Aussie wetlands vitally important, says study

By AAP with AG staff 22 March 2012
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The largest survey ever conducted of Autralian wetlands reveals the most important habitats for waterbirds.

AUSTRALIA’S MOST IMPORTANT WETLANDS for waterbirds have been identified by University of NSW researchers, following extensive aerial surveys.

Teams of observers in light aircraft surveyed 4858 wetlands across Australia in late 2008.

A subsequent analysis was released by the National Water Commission on Thursday and estimated there are 4.6 million waterbirds from more than 100 species across these wetlands.

“This is the first time in Australia that we have attempted a national audit of the value of our wetlands for waterbirds,” said Professor Richard Kingsford, director of the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre at UNSW.

“We can now make some relative comparisons about the importance of different wetlands across the continent, which will help long-term decision-making about water resource management and conservation.”

The expansive Yellow Water wetlands, Kakadu | Credit: David Hancock       LAUNCH GALLERY

Australian wetlands support massive bird populations

The survey found that few wetlands supported large numbers of waterbirds (more than 10,000) – half of all waterbird species were found in just 1.1% of the wetlands surveyed; and that the top 20 wetlands held about 40 per cent of all waterbirds.

Four of the five most important wetlands are in north-west Western Australia: Eighty Mile Beach, lakes Gregory and Argyle, and Roebuck Bay.

The Timor Sea has the highest concentration of drainage wetlands, followed by the south-west coast, the report found. Lake Eyre Basin was found to cover the largest area for wetlands.

Wetlands with extremely high concentrations of waterbirds (between 30,000 and 300,000) were found in northern Australia, Western Australia, central Queensland and western NSW.

Long-term wetland management

“This provides management authorities with an excellent opportunity to measure long-term changes for waterbird communities, using the most important subset of wetlands,” Richard said.

“Many of them are already identified as important under the Ramsar Convention, for which governments have reporting responsibilities.”

The team also analysed long-term changes in waterbird numbers, using annual data collected during aerial surveys of eastern Australia.

They found long-term declines, although the recent floods have provided evidence of some recovery.