Cobourg Peninsula, the world’s first Ramsar site designated under the convention in 1974.
This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of World Wetlands Day by commemorating the Convention that aims to halt worldwide loss of wetlands and conserve those that remain.
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance was signed in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971 with Australia the first to designate a site in 1974 – the Cobourg Peninsula, in the Northern Territory. We now have 66 listed Ramsar wetlands covering about 8.3 million hectares across the country and there are more than 2,400 Ramsar sites around the world.
The theme for World Wetlands Day 2021 and the Ramsar 50th anniversary is “Wetlands and Water”. This theme highlights the important role wetlands play in providing sources of water and a range of ecological services to benefit people and nature.
Wetlands provide clean water, ecosystem resilience, habitat for wildlife and connections across the landscape for plants and animals, including migratory and threatened species. Wetlands provide food and livelihoods for people around the world. For Indigenous people, wetlands are important for culture and wellbeing. Wetlands also reduce the impacts of floods and storms and sequester carbon.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention by promoting the conservation and wise use of wetlands and raising awareness of their benefits.
There are many ways to celebrate World Wetlands Day, including visiting your local wetland or wetland centre, becoming a citizen scientist and getting involved in local wetland conservation activities.
Murray River in Hattah National Park
The Murray–Darling Basin Authority's Evaluation of the Basin Plan late last year shows there have been good outcomes achieved since the Plan's inception in 2012, while also highlighting the need for more effort to achieve a healthy Basin that supports prosperous industries and communities.
The 2020 Basin Plan Evaluation is the most extensive review written into the Basin Plan. It involved the science community, river operators, independent advisors and input from Basin governments. It has also drawn on feedback provided by communities, industries, environmental interest groups and First Nations alongside insights from previous independent reviews.
This evaluation marks a crucial checkpoint in the roll out of the Basin Plan and clearly outlines where the achievements have been made, but also where more effort and action is needed.
The roll out of the Basin Plan coincided with the worst drought on record, yet evidence shows that the Basin Plan cushioned the Murray–Darling Basin from the worst impacts of the drought. Without water for the environment, the effects on the health of the Basin would have been more damaging and long-lasting.
For the first time, satellite technology and data visualisation has been used to show timescale impacts of the reform which bring to life the outcomes seen on the ground.
In the past 5 years environmental water has supported 25,000 kilometres of rivers, 28,000 hectares of lakes, 158,000 hectares of wetlands and around 100,000 hectares of floodplains. It has helped to maintain 11 of the 16 Ramsar sites in the Basin, supported more than 1 million waterbirds, and promoted vegetation diversity to benefit more than 640 species including native fish. However, a changing climate brings profound new challenges, and a need to adapt to ensure we can maintain the health of the Basin for the benefit of its communities.
The evaluation identified 6 priority areas and made 12 recommendations for action:
The 6 priority areas are:
- Continued implementation of the Basin Plan
- Adapting to climate challenges and increasing resilience
- Strengthening focus and support to enable social and economic outcomes
- Establishing a clear and committed pathway for First Nations social and economic outcomes
- Integrating water management with other activities to achieve environmental restoration
- Advancing science and monitoring
Aerial view of the Darling river near Louth, NSW.
New fencing support for landholders in NSW will protect valuable ecological sites and improve native fish habitats across the northern Basin.
Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt and New South Wales Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey, announced the Fencing Northern Basin Riverbanks Program last week which will benefit NSW Murray–Darling Basin communities and the environment with $7.5 million in funding from the Australian Government until 2023.
The program will support the construction of 500 kilometres of riparian riverbank fencing to control livestock access to environmentally sensitive waterways, reducing degradation of these important sites.
Other activities eligible under the program include woody weed control, revegetation, river re-snagging for fish habitat and minor erosion control works that support native fish and contribute to a healthier river system.
“The Fencing Northern Basin Riverbanks Program is putting local communities at the heart of investments designed to benefit their livelihoods and the environment”, Minister Pitt said.
NSW Local Land Services will deliver the program with dedicated support officers available to assist applicants to meet the program’s guidelines. This collaboration with NSW government will ensure landholders are consulted and supported, should they choose to apply for funding. Delivering funding this way will empower local landholders to draw on local solutions that benefit their livelihoods and the environment.
The Fencing Northern Basin Riverbanks Program is part of a $15 million investment the Australian Government has committed to New South Wales and Queensland to improve water quality, sustain native fish populations and to keep farm animals safe in the northern Basin.
Applications for NSW landholders will open in the coming months.
Spring is a busy time for scientists along the River Murray, and with good rainfall across the southern Murray–Darling Basin, water for the environment has been released into the rivers and wetlands to give native fish, like Murray hardyhead, a helping hand.
Murray hardyhead are a small, threatened fish, native to the wetlands of the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems. They currently survive in just a handful of places in northern Victoria, south-west New South Wales, and in the Riverland and Lower Lakes in South Australia.
With the help of Nature Foundation Limited and the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office provides environmental flows into key Murray hardyhead habitat sites in the Riverland to keep wetland conditions just how they like it. The fish tolerate more salty water, which allows them to live and breed where carp and other introduced species don’t like to be.
Environmental flows are used to balance water quality in key wetlands. Increased salinity levels over winter exclude carp from key habitats and flows in spring freshen up waterways to provide perfect breeding conditions for hardyhead.
Recent surveys at critical habitat sites have revealed some very exciting results. Usually, 500–1000 fish indicate a healthy population. Survey teams monitoring how the fish are responding to the flows have recorded 25,000 Murray hardyhead at one site!
Monitoring is being carried out by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and the Nature Glenelg Trust. The survey teams are thrilled with the results as these are the largest numbers observed anywhere in the Murray–Darling Basin in sometime. This demonstrates how collaborative management efforts can help create the habitat needed to support endangered freshwater fish.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office looks forward to working with the community to build on these great results and hopefully get this little fish back on its feet… or fins!
A public discussion paper on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme is now available, and you are invited to have your say on the scheme and possible improvements.
Allen and Clarke Policy and Regulatory Specialists Ltd have commenced the review to ensure the WELS scheme continues to be well managed and can be optimised to achieve even greater water savings.
The discussion paper and instructions for providing a submission, are on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s website.
The final review report is expected to be delivered to the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, before the end of the 2020 - 2021 financial year and will be published on the Water Rating website.
This is the third statutory review of the WELS scheme. A review is required every 5 years under the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005.
Public submissions close on Thursday, 25 February 2021.
The latest technologies in water and wastewater management were showcased to international government and industry leaders last month at the Everything About Water Virtual Expo and Conference.
The event, supported by the Indian Ministry of Jal Shakti, was an opportunity to foresee future trends in the Indian water sector and explore possibilities for future engagement.
The recently renewed India-Australia Memorandum of Understanding on Water Resource Management is a key pillar of the broader Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and integral to the bilateral relationship between Australia and India.
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Secretary, Andrew Metcalfe, gave the keynote address as guest of honour and spoke on the strong cooperative relationship shared by Australia and India in water resource management.
In his address, Mr Metcalfe outlined the challenges that both countries face in balancing the water needs of rural and urban users, managing extreme water events such as drought and flood, and mitigating the threat of climate change to water security.
He also emphasised how much Australia and India can learn from each other through collaboration on water resource management, at the government, academic and commercial level.
“Safe, affordable, clean water and wastewater services are essential for combating infectious diseases and pandemics such as COVID-19. Water, sanitation and hygiene have never been more important and should be a major focus of the continued cooperation between Australia and India”, Mr Metcalfe said.
International exhibitions bring together key stakeholders and innovators to showcase technologies from all over the world and are crucial in ensuring we take full advantage of the vast water expertise that our water communities have at their fingertips.
The Everything About Water Virtual Expo and Conference is an annual event.