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Archived media releases and speeches


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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

2 February 2003

$1 Million To Conserve Migratory Shorebirds

Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, today celebrated World Wetlands Day by announcing $1 million in Natural Heritage Trust funding to conserve migratory shorebirds.

Dr Kemp said more than two million migratory shorebirds of 36 species each year migrate up to 25,000 kilometres between their breeding grounds in the Northern Hemisphere and Australia and back.

"The birds migrate along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, which starts at breeding grounds in Northern China, Mongolia, Siberia and Alaska and covers twenty countries in East Asia and the Pacific, before arriving in Australia and New Zealand," Dr Kemp said. (See graph below)

"Some shorebirds, such as the Red-necked Stint, are as small as 25 grams and make their migration in a series of short flights of 1000-2000 kilometres between stops to rest and recuperate. Larger shorebirds, such as the Great Knot, can fly several thousand kilometres non-stop. The largest of the shorebirds to migrate to Australia, the Eastern Curlew, makes its migration with only one or two stops. The migration takes as long as three to four months each year for most of these birds."

Along the way the birds rely on a network of important wetland sites to stop and feed, to build up stores of fat and protein to fuel the next leg of their flight. The birds are able to adapt to habitats as diverse as the Arctic tundra, the tropical wetlands of Papua New Guinea and cold temperate shorelines of New Zealand and Tasmania.

"Australia is leading international efforts in East Asia to conserve these birds and the habitats vital to their survival. Much of the funding I am announcing today goes towards this effort," Dr Kemp said.

"We are continuing to provide core funding support for the Action Plan for the Conservation of Migratory Shorebirds in the East Asian - Australasian Flyway. This work will promote cooperation by all countries in the Flyway to conserve and effectively manage important habitat for shorebirds.

"We are also supporting the implementation of an international partnership to conserve migratory waterbirds established last year under the World Summit for Sustainable Development."

Other projects funded today include:

"We are also actively protecting the birds when they are on Australian shores," Dr Kemp said.

"Australia provides more than 150 internationally important sites for migratory shorebirds, which equates to approximately 25% of such sites in the Flyway. The sites include Port Phillip Bay and Western Port here in Victoria; 80-mile Beach in Western Australia; the Hunter Estuary in New South Wales; the Southern Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland; Fog Bay, south-west of Darwin in the Northern Territory; Spencer Gulf in South Australia; and the Boullanger Bay area of Tasmania.

"With this funding, a Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds will be developed under the Government's environment legislation the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to conserve shorebirds in Australia. Improvements will be made to our data on shorebird numbers and movements so we can better enforce the Act's regulations to protect the birds.

"Australian communities living in the Flyway can get involved with practical activities to conserve shorebirds through the Australian Shorebird Conservation Project. The Government is providing funding to the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia (WWF) to coordinate community conservation activities at internationally important shorebird sites around Australia. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of community engagement in this initiative."

World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971. The theme is 'Wetlands, Water and Sustainability'. 2003 is also the International Year of Freshwater.

Wetlands are vital parts of a healthy river system as they help to reduce sediment and nutrient loads and provide habitat for birds, fish, frogs, tortoises and other fauna.

For high-resolution photos and further details on World Wetlands Day activities, visit For details on the International Year of Freshwater, visit

Media contact:
Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400

East Asian-Australasian Flyway

Managing Australia's Water Resources


The Commonwealth Government plays a fundamental role in promoting the sustainable use, management and protection of Australia's freshwater resources, and in helping to address the widespread degradation of our precious land and water resources.

National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality

The National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is tackling two of the major natural resource management issues facing our rural industries, regional communities and unique environment.

Through the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, all levels of government are working with the community to deliver local and regional solutions to salinity and water quality problems.

Communities in 21 priority catchment regions across Australia are developing regional plans setting out a range of activities to tackle salinity and water quality problems in their regions. Activities in the plans range from on-ground activities like tree planting and fencing, large-scale engineering infrastructure such as salt inception schemes, or activities to improve community knowledge such as salinity mapping or research and development projects.

The Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments have backed this commitment with $1.4 billion over seven years to implement the National Action Plan.

The goal of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality is to motivate and enable regional communities to:

The Natural Heritage Trust

The $2.7 billion Natural Heritage Trust is a partnership with the community, providing funding for environmental activities at a national, state, regional and community level.

Through the Natural Heritage Trust's water initiatives, the National River Health Program, Rivercare and Waterwatch, thousands of Australian communities are working to address water problems.

Waterwatch groups are actively involved in the protection and management of their waterways and catchments. Since Waterwatch began, the number of monitoring groups has grown from 200 operating in 16 catchments to over 3,000 groups in 200 catchments. Regular monitoring occurs at approximately 5,000 sites nationally.

Community level funding is delivered through the Australian Government Envirofund, with the Commonwealth Government working in partnership with communities to support local on-ground actions to tackle environmental and natural resource management problems.

With Natural Heritage Trust funding, community groups have initiated many positive solutions to improve the quality of their waterways by fencing eroded areas of riverbanks and revegetating with local native species, eradicating weeds and invasive species, protecting waterways from stock and feral animals, and reducing the use of pesticides and other pollutants.

Council of Australian Governments Water Reform Framework

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Water Reform Framework is based on the recognition that action is needed to halt the widespread degradation of our natural resources and to ensure the sustainable use of our precious water resources. The Framework seeks to establish integrated and consistent approaches to water resource management throughout Australia.

Critical environmental water issues are identified in the Water Reform Framework and include allocation of water for the environment; ecological sustainability of new developments; institutional reform; the incorporation of environmental costs in water pricing; ecologically sustainable water trading; sustainable use of groundwater; and implementation of the National Water Quality Management Strategy. Implementation and continued observance of the COAG water reforms is a requirement for States and Territories to receive their full share of payments under the National Competition Policy arrangements.

Through the implementation of the Framework, the needs of the environment have become genuinely recognised in water use decisions. Governments are stopping new water allocations from overused rivers and aquifers and they are no longer building dams that are ecologically unsustainable. Water management plans being developed provide for adequate environmental flows in both surface and groundwater and aim to preserve ecologically significant environments.

Changes such as the commercialisation of irrigation operations and the progress so far in establishing water entitlements and trading arrangements are leading to improvements in water use efficiency and to a more efficient and effective water sector.

Other Commonwealth Government freshwater programs

The Commonwealth Government also supports the sustainable use of Australia's freshwater resources through:

For further information on freshwater management initiatives visit

Marine Environment

Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Australia has rights and responsibilities over some 16 million square kilometres of ocean - an area more than twice the size of the Australian continent. The majority of Australia's marine area is under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Government.

Australia's vast coastal waters and oceans contain among the greatest arrays of marine biodiversity on earth. From the spectacular coral reefs of the tropical north to the kelp forests of the temperate south, Australia's marine environments contain more than 4,000 fish varieties and tens of thousands of species of invertebrates, plants and micro-organisms. About 80 per cent of our southern marine species occur nowhere else in the world. This gives Australia a global responsibility to protect and conserve our considerable marine heritage. Our oceans also contain very significant natural resources which must be managed carefully to ensure their long term health is balanced with economic benefits.

Oceans policy

In 1998 - the Year of the Ocean - the Commonwealth Government launched Australia's Oceans Policy making Australia the first country in the world to develop a comprehensive national plan to protect and manage its oceans.

The National Oceans Office was established to administer the policy, which provides an integrated planning and management framework for the vast ocean area known as Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Policy supports an integrated and ecosystem-based planning and management for all of Australia's marine areas and protects our marine and coastal natural resources from pollution. It promotes ecologically sustainable development of the resources of our oceans and encourages marine industries that protect marine biodiversity.

At the core of the Oceans Policy is the development of Regional Marine Plans, based on large marine ecosystems which will integrate across economic, environmental, social and cultural objectives. The National Oceans Office is undertaking final consultations towards completing the South-East Regional Marine Plan, the first regional marine plan for Australia.

The Regional Marine Plans aim to determine the conservation requirements of each marine region, including the establishment of marine protected areas, prevention of potential conflict between sectors in relation to resource allocation, and provision of long term security to all ocean users.

With the expenditure of $2.5 million on 13 projects under Australia's Oceans Policy, the Government is addressing the serious problem of coastal acid sulphate soils that underlie essentially all Australia's coastal wetlands. These soils, once exposed to air through drainage or excavation, produce sulfuric acid and leach damaging contaminants into coastal waterways.

In 2003, Australia will phase out the use of toxic organotin-based antifouling paints on ships. Antifouling paints are placed on the hulls of ships to stop organisms such as molluscs and algae from attaching themselves to the surface. While it is important to stop organism build up on ships as it spreads marine pests, parasites and diseases, some antifouling paints contain toxic chemicals and can be harmful to marine species. The phasing out of these antifouling paints will provide a long-term improvement in marine water quality, particularly in estuaries and ports.

Marine Protected Areas

A marine protected area is an area of sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biodiversity and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.

Marine parks, nature reserves and other marine protected areas can include reefs, seagrass beds, shipwrecks, archaeological sites, tidal lagoons, mudflats, saltmarshes, mangroves, rock platforms, underwater areas on the coast and seabed in deep water.

Some of the benefits of Marine Protected Areas include maintaining biodiversity; protecting endangered or threatened species and their habitats; enhancing fisheries by ensuring breeding areas are not degraded and catch limits are sustainable; providing opportunities for research; and conserving our cultural heritage such as sites of Aboriginal significance.

Marine protected areas can be declared under Commonwealth, State or Northern Territory legislation in seas within each government's jurisdiction. The State and Northern Territory governments have primary responsibility for marine environments up to three nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline. Along most of our coastline, the territorial sea baseline is the low water mark but in some areas is up to 60 nautical miles offshore.

Some of the Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas include Ashmore Reef (58,300 hectares), declared in 1983; Lord Howe Island Marine Park (300,000 hectares), declared 2000; Great Australian Bight Marine Park (1,940,000 hectares), declared 1998; Heard Island and McDonald Islands Marine Reserve (6,460,000 hectares), declared 2002; Cartier Island Marine Reserve (17,200 hectares), declared in 2000; and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (34,480,000 hectares), declared 1975. The total area of Commonwealth Marine Protected Areas amounts to 61,698,080 hectares.

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a nationally and internationally significant area with outstanding natural values. It makes a major contribution to the local, regional and national economy as well as being of major social significance to the region and the nation. Along with the largest system of coral reefs in the world, the Reef is home to extensive seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and sponge gardens. Many of the Reef's marine species rely on coastal freshwater wetlands and estuaries as breeding and nursery areas. Unfortunately, it is facing an increasing threat from a decline in the water quality in the catchments draining into the Reef lagoon.

The Commonwealth and Queensland Governments are jointly developing a Reef Water Quality Protection Plan to protect the Reef from land-based sources of pollution. Extensive land development in the catchments adjacent to the reef for urban centres, agricultural production, tourism and mining has led to increased pollution of these rivers. The Plan focuses on diffuse sources of catchment pollution as point sources such as mines and sewage treatment plants are already regulated.

The Commonwealth is also addressing the issue through implementing "no regret" measures including working with interested industries and local communities such as the fishing industry and the Port Douglas community.

In recognition of the importance of water quality and the key role of wetlands for the Great Barrier Reef, the Commonwealth Government has allocated $16 million for a Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program.


The Coastcare program is one of the four components of the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust and provides opportunities for the community, Indigenous groups, the business sector and governments to become actively involved in the protection and management of Australia's coastal and marine environments.

The regional plans that are being developed under Bilateral Agreements between the Commonwealth and the States as part of the extension of the NHT provide for funding for coastal and marine conservation and management activities. These plans reflect a whole of catchment approach to ensure Government investment encompasses integrated management of regions.

The NHT Envirofund also provides opportunities for funding community projects to protect coastal environments. Projects can include:

Other Commonwealth Government marine programs

For further information visit

Commonwealth of Australia