Opinion | Wetlands are not wastelands

Ramsar is a small inconspicuous town on the Caspian Sea. It is also a name known the world over for the ground-breaking declaration on wetlands that was signed there in 1971. 

The Ramsar Convention is an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. They protect and improve water quality, provide food and habitat for fish and wildlife, store floodwaters and maintain surface water flow during dry periods. Many species of birds and mammals rely on wetlands for food, water and shelter, especially during migration and breeding. Importantly wetlands also store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. In an effort to protect the wetlands from upstream impacts Conservation Volunteers Australia, the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at UON, and Newcastle City Council have recently completed a four-year project to restore the urban waterways of the Ironbark Creek catchment. About 50,000 trees, shrubs and groundcovers, planted on site have helped improve important habitat and food resources for threatened species and filter runoff water flowing into the wetlands. The successful water-sensitive-urban-design treatment at Allowah Reserve is really a showcase for the project.

Celebrate World Wetlands Day at the Ramsar-listed Hunter Wetlands Centre on Friday, February 2, by taking part in a day of free seminars and field trips. See first hand the ongoing transformation of marginal farmland and freshwater wetlands into mangrove and saltmarsh now that tidal flow has been restored to the coastal floodplain through opening of the floodgates on Ironbark Creek.

Professor Tim Roberts is director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle