Wetlands dominate the riverine landscape in the Murray-Darling Basin and are internationally recognised as some of our most significant environmental assets. Wetlands play an important role in maintaining the health and integrity of river systems and are crucial in providing ecosystem services. Wetlands provide critical habitats for plants, invertebrates, fish, birds, and mammals, including rare and threatened species and thus, are important in maintaining biological diversity. Wetlands also perform important ecological functions such as biochemical transformation and storage, production of living plants and animals and decomposition of organic materials. In addition, wetlands have significant cultural and recreational values. In regions with variable climates, such as Murray-Darling Basin, where wetlands are also important in flood mitigation and in providing refuges during drought. Many wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin are recognised as of being national and international importance.
The wetland ecosystems of the Murray-Darling Basin are changing rapidly and are subject to a wide range of processes that could significantly alter their character and ability to provide critical ecosystem services. These changes include water resource development, land use changes and the introduction of animals and plants that may directly and through complex interactions affect the character of wetlands and therefore the ecosystem services that they provide.
One of the MDBC objectives is the protection and enhancement of the Basin’s shared environmental assets and water resources. If the MDBC is to achieve its objective of protecting and enhancing the Basin’s shared environmental assets and water resources, sustainable management of wetlands will be an essential component of their management strategy. Sustainable management requires implementation of a monitoring program as the data is necessary to report on the status of environmental assets, determine whether management intervention is required, identify the required management actions, determine whether the intervention has been successful and identify ways in which the intervention could be improved. The development of a monitoring program requires several steps:
Identification and Prioritisation of Assets
Determine Objectives and Targets
Assessment and Monitoring
Currently, wetland monitoring is required at several jurisdictional levels, including federal and state governments, the MDBC and Catchment Management Organisations. However, despite significant investment in monitoring river health, there has been very little investment in the development of wetland monitoring programs. At best, ad-hoc arrangements exist for monitoring wetlands, and in many cases they are ignored because of the lack of suitable monitoring techniques. Thus wetland monitoring is often incomplete and inconsistent at both regional and state levels. This has resulted in a paucity of information regarding wetland condition and an inability to sustainability manage wetlands across much of Australia.
The National Land and Water Resources Audit, National Water Commission, Department if Environment and Water, the NRM Ministerial Council, the Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce and all state governments have accepted the need for the development of wetland monitoring programs and the need for a consistent approach. In light of this, the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA), in conjunction with state agencies undertook the National Wetland Indicators Review which developed a framework for monitoring wetland extent, distribution and condition. The National Wetland Indicators Review undertook an extensive review of the different programs, indicators, and frameworks currently being used to monitor wetlands in Australia and overseas, and held jurisdictional workshops and national workshops to develop and reach national agreement on a set of indicators and guidelines for extent, distribution and condition of lacustrine and palustrine wetlands. This review was used to develop nationally consistent and coherent wetland indicators relating to wetland extent, distribution and condition, protocols, and methodologies to inform national natural resource management processes at a variety of scales ranging from individual wetland, regional and state-wide scale (e.g. the Australian Wetland Inventory, State of the Environment reporting, Ramsar Convention implementation, and NRM national, state and regional monitoring and evaluation). The report also reviewed government programs to clarify the relationship between the proposed wetland monitoring program and other water initiatives such as the National Water Commission’s Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH).
The NLWRA framework has the support of federal, state and regional jurisdictions and the proposed framework has been agreed to by the Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce and has been presented to the Aquatic Ecosystems Taskforce for consideration. The proposed indicators are currently being trialled and sampling protocols and methodologies are being developed for a number of indicators.
Given the widespread support for the NLWRA framework, there can be no value in duplicating this framework. Thus, it would appear sensible for the MDBC to support its implementation. The major issue for the MDBC is what role it should play in implementation of the NLWRA and where can the MDBC add value to the data that might be generated in order to further improve its capacity to meet its objectives.
This report provides a summary of the NLWRA framework and of the current approaches being taken to System Inventory, Identification and Prioritisation of Assets, Intervention Monitoring, System Understanding and Condition Assessment. The report outlines the management need in all of these areas and provides the MDBC with options for collaboration with the various institutions involved in implementing the NLWRA framework.