Are we looking after our Ramsar wetlands? Report from the Victorian Auditor-General

Bad news for Victoria’s internationally recognised wetlands and how they are managed.

Australia has 65 wetlands which are recognised internationally as Ramsar wetlands, meaning the wetland is of international importance and the government has agreed to manage it to ensure its ongoing health. 11 of those wetlands are in Victoria.

A report released today from the Victorian Auditor General’s Office has reviewed how well Victoria’s wetlands are being managed by the variety of government bodies with this responsibility – the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and various Catchment Management Authorities.  The report focuses on the adequacy of the wetlands management plans and their implementation, and whether monitoring, evaluation and reporting occurs and is used to improve management.

This report found that overall there are significant problems with the management strategies and approaches currently put into place and noted potential decline in the ecological condition of a number of wetlands, although a lack of information makes this unclear.

A core reason behind the failings in management of Ramsar Wetlands is linked to the chaotic division of management strategies between various agencies. Parks Victoria, in conjunction with a range of other bodies, manages 10 of the sites, with Melbourne Water solely responsible for the 11th – the Edithvale-Seaford wetlands.  VAGO found that Parks Victoria “poorly oversees the implementation of management plans” with strategies often not implemented, partly due to a lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities between the various bodies. The report found that of the 404 actions listed for the 10 Parks Vic managed Ramsar sites, only 51% had been carried out. 115 were partly carried out or deemed to be the responsibility of another agency. Parks Vic does no monitoring and reporting of implementation of its management plans.

It also found that lack of funding for management significantly impacts what can be achieved.

The contrasting case is the management of the Edithvale–Seaford wetlands by Melbourne Water.  VAGO found that Melbourne Water’s standalone management of the wetland was successful, due to the structure creating clear responsibilities for implementation and monitoring of its wetland. It had a high rate of implementation of Ramsar Wetlands strategies, with all high priority strategies having been completed.

Overall report makes it clear that the current management of Victoria’s 11 strategies is not sufficient nor appropriate given their Ramsar status. VAGO has made a number of recommendations for improvements.

Image: Hattah-Kulkyn National Park by Hinda and John

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