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Council to consider Ramsar listing for Mambo-Wanda Wetlands

Council to consider Ramsar listing for Mambo-Wanda Wetlands

By Nigel Dique, Convenor Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Ramsar Working Group.

The Ramsar Convention is an international agreement for the protection and conservation of wetlands, inaugurated under the auspices of UNESCO on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

At long last Port Stephens Council is having a serious look at the question of having the Mambo-Wanda Wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention. A motion to that effect was passed unanimously at the June 13 meeting of Council.

The review doesn’t guarantee that Council will back Ramsar but it’s the first time the issue will get a thorough going-over by Council officers. In-principle support by the site owner is a prerequisite for Ramsar listing, something the Mambo-Wanda Wetlands Ramsar Working Group has been pursuing since 2018. The working group has had several meetings with Council officers. However, progress was frustrated by the onset of Covid and turnover of key Council personnel over five years, necessitating re-briefings.

Royal Spoonbill. Photo © Walter Lamond.

A welcome initiative

A motion put by Cr Leah Anderson was a welcome initiative. The motion read that Council:

‘notes that the Mambo Wetlands Reserve and the Wanda Wetlands Reserve form part of an important wildlife corridor and habitat, which significantly contributes to the performance of the local ecosystem.’

‘requests that the General Manager prepare a report for consideration of relevant matters relating to the potential for Ramsar listing of the Mambo Wetlands Reserve and the Wanda Wetlands Reserve.’

A report will now be prepared detailing the:

  • steps required by Council to support a site nomination
  • cost and resourcing required to develop and support a site nomination
  • cost and resourcing required for ongoing maintenance and monitoring of the site
  • potential constraints, including legislative, to be considered prior to supporting the Ramsar listing.

Grant funding opportunities

At the Council meeting, as the Ramsar working group’s convenor, I gave a five-minute Public Access talk accompanied by slides in support of the motion, mentioning that one of the benefits of listing was that it would increase opportunities for grant funding for the wetlands.

Responding to a question from Cr Anderson, I said that, in NSW alone, six Ramsar sites – from the Murray region to the State’s north – had received Regional Land Partnerships grants ranging from $284,000 to $3 million.

The move to have the Mambo Wanda Wetlands listed as a Ramsar site had its genesis on 27 November 2016 when Dr Stuart Blanch, then CEO of the Hunter Wetlands Centre (part of the Hunter Wetlands Centre Ramsar site), addressed an EcoNetwork Community Forum on how to pursue Ramsar listing for the wetlands. (Dr Blanch is now Senior Manager, Towards Two Billion Trees, at WWF-Australia).

The 2016 Forum called for the establishment of a working group, which was formed on 7 March 2017 comprising:

  • Walter Lamond, Emeritus registered surveyor and former Chair of the Mambo Wanda Wetlands, Reserves and Landcare Committee
  • Margaret Lamond, the committee’s works coordinator
  • Mark Clifton, professional diver; researcher; with a degree in marine science; regularly assessing the Barmah-Millewaa Ramsar site on the Victorian border.  
  • Neil Fraser, geologist (ret.) and long-time bird watcher with the Tomaree Bird Watchers and Hunter Bird Observers Club.
  • Peggy Svoboda, Senior Land Services Officer, Estuaries, Hunter Estuaries Program (NSW Local Land Services).
  • Darrell Dawson, founder of EcoNetwork, now retired.
  • Nigel Dique, treasurer of EcoNetwork (and convenor).

Yes to Ramsar criteria

The working group applied itself to establishing if indeed the wetlands qualified for Ramsar listing. After much field work and correspondence with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (now NSW Environment, Energy and Science), the group determined that out of 9 Ramsar criteria to evaluate a wetland, Mambo Wanda met criteria 2, 3 and 4, and potentially 8.

As only one criterion needs to be met, the group decided to focus on Criterion 2, that ‘A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened species.’ Neil Fraser prepared a detailed paper on how the wetland met Criterion 2.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Neil established, for example that a number of migratory birds winter in Salamander Bay including:

  • Far Eastern Curlew – critically endangered (EPBC Act 1999)
  • Bar-tailed Godwit – vulnerable (EPBC Act), threatened (International Union for Conservation of Nature 2023), endangered (Action Plan for Australian Birds 2020)
  • Grey-tailed Tattler – near threatened (IUCN)
  • Little Tern – endangered (Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016)
  • Common Tern – least concern (IUCN)
  • White fronted Tern – near threatened (IUCN), endangered (Action Plan for Australian Birds)

Woodland fauna

Neil also identified threatened woodland fauna (Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016) in the wetlands including mammals (koala, brush-tailed phascogale, little bent-wing bat, greater broad-nosed bat), amphibians (wallum froglet) and birds (white-bellied sea-eagle, powerful owl, glossy black cockatoos), as well as ecological communities including coastal saltmarsh, swamp oak forest and swamp sclerophyll forest.

Photo © Walter Lamond

Wetlands link the environment to people providing urban green space, reduces the impacts of floods, absorbs pollutants and improves water quality. According to the U.S. EPA, wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rainforests and coral reefs.

Add to those benefits the prestige of international recognition and educational opportunities for school and community groups.

All of which, not only qualifies Mambo-Wanda for Ramsar listing but, reflects its value as native habitat. Its value to the community goes further.

Should Council support the Ramsar listing, the next steps to be taken include State Government support to nominate, consultation with key stakeholders (adjacent landowners, Traditional Owners and community groups), supporting documentation, a boundary description and maps, and a management plan or system.

The State Government then reviews and submits to Australian Government, which then reviews and submits to the Ramsar Convention Secretariat.

Mapping breakthrough

In relation to the maps, discussions initiated by Walter Lamond with the University of Newcastle resulted in the University agreeing to offer cadastral mapping of the wetland as a final year assignment for the Bachelor of Surveying degree.

As a result, a student took up the offer and his final presentation to the university audience was widely acclaimed for its quality, leading directly to a further presentation to the Hunter Chapter of Surveyors Australia. The maps represent a substantial financial donation to the Ramsar project. It’s estimated that it would cost around $20,000 to commission a professional survey firm to do the maps.

In relation to site management, an existing Plan of Management for Mambo Wetlands (2006) recognises its significant ecological values and provides a framework for future management of the wetland. The working group’s Neil Fraser reviewed this Plan and has provided guidelines for revision and Ramsar adaptation.

Management options

However, the Ramsar guidelines also say that an additional Plan of Management is not required if an ‘Agreed Action and Site Management Plan, is in place to support an application for Ramsar listing.

So there are options – and they don’t appear to cost an arm and a leg!

All we can do now is await the General Manager’s report, which will have a major bearing on whether Council will support in principle Ramsar listing for the Mambo-Wanda wetlands and open the way to complete the remaining steps needed to obtain State Government backing.

Further reading:

Mambo-Wanda Wetlands – a chequered past – EcoUpdate July 2023

Threatened Species of Mambo Wetlands Reserve, Salamander Bay

Port Stephens Estuary Shorebird Site Action Plan, Birdlife Australia/NSW Local Land Services

Neil Fraser’s excellent 3-part series on the Shorebirds of Port Stephens:

Published: 30 Jun 2023