Wetland & Rivers Group Conference

by Ken Jury

An interesting night in Goolwa on 9th of September 2009 for the Wetland & Rivers Group Conference.  Part of the ANU Water Initiative co-sponsoring the 2009 workshop of the Skukuza Freshwater Group, a biennial gathering of experts from academia, governments and environmental organizations to discuss a key emerging issue in freshwater conservation.

Prof Richard Kingsford, Uni of NSW and advisor to the Federal Govt. on environmental water allocation. Richard is well known for his film work with the former MDBC as a presenter. He also in recent years did many aerial surveys over the Coorong.

Dr Harry Biggs, South African National Parks & freshwater Taskforce & World Commission on Protected Areas, International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Mr. Trevor Bishop, Environment Agency of England and Wales.

Dr David Reinheimer, Uni of California-Davis.

Prof Max Finlayson, Charles Sturt Uni and Scientific Technical Review Panel, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands 

Kym McHugh, Mayor Alexandrina Shire.

China and Spain were also represented at the conference.

After a presentation by Mayor McHugh, a question and answer period followed with some very interesting outcomes.  The information on Ramsar was particularly enlightening.

It seems that Ramsar isn't fussed on whether a Ramsar listed wetland was freshwater, seawater, estuarine water or brackish. So long as it is a wetland is what counts. Prof Finlayson talked about how he had seen other rivers around the world run dry leading to changes at the end of river wetland. In trying to provide an example, he then talked about a huge estuary in WA that had been brought back to life by cutting a huge channel to sea and allowing large volumes of seawater from the ocean into its confines. He was talking about the Dawesville Channel at Mandurah

Finlayson said that it was a matter of "what do we want from this part of the river with no river flow." "They can be marine, sea or fresh," he said. "They certainly can be marine estuarine," he said. "There is no reason why we cannot change wetlands. "This is a National Parks concept of not changing values. The Convention allows us to do it," he said.  "What do we want? We need to be innovative - use wisdom as we manage - close the gap," Prof Finlayson said.

"The Ramsar Convention does not put rules on countries. It advises them with help where needed,'"he said. 159 member countries of Ramsar are watching us- we could be taken from the list. "We may be in danger of losing what is driving it - agriculture and irrigation where water is regulated," he said " Look at the whole river to get back some values. Wetlands are lost faster than rain forests," Prof Max Finlayson said.

Here is the official report from the conference, "Communique 2009: Management of environmental flows in a changing climate”.