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Sister Cities to celebrate wetlands connection

Sister Cities to celebrate wetlands connection

By Nigel Dique and Courtney Kelly.

The councils of Newcastle, Port Stephens and Kushiro, Japan, will this year celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sister Wetlands Agreement. The agreement established a ‘Sister Wetland’ relationship between the ‘Kooragang and associated Wetlands’, located in the Newcastle and Port Stephens municipalities, and Japan’s ‘Kushiro Marsh, Kiritappu Marsh, Lake Akkeshi and Bekanbeushi Marsh.’ All these are listed as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The Sister Wetlands Agreement contains objectives for the protection of crucial wetland habitats. The Sister Wetlands Agreement aims to:

  • Exchange knowledge, skills and experience for wetland protection and sustainable use.
  • Share information, survey, and research results with regular visitation by delegates to each wetland.
  • Facilitate the exchange of trainees and researchers studying wetlands.
  • Promote collaborative research on Australian and Japanese migratory birds encompassing both wetlands.
  • Establish shared exchange between Shortland Wetland Centre and Kushiro International Wetland Centre.
  • Collaboration to endorse and raise awareness of activities related to the Ramsar Convention for wetland conservation.

Of particular interest is Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii), a migratory bird, which connects the Hunter and Kushiro. This species breeds in Japan and far eastern Russia during the northern hemisphere summer, then migrates south after the breeding season, travelling across Papua New Guinea to winter in eastern Australia, including the Hunter region.

The Port Stephens Sister Cities Committee aims to foster community awareness of, and participation in, the conservation of these crucial wetlands used as habitats for the Latham’s Snipe and other migratory species. Members from the Hunter Bird Observers Club visited Kushiro and Yugawara in 2023 on a bird-watching expedition, facilitated by the Sister Cities Committee in Port Stephens. This was the first exchange since Covid commenced.

There will be two celebratory events in Port Stephens this year:

  1. A school-based education program will be held from 26 August to 13 September 2024 during the annual bird migration. Ten primary schools in the Nelson Bay to Fern Bay area will be invited to participate.
  2. A community-based education program will be held in November to coincide with a visit by Kushiro Mayor Hiroya Ebina for a formal re-signing of the agreement with the mayors of Newcastle and Port Stephens. An art trail will be created with exhibitions in the Artisan Collective and Port Stephens Community Arts Centre, as well as murals in the Yacaaba St Park with a wetlands theme.

The school-based project in September will advocate for the preservation of vital wetland habitats and spread awareness of the incredible journey of migrating birds. Local artists will provide an art workshop and the Hunter Bird Observers Club will lead workshops with bird identification and hands-on activities.

The 10 participating schools are: Anna Bay Public School, Bobs Farm Public School, Fern Bay Public School, Salt Ash Public School, Shoal Bay Public School, Soldiers Point Public School, St Michaels Catholic School, St Phillip’s Christian College, Tanilba Bay Public School and Tomaree Public School.

They will be supplied with resources, including picture books and teacher notes. Student work, such as artwork, research into wetland flora and fauna etc, will be displayed in an exhibition to be held at Port Stephens Community Arts Centre in November during the Kushiro mayoral delegation visit.

Volunteers from EcoNetwork will be invited to help on the Bird Observers days – two people for each school day.

Useful links:

Latham’s Snipe shores up wetlands diplomacy with Japan – EcoUpdate October 2021

Hunter Estuary Wetlands Ramsar Site – Environment NSW

Published: 3 Mar 2024