The Ramsar Convention encourages the development of three key documents for each Ramsar site:
The Australian Wetlands Database gives access to the Ramsar Information Sheet for all Australian sites. Ecological Character Descriptions and Management Plans are also on the database if currently available in electronic format.
Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention are required to provide a Ramsar Information Sheet (RIS) for all sites designated as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. RISs need to be provided to the Ramsar Secretariat at the time of nomination of a site to the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Furthermore, parties to the Ramsar Convention have a commitment to provide updated RIS information for all of their Ramsar sites at intervals of six years or when there are any significant changes in the sites' ecological character.
The RIS provides essential data on each designated Wetland of International Importance, in order to allow analysis of Ramsar-listed wetlands around the world, provide baseline data for measuring changes in the ecological character of wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention, and provide material for publications which inform the public about Ramsar sites. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the detailed written description of a designated wetland in the RIS legally defines the 'declared Ramsar wetland' and should be of sufficient detail to define the site boundary without reference to a map.
Detailed information on the requirements for RISs, and information regarding the format are available at the Ramsar Convention Web Site: 'Explanatory Note and Guidelines for completing the Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands '.
Ecological Character Descriptions describe the ecological character of a wetland at the time of its listing as a Wetland of International Importance. The description of ecological character is a requirement under the Ramsar Convention and the Australian Ramsar Management Principles established under the EPBC Act Regulations 2000. The information below is sourced from the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands (Australian Government 2008).
The Ecological Character Description for a Ramsar wetland is typically used to:
- Assist in implementing Australia's obligations under the Ramsar Convention, as stated in Schedule 6 (Managing wetlands of international importance) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000:
- to describe and maintain the ecological character of declared Ramsar wetlands in Australia
- to formulate and implement planning that promotes:
- conservation of the wetland, and
- wise and sustainable use of the wetland for the benefit of humanity in a way that is compatible with maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem.
- Assist in fulfilling Australia's obligation under the Ramsar Convention to arrange to be informed at the earliest possible time if the ecological character of any wetland in its territory and included in the Ramsar List has changed, is changing or is likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
- Supplement the description of the ecological character contained in the Ramsar Information Sheet submitted under the Ramsar Convention for each listed wetland and, collectively, form an official record of the ecological character of the site.
- Assist the administration of the EPBC Act, particularly:
- to determine whether an action has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on a declared Ramsar wetland in contravention of sections 16 and 17B of the EPBC Act; or
- to assess the impacts that actions referred to the Minister under Part 7 of the EPBC Act have had, will have or are likely to have on a declared Ramsar wetland.
- Assist any person considering taking an action that may impact on a declared Ramsar wetland whether to refer the action to the Minister under Part 7 of the EPBC Act for assessment and approval.
- Inform members of the public who are interested generally in declared Ramsar wetlands to understand and value the wetlands.
Management Plans are used to formulate and implement planning so as to promote the wise use and conservation of wetlands. Management Plans must be consistent with the Ramsar Convention, Schedule 6 of the EPBC Act Regulations 2000 (the Australian Ramsar Management Principles) and relevant National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands – Implementing the Ramsar Convention in Australia. A management plan for a Ramsar wetland cannot be recognised by the Australian Government as a Ramsar management plan unless it is in accordance with these principles.
For a Ramsar wetland in a State or Territory, the Commonwealth must use its best endeavours to ensure that a management plan is prepared and implemented in cooperation with the State or Territory. The principles are set out in the regulations and cover matters relevant to the preparation of management plans, the environmental assessment of actions that may affect the site, and community consultation processes.
Australian National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands
National Guidelines for Ramsar Wetlands are currently being developed. The aim of the guidelines is to facilitate improved management of Ramsar sites and maintenance of ecological character, in line with Australia's commitments under the Ramsar Convention and responsibilities under the EPBC Act. The guidelines will provide a framework for Ramsar Convention implementation in Australia and provide jurisdictions and other interested parties with clear guidance on the management of Ramsar sites. These guidelines include the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia's Ramsar Wetlands.