Wetlands Hot Topics is a place to share stories, facts and figures, achievements, research and other information about wetlands. Australia’s amazing wetlands are everywhere - from the reefs surrounding our coastline, to the rivers and floodplains that criss-cross the country, from lakes and dams in urban areas to constructed wetlands in the suburbs. We plan to post new wetlands information on this page regularly. You can also find out about wetlands by visiting these pages on our website:
If you have an interesting wetland story that you would like to share please let us know by emailing us at Wetlandsmail@environment.gov.au
posted 1 February 2019
World Wetlands Day 2019
Wetlands can be vulnerable to climate change, being impacted by changes in temperature, rainfall, sea level rise and extreme events.
Wetlands can also play an important role in our approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation, through capturing and storing carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, and providing resilience to hazards such as flooding, storm surge and coastal inundation.
Strategies that address climate change need to include the wise use of wetlands, along with restoration of wetlands. Communities, businesses and governments are working together to protect these amazing ecosystems which, in turn, will help us adapt to the impacts of climate change.
posted 19 October 2018
Global Wetland Outlook
The Global Wetland Outlook is a new report from the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands that provides a current overview of global wetlands: their extent, drivers of change and the responses needed to reverse the historical decline in wetland area and quality.
A key finding of the report is that Wetlands, amongst the world’s most economically valuable ecosystems and essential regulators of the global climate, are disappearing three times faster than forests. Wetlands include some of the most carbon-dense ecosystems in our planet, such as salt marshes, sea grass beds and mangroves. Peatlands, that account for just 3% of the world’s land surface, store twice as much carbon as forests, playing a pivotal role in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity. Wetlands also help reduce disaster risk, as they mitigate floods and protect coastlines.
Despite their essential role in global climate regulation, wetlands remain undervalued. Approximately 35% of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 and the loss rate is accelerating annually since 2000.
Losses have been driven by megatrends such as climate change, population increase, urbanization, particularly of coastal zones and river deltas, and changing consumption patterns that have all fueled changes to land and water use and to agriculture.
posted 28 September 2018
World class wetland research
Check out our new publication, Celebrating Australia’s Wetland Science, showcasing research which is contributing to improved understanding and management of wetlands, both in Australia and internationally. It highlights work done by Australian scientists under the National Environmental Science Program, as well as important projects by other leading Australian wetland researchers.
posted 28 September 2018
New case studies
Indigenous wetland managers in Asia and Oceania are making significant contributions to wetland conservation
A set of case studies has been prepared on how indigenous people and local communities contribute to wetland conservation. This includes three examples from Australia – the Cobourg Peninsula in the NT (Australia and the world’s first Ramsar wetland), the Peel-Yagorup wetlands in WA and the Coorong Lakes in SA.
posted 6 February 2018
This edition highlights Wetlands for a sustainable urban future, the theme for World Wetlands Day 2018.
Wetlands Australia 2018 brings together a collection of inspiring stories of amazing wetland places and the people who are passionate about looking after them.
Urban wetlands provide refuges for wildlife as well as welcome retreats from the hustle and bustle of city life for workers and families. Some urban wetlands, including constructed wetlands, can remove sediment and pollutants from urban runoff – providing clean water that can also be used for irrigating sporting fields, watering gardens and preventing pollutants entering rivers and estuaries.
You will also find articles about internationally-significant Ramsar wetlands, habitat restoration in coastal and inland settings, community engagement and innovative approaches to wetland management.
Fact sheets highlighting the importance of wetlands are also available.
If you would like to contribute to future editions of Wetlands Australia, please contact email@example.com and if you would like to subscribe to Wetlands Australia to receive new editions please sign up at: Wetlands Australia
posted 27 October 2017
A new fact sheet providing information about the project is available now.
The Macquarie Marshes Ramsar wetland in central northern NSW is home to a diverse array of wildlife and is known for large scale colonial waterbird breeding events and as refuge for international migratory shorebird species. A decline in the health of the wetlands resulting from river regulation and the millennium drought led to the Ramsar site being notified to the Ramsar Convention in 2009 and being placed on the Ramsar Article 3.2 List.
A new project is now looking at data from 2009 to 2016 to assess the condition of the Macquarie Marshes Ramsar site following Article 3.2 listing.
posted 4 August 2017
Opportunity to showcase wetlands work, gain recognition and win an award!
The Ramsar Wetland Conservation Awards were established in 1996 to recognise and honour the achievements of individuals, organisations and governments around the world for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. They will be awarded for the seventh time at the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP13), which will take place in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, in October 2018.
Three Awards will be granted in the following categories:
- The Ramsar Convention Award for Wetland Wise Use
- The Ramsar Convention Award for Wetland Innovation
- The Ramsar Convention Award for Young Wetland Champions
Nominations can come from individuals or organisations and can be for individuals, institutions or private companies, of any nation….. but you can’t nominate yourself! Nominations need to be in by 30 September 2017. For information on how to make a nomination please visit the Ramsar website.
posted 1 August 2017
Wetland areas provide vital ecosystem services and play a key role in the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.
Tulsi Rajyaguru, Reef Trust and Kate Lilley, Greening Australia (Originally published in Wetlands Australia February 2017 - updated July 2017)
Historical changes in land-use along the Queensland coast have resulted in significant loss of these vital wetlands. In instances of extreme climate events, this loss impacts the ability of local ecosystems to naturally restore and rehabilitate themselves.
This is particularly the case in events of extreme rain and flooding, where the lack of ecosystem connectivity and limited wetland areas results in greater flooding and sediment run-off, increased spread of invasive species and poorer quality of water flowing into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.
To address this issue, the Reef Trust and Greening Australia are partnering to deliver priority restoration and repair of wetland areas along the Great Barrier Reef coast through two major projects. Through the Reef Trust, the Australian Government is providing $2 million for the Restoration of Great Barrier Reef Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems project and $5 million for the Phase 5 Repair and Restoration of Priority Coastal Habitat and Wetlands project to match dollar-for-dollar funds raised from private contributors by Greening Australia. Over 700 hectares of priority wetland area will be restored through the Reef Trust projects. Greening Australia will deliver the projects in collaboration with local landholders, Indigenous communities, research institutions, regional bodies and other non-profit organisations.
Greening Australia’s Reef Aid initiative has committed to raise $20 million over the coming years, with the long-term view to raise $100 million to support major on-ground restoration in the Great Barrier Reef catchments. Reef Aid will raise funds from multiple sources to maximise the value of investment in the Great Barrier Reef and help deliver large scale restoration efforts through partnership and collaboration.
On-ground restoration actions delivered by Greening Australia through its partnership with Reef Trust will be based on best-available science and include restoration of natural hydrology, in-stream and overland water management, establishment of vegetation filter strips, buffer planting, creating habitat corridors, and reinstating floodplain wetlands. Supporting fire management, feral animal and weed control, extension and community engagement will also be delivered to enhance restoration outcomes and support on-going management.
posted 1 August 2017
The development of a Ramsar Web Based Portal will allow stakeholders and the public to access information and mapping for the Shoalwater & Corio Bays Ramsar site.
Fitzroy Basin Association initiated the Shoalwater and Corio Bays Ramsar Management Advisory Group, creating a shared vision and collaborative management between stakeholders across the area with a focus on building working relationships with Native Title holders, the Darumbal People, and the wider community.
The Shoalwater and Corio Bays Area Ramsar Site is an internationally significant, Ramsar listed wetland complex, located north of Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast in Central Queensland. It covers 239,100 hectares and represents one of the very few large estuarine systems in Australia with a relatively undisturbed catchment. Despite this, there are threats to the site that require coordinated management from stakeholders. While some communication and partnerships already exist between stakeholders, site managers and key stakeholders have agreed that there is need to further coordinate whole-of-site management; in particular to build solid working relationships with Native Title holders, the Darumbal People, and the wider community in general.
The Ramsar Management Advisory Group (RMAG) was initiated in 2016 with funding support from the Australian Government. The aim of the group is to establish a shared vision and coordinated, collaborative management between stakeholders across the area. As a group member and leading natural resource management group in Central Queensland, Fitzroy Basin Association has assumed responsibility for group facilitation.
Group membership currently consists of organisations responsible for multi-level management activities and roles across the Ramsar site and includes the following groups:
- Darumbal Enterprises
- Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
- Department of Defence
- Department of the Environment and Energy (Wetlands Section, Australian Government)
- Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (Wetlands Section, Queensland Government)
- Department of National Parks, Sport and Racing (Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service)
- Fitzroy Basin Association
- Livingstone Shire Council
Aside from start-up governance and forming strategic partnerships, the main focus of the group since its inception has been the development of the Shoalwater & Corio Bays “Ramsar Web Based Portal”. The portal allows stakeholders and general public to access information and mapping specific to the Shoalwater & Corio Bays Ramsar site. In addition, it allows RMAG management members to access vital information and contacts required for coordinated day-to-day management of the Ramsar site. It is anticipated that the portal will be launched for general stakeholder and public access at the end of 2017.
For more information contact: Shane.Westley@fba.org.au
Preliminary design for the Shoalwater & Corio Ramsar web based portal
posted 10 July 2017
Improvement in Black Box vegetation is a key outcome under the Basin Wide Environmental Watering Strategy of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, however achieving this outcome requires an integrated approach to land and water management.
A Black Box Management Framework is being developed to assist site managers in achieving long-term improvements for these key vegetation communities
Black Box (Eucalyptus largiflorens) is a small to medium sized tree that grows on the floodplains across the Murray-Darling Basin. It typically occurs within zones of higher elevation on the floodplain and experiences episodic recruitment in response to flooding and rainfall events.
The condition of Black Box populations, including tree health and recruitment success, is determined by the availability of soil water. The poor condition of mature Black Box populations in the Lower River Murray is widely considered to be correlated with the reduced incidence of flooding and the increased salinity in regional groundwater. In general, there has been a significant overall decline in the condition of Black Box populations across the Basin since the 1980s, brought about by factors including, but not limited to, drought, river regulation, river water extraction, irrigation drainage, grazing, and land clearance.
Black Box communities are an important component of the floodplain ecosystem that provide habitat diversity, for example supporting both on-ground foraging within accumulated leaf litter, and sites for hollow nesting fauna, in tree stands of an appropriate age. Black Box communities provide habitat and other resources to species of national conservation significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 such as:
Black box trees
- Regent Parrot (eastern) Polytelis anthopeplus monarchoides (Vulnerable)
- Squatter Pigeon Geophaps scripta scripta (Vulnerable)
- Greater Long-eared Bat Nyctophilus corbeni (Vulnerable)
- Five-clawed Work-skink Anomalopus mackayi (Vulnerable)
- Ornamental Snake Denisonia maculata (Vulnerable)
- Saltbush Atriplex infrequens (Vulnerable)
- Mossgiel Daisy Brachyscome papillosa (Vulnerable)
- Winged Peppercress Lepidium monoplocoides (Endangered)
- Slender Darling-pea Swainsona murrayana (Vulnerable)
Improvement in Black Box vegetation is a key outcome under the Basin Wide Environmental Watering Strategy of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, however achieving this outcome requires an integrated approach to land and water management. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO), in partnership with other State governments and leading scientists, is in the process of developing a Black Box Management Framework. The framework is intended to provide practical guidance to assist land and water managers in the assessment, planning and implementation of complementary activities to promote the long-term recovery of Black Box vegetation.
Practical trials and further investigations are currently being considered for 2017-18. The Riverland Ramsar site, South Australia, is a site of particular interest for trials to be conducted however other projects may also be considered. The CEWO is looking to finalise and make the Framework publicly available in 2018, subject to refinements arising from the investigations and peer review.
All photos courtesy of the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board
posted 3 July 2017
A National Landcare project is bringing important central Australian desert springs back to life
Ilpili is the Luritja word for Melaleuca glomerata, or the inland tea-tree. It is also the name given to two vital springs within the Ehrenburg ranges of Central Australia. The springs are the primary source of water in a large expanse of the south Tanami Desert, and sit on the boundary between the Pintupi, Luritja and Warlpiri peoples. The springs were a major refuge in hard times for both people and native animals, and historically were considered a “biological hotspot” and conservation area.
Ilpili in the 1970s (above) and in 2014, when it was heavily used/damaged by feral camels.
For the past 30 years feral camels have been causing havoc for the people and wildlife of the Tanami Desert region. Camels, buffel grass and bulrushes had all but destroyed the local Ilpili Springs. With support from the National Landcare Programme (NLP) the Traditional Owners, scientists and the Central Land Council’s Anangu Luritjiku ranger group sprang into action to restore this important water hole. After much digging, weeding and removal of camel carcasses, water is now flowing again and native animals are returning to the Springs. For the first time since the project started, tea-tree seedlings have begun to grow and birds and animals including bustards and euro (also known as wallaroo) have been sighted near the Springs. A good sign that all the hard work is paying off.
This work is being undertaken as part of the Restoring central Australian water places for biodiversity outcomes NLP project and it is being delivered by the Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Alice Springs. Other project activities include:
- Training indigenous rangers and Traditional Owners in waterhole mapping and water quality management
- Producing guidelines for wetland restoration techniques that can be used across arid Australia.
For more information about the project contact:
Regional Land Management Coordinator – South West
Central Land Council – Land Management Unit
Above left: Rangers identifying aquatic insects. When the springs were heavily degraded, only mosquito larvae were present on some occasions. Recently species considered pollution sensitive have been found at Ilpili. Above right: Flows have increased and native vegetation has resprouted in places after a small channel was dug in 2016.
posted 5 June 2017
Australia’s Wetlands are Amazing!
- Are beautiful to visit
- Have deep cultural significance
- Provide water for crops and fisheries
- Help keep our waterways clean
- Watch this video about Australia’s Amazing Wetlands
posted 31 May 2017
Working with Indigenous and community partners to deliver Commonwealth environmental water in wet times
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is often asked “what is the role of environmental water when big rain events occur? The rivers flood, channels are cleansed, wetlands are inundated—Can we do more to further improve water outcomes?”
This story from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, Nature Foundation South Australia and the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources features in the current issue of Wetlands Australia.
- Read the full story in Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update February 2017
posted 31 May 2017
Working with Traditional Owners to deliver and monitor Commonwealth environmental water on Tar-Ru Lands
This story from the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Ltd, Sunraysia Environmental and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office features in the current issue of Wetlands Australia.
- Read the full story in Wetlands Australia: National Wetlands Update February 2017
posted 10 May 2017
It’s World Migratory Birds Day! We celebrate the amazing migratory journey of these birds each year.
Australian coastal and freshwater wetlands host around two million visiting migratory shorebirds that come here from Arctic regions during the non-breeding season to feed each year. There are thirty-six species that arrive around September, reaching ‘staging areas’ such as Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach (both internationally important Ramsar wetlands) in north-western Australia and the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland. They arrive after an amazing migration of up to 13,000 km, from the northern hemisphere. The birds then disperse across Australia, reaching the south-eastern states by October. Many take advantage of ephemeral wetlands across inland Australia and others spread out along the coastline.
posted 2 May 2017
Draw knots to raise awareness of migratory birds and win great prizes.
The 2017 Knots Drawing Competition is open for young people from age 6-18. This competition is part of the Year of the Knots campaign to raise awareness of migratory birds - the Great Knot and Red Knot. Both species are experiencing rapid population declines in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). Young people are invited to learn more about the knots and draw creative pictures to inspire others to also know about the species and the situation these birds find themselves in.
posted 19 April 2017
Research in Victoria and NSW has highlighted the potential for inland wetlands to mitigate climate change by improving carbon stores and offsetting CO2 emissions.
Wetlands Australia 2017 contained a collection of articles about wetlands and climate change. “Inland wetland rehabilitation to mitigate climate change impacts” details projects providing promising experimental evidence of the capacity of inland wetlands to store carbon, and that restoring inland wetlands can help their carbon sequestration capacity, thereby helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change:
posted 12 April 2017
Wetlands are vulnerable to climate change and critical in building resilience. Sharing experiences and research supports effective wetland management.
Wetlands Australia 2017 contained a collection of articles about wetlands and climate change. “Climate risk and adaptation strategies at a coastal Ramsar wetland” provides an insight into how wetland managers at the Hunter Wetlands, NSW are dealing with climate change:
posted 5 April 2017
A study in Western Sydney shows site-specific mosquito sampling is critical.
Cameron E Webb (University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology) and Roy Goldthorpe (Western Sydney University)
Mosquitoes associated with constructed wetlands have always been a concern for local authorities. Thousands of cases of mosquito-borne disease are reported each year across Australia and many of the mosquitoes implicated in the transmission of pathogens, such as Ross River virus (RRV), may be found in constructed freshwater wetlands.
Constructed wetlands are becoming increasingly important in urban areas. However, enhancing mosquito habitats close to human activity may increase public health risks and nuisance-biting around wetlands may decrease public support for wetland conservation.
Over 50 mosquito species are known from the Sydney metropolitan region and small clusters of RRV disease are occasionally reported. In 2012, Western Sydney Local Health District released a risk assessment tool and management guidelines for mosquitoes and constructed wetlands.
In 2015, select constructed wetlands in Western Sydney were categorised according to the 2012 guidelines and those assessed as either “medium” or “high” risk were then selected for mosquito sampling. A total of 4,014 mosquitoes, representing 13 species, was collected. Culex annulirostris, a known pest and vector mosquito associated with freshwater wetlands was most commonly collected. However, there was substantial variation in the abundance of mosquitoes between sites suggesting that the current classification guidelines must be used as only indicative of the potential to produce mosquitoes, site-specific assessment, that includes mosquito population sampling, is required to confirm current pest and public health risk.
Mosquitoes can often be perceived as a problem but nuisance-biting mosquitoes may also originate from nearby backyard water-holding containers, bushland habitats or estuarine wetlands. Accepting that some mosquito activity is a normal part of urban wetlands is important and local authorities should emphasis personal protection measures (e.g. insect repellent use) to reduce the impact of pest and public health risks associated with mosquitoes.
Figure 1. Heavily vegetated constructed wetlands can provide habitat for a range of pest freshwater mosquito species. (Photo: Cameron Webb)
Figure 2. The close proximity of constructed wetlands to human activity can greatly increase the pest and public health risks associated with local mosquito populations (Photo: Cameron Webb)
posted 22 March 2017
A good news story for World Water Day 2017 - here is an update to an article that recently appeared in Wetlands Australia.
During July 2016, 130ha on private property was returned to wetland at Iluka Estate, 80km north-west of Mount Gambier in the South East of South Australia. The wetland started immediately showing its worth with recordings of EPBC listed Southern Bell Frogs, Dwarf Galaxias and the thought to be extinct in SA Australian Mudfish. In mid-January 2017 the wetland again surprised us by recording an EPBC listed Yarra Pygmy Perch. Water fowl are literally flocking into Iluka with over twenty wader species identified to date. The property owner is tremendously pleased with the results so far.
posted 9 March 2017
posted 9 March 2017
In Australia there were many and varied events to mark World Wetlands Day 2017 - from conferences, walks, talks and music to wooden boat festivals, art displays and bird counts.
In Australia there were many and varied events to mark World Wetlands Day 2017 - from conferences, walks, talks and music to wooden boat festivals, art displays and bird counts. Although Australia is the driest inhabited continent, it contains many amazing wetlands, 65 of which are listed Ramsar sites.
The Jabiru Ramsar ‘Paint a Poster’ competition
One of Australia’s best known Ramsar sites is Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory. It is one of Australia’s largest (almost 2 million hectares) and most varied Ramsar listed wetlands - encompassing 17 wetland types that are home to 59 fish species, 61 mammal species and 105 species of reptile. The area has significant cultural and heritage value and has been home to Indigenous people for more than 50 000 years.
For World Wetlands Day 2017, Parks Australia hosted celebrations at Kakadu’s Bowali Visitor Centre. There were information booths highlighting the work of the Supervising Scientist, Charles Darwin University and the National Environmental Science Program. Park Rangers gave presentations on being “Croc Wise”, and did an air boat display. Students from West Arnhem College – Jabiru hosted a Park Ranger talk on Ramsar Wetlands, held a Ramsar ‘Paint a Poster’ competition, and participated in games. There was also lots of interest in the Wetlands Quiz with ten Yellow Water Boat Cruise tickets awarded courtesy of Kakadu Tourism. A free barbecue rounded out the day.
The key message was “Every day is Wetlands Day in Kakadu!”
Here’s a sample of some other celebrations that took place:
Activities at the Australian Capital Territory’s Jerrabomberra Wetland
- The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and Glamorgan Spring Bay Council partnered to celebrate World Wetlands Day at Brown Brothers’ Devils Corner Vineyard near the Moulting Lagoon Ramsar Wetland, Tasmania. Nearly 300 people attended and were treated to a fabulous view, wetland displays and bird watching!
- At the Australian Capital Territory’s Jerrabomberra Wetlands forty stall holders created a fun-filled family environment. There were art activities for young and old with Wildlife and Botanical Artists, a display of Australian reptiles, make your own badge and ‘crazy hair stalls and Ranger guided walks around the Wetlands.
- Jerrabomberra is a 200ha wetland in the heart of Canberra, boasting 136 water birds, which represent over half the species in the Canberra region, several Platypus, frogs, water rats, turtles and other reptiles. The Wetlands are also home to the Latham’s Snipe which migrate from Japan to spend summer there.
Bird watching at at Brown Brothers’ Devils Corner Vineyard near the Moulting Lagoon Ramsar Wetland, Tasmania
posted 9 March 2017
More than 1.6 billion people in the East Asian and Pacific region were affected by natural disasters between 2000 and 2011, with Pacific Islands being among the most heavily affected.
Oceania countries are working to build their resilience to disasters, including through management of wetlands.
Disasters include cyclones, storms, floods, droughts and tsunamis. Their effects may be amplified by the effects of climate change, particularly more extreme weather events and rising sea levels (which can result in loss of habitats, coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers). Wetlands have an important role to play in mitigating against natural disasters.
Reducing risk to disasters involves all efforts to prevent or minimise the impact of natural disasters. Wetlands can play the following roles in disaster risk reduction in Oceania countries:
- Coral reefs, mangroves and coastal vegetation systems can provide a cost-effective storm barrier which can attenuate storm surge energy
- Healthy coastal vegetation can provide some protection from cyclonic wind damage
- Floodplains and riverine wetlands provide natural flood storage, which can reduce downstream flooding by slowing and spreading the flood flow and reducing flood water velocity.
The Pacific Island Forum in September 2016 endorsed a Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific, which marks a new phase in bringing together climate change resilience and disaster risk resilience. The Forum aims for greater collaboration among the various regional agencies. The Framework provides guidelines on actions to build resilience, and proposes mechanisms to improve coastal management (including for mangroves) for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Australia has committed $75 million over the next 4 years for disaster preparedness in the Pacific Region.
Mangroves in the Boyne River in Gladstone. Photo: Arthur Mostead.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) also undertakes work on climate change mitigation and adaptation through its Climate and Oceans Support Program and its Pacific Climate Change Center. SPREP is working to update wetland inventories in the Oceania Region and to collect climate change data and information to inform decision-making. The recently completed Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Planning program (2011-2015) supported 14 Pacific Island countries to build resilience to current and future climate risks through improved science and data, increased awareness of climate change and its impacts, and better adaptation planning.
Aerial view of one of the many coral reefs in the Coral Sea off the coast of Cairns in northern Queensland.
While some work has been undertaken, more needs to be done and the Green Climate Fund is likely to assist the Pacific Region to better access global finance for flood management, erosion control and coastal protection.
posted 8 March 2017
Indigenous owners and managers of land and sea country across northern Australia are increasingly involved in efforts to protect migratory waterbirds and their habitats.
Migratory knots and resident oystercatchers, Flyway Network Site (Tarrant). Photo: Roger Jaensch and Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.
Migratory birds listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) are a Matter of National Environmental Significance and the focus of several international agreements to which Australia is a party. In Australia, the majority of these birds are shorebirds that breed in high latitudes of Asia and in Alaska and annually make a 20,000 km round trip to Australia.
In October 2016, part of an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in north-western Queensland on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast was designated as internationally important for migratory waterbirds. The Tarrant section (38 km of coast, and adjoining intertidal zone 2 km wide) of Nijinda Durlga IPA became a Flyway Network Site under the East Asian – Australasian Flyway Partnership. It is the 125th such site under this informal voluntary initiative.
Traditional Owners of the site are the Gangalidda People. Under a program of the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (CLCAC), the Gangalidda & Garawa Rangers manage their country from a base in Burketown. In addition to management of fire, weeds and feral animals, the rangers have developed knowledge of the flyway, shorebird ecology and threats to migratory waterbirds.
With support from professional and community-based ornithologists, the rangers have also developed capacity to identify and survey shorebirds and document re-sightings of leg flags that confirm connections between countries and sites along the flyway. Flagging data confirm that many shorebirds, notably Arctic-breeding Red Knots Calidris canutus, pass through the area on their journeys to south-eastern Australia and New Zealand.
CLCAC rangers based to the east at Normanton are supporting an earlier-designated Flyway Network Site north of Karumba in country (Delta Downs) of the Kurtijar People. Both ranger teams anticipate hosting visitors—including indigenous co-managers—from other Flyway Network Sites in the near future.
Key species that visitors may see include the Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, which occurs in dense wheeling flocks of many thousands. Smaller but also impressive flocks of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa join the knots at high tide roosts on shelly beaches but prefer feeding in muddier substrate.
Flock of knots and other migratory waterbirds, south-east Gulf of Carpentaria. Photo: Roger Jaensch and Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation.
With recent changes to lists under the EPBC Act, seven shorebird species occurring on the south-east Gulf coast are now listed as threatened—notably Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and Great Knot. These changes reflect widespread and sustained destruction in East Asia of shorebird habitat needed during migration.
With their focus on protection of migratory waterbirds, the Gangalidda People and Kurtijar People, in partnership with Local, State and Federal Governments and the conservation community, are doing their part to help turn the tide—stop the declines—in populations of these birds in the Flyway.