. At the state level HWCA played a prominent role in building the Ramsar Managers Network, a network of sites which sit outside of government ownership and management. HWCA currently houses the secretariat for this group.
The Hunter Wetlands Centre
At the site level, our Ramsar Information Sheet describes the property in great detail. We have revised our Management Plan several times since the listing and managing the property for the Ramsar Criteria under which we are listed is core to the management plan.
Ramsar listing has provided access to funding and expertise to complete critical site investigations that would have been beyond the capacity of the organisation. Perhaps most importantly, it puts a very positive “rubber stamp” on the continuing people investment in the 45 hectare property since opening in 1986.
As a Ramsar Site the Shortland Wetlands property gives back a lot. Every day the many visitors that frequent the site encounter the Ramsar classification. The site is all about education and training and the links to the Ramsar Convention make this more significant. The site is very accessible and allows visitors to engage directly with the wetlands and the species found there. The site is staffed and interpreted, which allows us to explain the values of the property for visitors. Lastly, management of the site continues to benefit from many hands and many man-power hours, so the level of participation is very high.
Shortland Wetlands as a Ramsar Site is what the Ramsar Convention is all about, helping people to understand the wetlands around them by providing the opportunity to engage with the wetlands directly. We value our listing as a Ramsar Site and look forward to many more years of introducing visitors to wetlands and to Ramsar.