Many thousands of birds around the world migrate from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere and back again each year in an annual pilgrimage to breed and feed. Huge flocks will fly thousands of miles with unerring accuracy to their destination. Eventually they will be forced to land to drink and eat and thus become an easy prey for awaiting birdcatchers. Many birds find that the wetland they have visited so regularly has gone, buried under concrete and infrastructure. The sustainability of those flocks and sometimes those species is thus threatened.
An international effort to protect them
In 1971 after 10 years of discussion, 18 countries gathered at the town of Ramsar in Iran and signed the “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat” agreeing to protect the wetlands used as stopovers by the migrating flocks in their countries. This is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. By the year 2012 there were 2006 designated sites and 140 member countries.
Australia signed up the first official Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 1974.
One of the obligations imposed on the Australian Government by Ramsar is the preservation of the ecological character of the registered wetland sites.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) assists the Australian Government to achieve this objective. Under Part 3 of the EPBC Act, a person must not take an action that has, will have, or is likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of a declared Ramsar wetland. An “action” includes a project, development, undertaking or any activity or series of activities. This includes relevant actions that occur outside the boundaries of a Ramsar wetland. (Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Environment and Water Resources, May 2007)
A Ramsar Wetland is not a foregone conclusion. Many criteria have to be met. This includes the visiting to the site by at least 20,000 birds per year.
In 1990 the Peel Yalgorup Region met the required criteria and became an officially designated Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
In addition to its obligations under Ramsar, Australia has bilateral treaties to conserve migratory birds in the East Asian – Australasian Flyway (the Flyway). For more information on these agreements please follow this link to JAMBA and CAMBA or go to the Birds page on this site