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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

2 February 1999

WORLD WETLANDS DAY MAKES A SPLASH AT GWYDIR


Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Sharman Stone MP, today praised the efforts of landholders, conservation groups and Government for their bipartisan efforts to list the Gwydir Wetlands, near Moree, as Australia's 50th internationally protected wetland.

Sharman Stone said the announcement of the Gwydir Wetlands was particularly important, as it was the first wetland to be voluntarily offered for listing by private landholders.

"More than anyone, local landholders understand the importance of conservation and the need for sustainable agriculture. Their efforts today will ensure that future generations can also enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the Gwydir Wetlands," Sharman Stone said.

Today's announcement will recognise the Gwydir Wetlands as a 'wetlands of international importance' under the Ramsar Convention (Iran, 1971).

"Australia was the first signatory to the Ramsar Convention. Now 118 nations are member countries, protecting and managing wetlands around the world."

The first step towards Ramsar listing involves signing a Memorandum of Understanding between local landholders, Senator Robert Hill, Minister for Environment and Heritage, the New South Wales Government, World Wide Fund For Nature and the National Parks Association of New South Wales at Moree today.

"The agreement today will ensure that the Gwydir wetland is managed in accordance with the 'wise-use' principles enshrined in the Ramsar Convention. It is a breakthrough for wetlands conservation in Australia."

The Gwydir Wetlands is located along 95km of the Gingham and Lower Gwydir watercourses west of Moree, encompassing an area of around 102,000 hectares. The wetlands support coolabah and blackbox floodplain woodlands, water couch, bullrush and lignum.

225 species of birds have been recorded in the wetlands area, including 58 waterbird species. Following the 1998 Floods, over 500,000 waterbirds flocked to the Gwydir wetlands for nesting.

"In recent years the Gwydir Wetland has been affected by water extraction for irrigation, upstream damming, weed invasion and clearing for agriculture. As a result, the habitat of a number of rare birds including the brolga, jabiru (black-necked stork), magpie geese and freckled duck is under serious threat."

"The memorandum signed today will protect these rare and endangered species and preserve their natural habitat. It will also allow farmers to maintain sustainable agricultural and livestock production that will complement the wetlands ecology."

"It is an outstanding example of balance and cooperation that is a win for the environment and a win for local landholders."

Sharman Stone said wetlands had also been recognised as a vital part of the Government's $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust, with the National Wetlands Program supporting local projects to rehabilitate and monitor degraded wetlands.

"My congratulations to all those involved in today's historic agreement. This is a leading example of practical conservation at a local level that has created a precedent for communities around Australia and the world," Sharman Stone said

For further information contact:
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser (02) 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415

Commonwealth of Australia