Wetland Link International's first Oceania conference

Wetland Link International's first Oceania conference

16 November 2009

Wetland Link International Oceania Conference, Hunter Wetland Centre,
Newcastle, Australia, 28 – 31st October 2009

Organised by the Hunter Wetland Centre in Australia and funded by the Australian government (Department of Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts) the conference brought wetland scientists together with a broad range of people who carry out wetland education / participation activities. Those attending included representatives from wetland centres, those working in both Australian and New Zealand government departments at national and local levels with responsibility for wetlands, NGOs, as well as three Australian wetland scientists who are active members of Ramsar’s Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP). In addition, the Coordinator of the Wetland Link International (WLI) network of wetland centres and Ramsar’s CEPA Programme Officer were active participants. Christine Prietto, the Ramsar CEPA NGO Focal Point for Australia and the CEPA expert on STRP, was involved in the organisation of the Conference.

The conference had several key aims: the sharing of experiences in wetland CEPA among wetland professionals; the sharing of knowledge between wetland scientists and CEPA practitioners in three main emerging wetland areas (climate change, agriculture and human health); updating on CEPA action plans and CEPA action planning at site and national levels; updating on World Wetlands Day 2010 and 2011 and WWD’s utility as a global campaign day; and reviewing the WLI network and, in particular, how WLI Australia can expand its activities across the Oceania Region.

As a reminder to readers, WLI is an international programme of the UK-based Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust,  WLI aims to build a network of wetland centres to exchange information and expertise internationally and improve the effectiveness of operations at wetland education centres through training and expertise exchange (more here www.wwt.org.uk/wli)

The meeting began with keynote presentations from Max Finlayson, Pierre Horowitz, and George Lukacs, looking respectively at the complex story of wetlands and climate change and the urgency in getting this story across to various target audiences; wetlands and human health, an area that requires wetland people to engage with a whole new sector within governments and industry; and wetlands and agriculture, a challenging area for the wetland community given agriculture’s insatiable demand for water, its critical role in providing food, and the challenge of biofuels. These were followed by concurrent workshops where participants worked with the scientists on answering some basic questions to assist in communication planning on these issues.

The meeting continued with keynote presentations from Ramsar and WLI. Sandra Hails, Ramsar’s CEPA Programme Officer, outlined the Convention’s CEPA programme, updated the audience on CEPA action planning at national, catchment and local levels, and discussed the value of planning, and finally reviewed the development of World Wetlands Day as a campaign day with information on the 2010 materials and the plans for 2011. Chris Rostron, the WLI Global Coordinator, reviewed the development of the WLI network at the global and regional level, discussed the role that WLI can play in CEPA, indentified priority themes for the network as well as looking at the tools available to the network for communicating about centres and their CEPA activities.  Following these two presentations, participants took part in two workshops looking in more depth at these areas and suggesting a number of key products and tools that would assist CEPA practitioners in wetland centres and in other settings to improve communication about wetlands.

A large number of suggestions have come out of the five workshops and these are currently being circulated to all participants for review and prioritization. The diverse suggestions include, for example, exploring the development of a relationship with a National Visitor Information Centre networks for dissemination of wetland centre information; organizing a joint initiative across the Oceania region for WWD 2011 which will mark the 40th anniversary of the Convention; developing a maetrix looking at target audiences and key messages on wetlands and human health issues; developing a template for gathering basic information on successful CEPA activities identifying key target audiences, key messages, and key measures of success that can be collected and made available to others through the network; updating the Australian CEPA action plan with a special focus on the role of wetland centres in both updating and implementing the plan; further training/tools/products to assist centres in understanding and using the ecosystem services framework for environmental management. These are just some of the suggestions which came from the workshops most of which offer opportunities for collaboration across the region. The final aim is to produce a number of agreed practical activities that WLI Oceania network can collaborate on in the immediate future. It is intended too, to use these activities as the basis for a funding proposal to the relevant Ramsar Administrative Authorities in the Oceania Region.

Signage at the Hunter Wetlands Centre.

Information for visitors at the entrance to the centre showing the extent of the Ramsar site and location of other local conservation areas.

Part of the display area for visitors inside the centre.

Some of the participants during one of several ‘sharing’ sessions where participants very briefly describe their wetland centre or projects they are working on.

Ken Conway, CEO of the Hunter Wetlands Centre, opening the conference.

Max Finlayson, one of the wetland scientists, delivering a presentation on wetlands and climate change.

One of the workshops where participants explored further issues addressed during the presentations.

Short breaks during the conference allowed participants to step out of the centre into a beautiful wetland scene.

Wetland scenes around the centre.

During a two-hour whirlwind tour near the wetland centre participants were able to see and hear about an on-going wetland restoration at the nearby Hexham Swamp where a flood gate has been opened as part of a controlled rehabilitation of the swamp upstream.