By Tim Roberts and Alec Roberts
Ramsar is a small inconspicuous town on the Caspian Sea. It is also a name known the world over for the ground-breaking declaration on wetlands that was signed there in 1971. The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. They protect and improve water quality, provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife, store floodwaters and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water and shelter, especially during migration and breeding.
Importantly wetlands also store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide thus helping to moderate global climate conditions.
In an effort to protect the wetlands from upstream impacts Conservation Volunteers Australia, the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at UON, and Newcastle City Council have recently completed a four year project to restore the urban waterways of the Ironbark Creek catchment. Over 50,000 trees, shrubs and groundcovers, planted on site have helped to create and improve important habitat and food resources for threatened species as well as filtering the runoff waters flowing into the wetlands. The spectacularly successful water-sensitive-urban-design treatment at Allowah Reserve is really a showcase for the project.
World Wetlands Day was celebrated at the Ramsar-listed Hunter Wetlands Centre on Friday 2nd February at the Hunter Wetlands Centre with of a day of free seminars from expert speakers, wetland plant identification sessions and field trips courtesy of NSW Office Environment and Heritage. This gave the opportunity to see at first hand the ongoing transformation of marginal farmland and freshwater wetlands into mangrove and saltmarsh now that tidal flow has been restored to the coastal floodplain through opening of the floodgates on Ironbark Creek.
Louise Duff from Australian Wetland Network spoke about Ramsar and the importance of global wetland conservation.
With 64% wetlands lost since 1900, it is important to conserve wetlands. Wetlands are very useful, not only to the plants and animals that live there. Wetlands:
Chad Beranek from Newcastle University introduced us to the world of frogs, habitat creation and conservation in the Hunter.
The frog is regarded as a keystone species, with 43% of populations in decline world wide, and 8 species extinct in Australia. They are good bio-indicators, as they alert us to problems in our environment. Frogs also help with water quality, as tadpoles consume detritis, clear the water and help sequester carbon.
In creating wetlands habitat for amphibians distance to occupied water bodies is key. Development of a habitat mosaic is also important as different frogs have different needs.
The impact of Gambusia (pest fish species) has seen widespread decline in frog species including the iconic green and golden bell frog. To minimise Gambusia impact, frog habitat should be ephemeral wetlands (ones that can dry out), dense submerged vegetation, and bunding walls around the perimeter.
Chytrid fungal pathogen has decimated frog populations in Australia and worldwide. To minimise Chytrid impact, have warm water, ephemeral wetlands and saline water. Luckily the Green Gold Bell Frog likes to breed in saline (<9ppt) warm water (28 degrees C).
In establishing your own frog habitat in your backyard remember more shade means less frogs! Only the stripped marsh frog likes shade / cooler water.
Stuart Blanch from Hunter Wetlands Centre spoke on managing the Ramsar wetland through volunteers and updated us on current projects in the area including eradication of predators, the predator proof fence, reintroduction of animals, the re-vegetation of 6Ha of Hunter Wetlands National Park (across 3 sites), and the proposed Freckled Duck release.
Peggy Svoboda from Hunter Local Land Services shared their work in the Hunter Estuary Wetlands. Hunter Wetland Vegetation Migration involves the shifting of vegetation types up river as sea level rises. The grey mangrove is favoured by sea level rise which is impacting on salt marshes which are an endangered ecological community. Salt marshes are inundated by approximately 1/4 of tides and provide important wader bird habitat and fisheries nursery.
Boyd Carney from OEH NSW National Parks further elucidated on the issues with salt marshes. With a 45% drop in wader habitat, there has been a 50% drop in migratory waders. Coastal saltmarshes provide essential habitat for migratory wading birds. This habitat is also important for the prawn industry.
Mangroves are removed each year on Ash Island to help stem the invasion into Salt Marshes (the Grey Mangrove seed floats in with the tide).
Other weed species in the Salt Marshes on Ash Island include: Pampas grass, Groundsel and the problematic Juncus Acutus (Spiny Rush) which is most effectively controlled by direct spraying.
Tim Mouton from the Conservation Volunteers shared the success of the Allowah Wetland project. This project implemented water sensitive urban design at Allowah Reserve to decrease water runoff during storm events, reduce erosion and water pollution, improve water quality and reduce demand on council infrastructure. The conceptual design for this was developed by Peter Stevens from the Tom Farrell Institute. The TFI held a series of workshops to coordinate the approach taken with the site development.
Graham Prichard from Lake Macquarie City Council rounded off the talks with a presentation on
how to identify wetland plants, the interesting search methods using lucid keys and what resources are out there to help you including:
Photos of some of example wetland plants Graham had on display are shown below: