No wetlands, no water, no fish, no future: who’s going to sort out the mess?

World Wetlands Day is celebrated internationally each year on 2 February. It marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) in Ramsar, Iran, on 2 February 1971. This year the theme is wetlands and climate change and in Australia it could be not timelier.

The tragic fish kills in the Murray-Darling system are nature’s response to the combination of mismanagement of this river system including over-allocation of water extraction, the inadequate provision for environmental flows and drought exacerbated by climate change.

“This disaster has made one thing clear: no economy, no society and no communities can survive without healthy ecosystems,” said Anne Dickson, President of the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA).

“NPA is deeply concerned that the rivers, wetlands, floodplains and ecosystems along the Murray-Darling Basin are collapsing under extreme pressure. We’re particularly concerned about the fate of the wetlands from the high-country catchments through to floodplains and the Coorong that have been starved of adequate environmental flows for many years.

“The States, supported by the Federal Government and the Opposition, have enthusiastically taken 675GL[1] of real water out of the environment under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan while opposing the return of 450GL additional environmental water that the Plan provided for.

“The drying up of the Darling demonstrates, again, that the current provisions for environmental water in the Plan are simply not enough.

“The Ramsar list identifies just 16 sites of international significance in the vast Murray-Darling basin, but even these are not flourishing under current management regimes. This highlights a total failure by Australia to discharge its international obligations, and is inextricably linked to climate change where we’re also a global laggard.

“Besides Ramsar sites, there are many more wetlands of national significance under severe stress and which also need—and deserve—better management.

“Our wetlands, be they along the Murray-Darling or along the coastal fringe, are in crisis and on World Wetlands Day 2019 we call upon all politicians to take their plight seriously, address the direct threats they face and not to pander to the specific demands of interest groups. We owe it to our communities,” Ms Dickson concluded.

NPA notes that wetlands are vulnerable to climate change, but they play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, through capturing and storing carbon and providing resilience to hazards such as flooding, storm surge and sea level rise. 

[1]605GL downwater and 70GL from the northern basin

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