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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

18 November 2002

Australia Builds on its Strong Record in Wetland Conservation

The Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, was pleased to announce today the designation of four Australian wetlands to the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, the world's peak wetland conservation treaty.

"The designations, which will also be announced this week at the Eighth Ramsar Conference of Contracting Parties in Valencia, Spain, are: Ashmore Reef Marine National Nature Reserve, Coral Sea Reserves (Coringa-Herald and Lihou Reefs and Cays), Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve and The Dales (Christmas Island)," Dr Kemp said.

"Australia currently has the second greatest number of Ramsar sites in the world, with the new site designations increasing the number of Australian Ramsar sites to 63. These designations also increase the total wetland area in Australia, protected under the Ramsar Convention, from approximately 5.3 million hectares to greater than 7.2 million hectares. Australia now has the third largest area protected within Ramsar sites globally."

"Australia has a long history of supporting the Ramsar Convention. We were one of the first countries to become a Contracting Party to the Convention, and designated the world's first Wetland of International Importance in 1974 - the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land and Wildlife Sanctuary."

"Ashmore Reef National Nature Reserve (58,300 hectares), located north of Broome, provides important nesting sites for seabirds and turtles and supports a diverse range of species, including sea snakes, Dugongs, and invertebrate fauna. Ashmore Reef is one of only three emergent oceanic reefs present within the north-eastern Indian Ocean and is the only reef in the region with vegetated islands."

"The Coral Sea Reserves (1,729,200 hectares), north-east of the Great Barrier Reef, are made up of near-pristine oceanic islet and reef habitats. The site provides undisturbed habitat that is used for nesting by the globally endangered Green Turtle and by breeding populations of seabirds. Coral reef within the site also supports a distinct community of marine flora and fauna."

"Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs Marine National Nature Reserve (188,000 hectares), east of Coffs Harbour, includes the southern-most coral atolls in the world. The Reserve supports an abundant and diverse marine fauna, including uncommon and undescribed fishes and several unique species of mollusc, providing the only habitat for these species in a vast area of ocean."

"The Dales (57 hectares), located within the Christmas Island National Park, are made up of a near-pristine system of watercourses that support important populations of unique, threatened and significant species. The Dales are especially important for a number of crab populations including the Blue, Red, and Robber crabs. The site also includes coral reef and subterranean karst (underground cave) wetlands, and The Dales will be the first Ramsar site in Australia that includes karst wetland."

"Once a wetland is designated to the List of Wetlands of International Importance, it must be managed to ensure the special ecological values, for which it was nominated, are maintained or improved," Dr Kemp said.

In addition to the designation of these four Commonwealth sites, a number of wetlands under State and private jurisdiction have also been designated this week. These are Fivebough and Tuckerbil Swamps (NSW) and the Banrock Station Wetland Complex (SA). The existing Kooragang Nature Reserve Ramsar site has also been extended to include Shortland Wetlands, and has been re-named the Hunter Estuary Wetlands.

The Convention on Wetlands was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. It is the oldest international conservation agreement to promote the concept of sustainable use. The Convention has 133 Contracting Parties, with 1,200 wetland sites, totalling 103.3 million hectares worldwide. The theme of the Eighth Conference is 'Wetlands: Water, Life and Culture'.

Australia is co-sponsoring a number of Resolutions to be considered at the Eighth Conference - a resolution that supports the continuance of the Ramsar Convention's communication, education and public awareness initiatives, a resolution that promotes a greater appreciation of and support for Pacific Island Countries in the Ramsar Oceania region, and a recommendation to further the cooperative work on migratory waterbird conservation in the Asia Pacific Region.

For high resolution photos and for more information on wetlands please visit and for more information on the Ramsar Convention please visit

Media contact:
Catherine Job (Dr Kemp's office) 02 6277640 or 0408 648 400

Related Information

Commonwealth of Australia