A scathing report into how Victoria manages its internationally significant Ramsar wetlands has found limited evidence sites are being effectively managed and protected from decline.
The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report, which reviews how effectively Victoria’s Ramsar wetlands are managed and whether the state is meeting its national and international obligations, also found evidence of potential change in ecological character.
Victoria is home to more than 300,000ha of Ramsar sites, including Westernport Bay, Barmah Forest, Hattah-Kulkyne, the western shoreline of Port Phillip Bay, the Gippsland Lakes and Corner Inlet.
The Ramsar Convention aims to protect the values of wetland sites, particularly for migratory birds. However, only about half of Victoria’s Ramsar sites are in land tenures designated for conservation and activities like duck hunting are permitted in several sites.
The report recommends Victoria develop and implement robust governance arrangements for managing Ramsar sites and ‘strengthen management plans’ to include timeframes and resourcing to ensure actions are carried out ‘effectively and in a timely way’.
It also calls for the development of a finalised Ramsar management plan for Port Phillip Bay’s western shoreline, the Bellarine Peninsula and Westernport sites, and the development of a statewide approach to monitoring the ecological character of Ramsar sites.
The report said overall governance, coordination and oversight of the management of Ramsar sites must improve for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations:
“Without this improvement, site managers will continue to be guided by their own priorities, rather than responding to key threats to Ramsar sites’ ecological character.”
It said management effectiveness is not systematically monitored, reviewed or evaluated.
Nature Conservation Review
The recommendations mirror some of those published in our Nature Conservation Review 2014 aimed at improving management of wetlands, including Ramsar wetlands.
Our 2014 nature conservation review recommended that Victoria:
- Develop a Victorian wetlands strategy that sets policy goals, targets and reporting regimes.
- Require land use planning schemes to contain wetland overlays to prohibit destruction or modification of high-value wetlands, as identified by catchment management authorities and including all Ramsar sites.
- Use the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act to protect high-value wetlands that provide habitat for threatened species by declaring them as critical habitat and, where they are under imminent threat, by issuing ‘interim conservation orders’.
- Protect all Ramsar wetland sites on public land within the national park estate. The Auditor-General’s report again highlights the need for further significant investment in managing not just our national parks, but all of our natural areas.
You can learn more about the state of Victoria’s wetlands and rivers in chapter four of our 2014 nature conservation review.