2021 Western Australia Annual Wetlands Conference

The 17th annual WA Wetland Management Conference organised by The Wetlands Centre Cockburn was held on March 16th 2021 at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention. The conference, originally scheduled to coincide with World Wetlands Day in February 2021, was rescheduled due to a snap COVID lockdown in Perth.

The conference attracted researchers, government environmental officers, conservation volunteers and community members. It provided a platform to share research results, new knowledge and experiences on the management and restoration of Wetlands, and discuss problems posed by climate change. It was also an opportunity for networking and forging new partnerships. The key themes for this conference were aligned with the World Wetlands Day theme of “Wetlands and Water”, which emphasised the importance of fresh and saltwater wetlands in sustaining nature whilst also contributing towards the social and economic development of its users – people. The objectives were to highlight the importance of water and wetlands in maintaining life on earth and to develop actions to combat their loss and where possible to restore them.

The venue for the conference was especially significant for the 50th anniversary of the Ramsar treaty as areas around Mandurah are listed under Ramsar Site 482. These areas include the Peel-Harvey Estuary and various lakes that form part of the Yalgorup National Park. On March 15th 2021 pre-conference tours were organised by The Wetlands Centre Cockburn.

There were two boat tours of the Peel-Harvey Estuary where Dr Steve Fisher (PHCC) and Dr Vicki Stokes (Birdlife Australia) shared their knowledge of the wetlands and the birdlife on the estuary followed by a guided nature walk of the Creery Wetlands conducted by Sarah Way (Ways to Nature).

Sarah Way, Ways to Nature, providing Creery Wetlands Guided Walk

There were also Cultural and Science tours of the Lake Clifton thrombolites (Woggaal’s Noorook). George Walley (Mandjoodoordap Dreaming) guided the cultural tours with insights into the significance of the land, waterways and the thrombolites, followed by a stopover at Lake Clifton where Rick James (PHCC) and Mike Venarsky (DBCA) spoke about ongoing research and changes in the health of the thrombolites due to climate change and increased salinity of Lake Clifton.

The pre-conference day concluded with the Dandjoo Gabi Wonga Sundowner hosted by PHCC, which showcased “Ramsar Soapbox” sessions, local food and art. The soapbox sessions included talks by local ecotourism businesses, researchers, community members and high school students on the economic, scientific and social importance of the Wetlands; the threats posed by climate change, and ways to mitigate the effects of climate change by educating and engaging people and the community to protect the future of the Wetlands and the myriad of life it sustains.

The main conference on March 16th commenced with opening remarks by Philip Jennings, Wetlands Conservation Society and ‘Welcome to Country’ by George Walley. The keynote presentation was delivered by Steve Fisher (PHCC) on the importance of the Ramsar Site 482 wetlands, the challenges faced due to urban development and strategies used to address these threats through restoration, revegetation and community involvement. PHCC representatives presented talks on the Yalgorup Lakes, monitoring of the health of the lakes and the “Wetlands and People” project where the community is mobilised to protect and support the wetlands system.

Other presentations included “Voicing Waterways” about the involvement of indigenous and non-indigenous researchers in highlighting the relationships and interdependence of humans and water systems, wetland conservation and protection of The Lake Muir Unicup Wetland, the involvement of Green Skills in the Tootanellup Eco Restoration project, and a presentation on the resident dolphins of Mandurah and The Clean Waterways Campaign. There were also talks on the positive impacts of forging partnerships between community members, local government and funding agencies in restoring the Derbarl Yerrigan wetlands, the use of herbicides and their effects on the health of the Lake Richmond thrombolites, and an inspiring video documentary, Bindjareb Gabi Wonga – Bindjareb Water Story.

Poster presentations included the use of additives to control algal blooms in wetlands, the Saint Leonard Creek Project, and the Soldiers Cove Water Wise Wetland Development. A highlight was the poster presentation by Year 9 students of John Tonkin College on The Black Bream Stock Enhancement Project. This was an example of how youth can be successfully educated and engaged in protecting our waterways. Closing remarks from Tom Perrigo, Chairperson from The Wetlands Centre, Cockburn concluded the presentations. The final hour of the conference was devoted to four concurrently run workshops. The workshops covered topics on the appreciation of wetlands through ecotourism, turtle tracking and monitoring at the City of Cockburn, migratory shorebird conservation and developing a biodiversity database for reserve management.

The Wetlands Centre gratefully acknowledge the sponsors of the conference – Peel Harvey Catchment Council, National Landcare Program, City of Cockburn, City of Mandurah, DBCA and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation.