Wetlands marks 10 years on Ramsar 

CELEBRATIONS will  today  mark 10 years since the Hunter Estuary Wetlands was listed as a Ramsar site – a distinction given to internationally important wetlands of biological diversity.

There have been 213 bird species recorded at the 45-hectare Shortland wetlands  as well as bandicoots, snakes, turtles, possums and frogs across  the Shortland and Kooragang sites.

Hunter Wetlands Centre chief executive Ken Conway said the diverse population had come  after a long period of rehabilitation.

The Shortland site was owned 28 years ago by Hamilton Rugby Club and known as Marist Park.

It had a football field, cricket ovals, space to run horses and cattle and swamps filled with dumped rubbish.

‘‘There was one significant patch called melaleuca swamp forest,’’ Mr Conway said.

‘‘It was a threatened ecological community and the main breeding site on the NSW coast for four species of egrets.’’

University of Newcastle professor Dr Max Maddock saw an opportunity when Hamilton Rugby Club went into receivership to apply for a government grant  and turn it back into wetlands.

The Shortland Wetlands Centre Limited was formed in 1985 as a not-for-profit charity to rehabilitate and run the site.

It was a proud day after 17 years when the site was added to the Ramsar Convention’s list of Wetlands of International Importance, Mr Conway said.

‘‘The benefit of a listing is international recognition and the protection values it brings.

‘‘The environmental values [the site] had when it was listed are the values we have to protect.’’

To revegetate the site volunteers have sown a total of 220,000 plants   which have helped attract the diverse range of animal life.

More plantings, including local rainforest species, are planned over the next five years.

The Shortland and Kooragang sites  are now important havens  for two threatened species, the magpie goose and freckled duck.

Latham’s snipes migrate from  Japan  while Nankeen night herons fly in  from  New Guinea and black-necked storks stop  on their way from the Northern Territory to breed in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Hunter Estuary Wetlands are the only community-owned and run Ramsar-listed wetlands in the country, with all funding  through grants or ecotourism activity.

DISTINCTION: Wetlands boss Ken Conway at the celebrated eco-sanctuary.  Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

DISTINCTION: Wetlands boss Ken Conway at the celebrated eco-sanctuary. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers