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Ramsar Initiative

Implementing the Peel-Yalgorup System Ramsar Site

Management Plan: A Priority Coastal Hotspot

This project has been implemented by the Peel Harvey Catchment Council (PHCC), with funding from the Australian Government's Caring for our Country initiative and Alcoa of Australia Pty Ltd.

The Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar Site Management Plan (PYS plan) aims to maintain the ecological character of the wetland environment that is such an important part of Mandurah and the Peel-Harvey Region, by encouraging wise use of the wetland and its resources.

The Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar wetland covers 26,000 hectares and comprises four sub-systems, the Peel Inlet, Harvey Estuary, the McLarty Lakes and the Yalgorup Lakes. Further detail about the Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar system, in the form of a Ramsar Information Sheet (or RIS) and a detailed map of the system are available from the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) website.

Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar Convention, or the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, was the first International Convention with an environmental focus. Ramsar addresses the values of wetlands and wetland ecosystems. The Convention’s member countries cover all the regions of the world.

The Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar System was listed under the Convention in 1990. Ramsar wetlands are nominated as internationally significant sites by meeting at least one criterion set out in the Ramsar Convention. The Peel-Yalgorup is currently listed as meeting six of the nine criterion set out in the convention. It is expected that this will increase to also meet an additional criterion, Criterion 2, for supporting vulnerable species or threatened ecological communities.

Ramsar is important because migratory birds travel along routes called flyways, that cross a number of country borders. This means that there is potential for key habitat in parts of flyways to be independently destroyed or developed. Ramsar signatories have committed to maintain the ecological character of their listed wetlands by implementing 'wise use' practices and legislation. The Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar Wetland is one of the destination feeding grounds that migratory birds use after they arrive in Australia to escape the cold in the northern hemisphere.

As a signatory to the Ramsar Convention the Australian Government has certain responsibilities to maintain their listed wetlands. To fulfill these responsibilities an ecological character description must be completed for each Ramsar site. The Peel-Yalgorup Ecological Character Description (ECD) was completed in 2007.

Following on from the development of the ECD, the PYS plan was developed as a practical site specific application of Ramsar ‘wise use’ principles to maintain the ecological character of the system and to target on-ground works in the most threatened areas across the system. The Peel-Yalgorup Monitoring and Evaluation Guide outlines the methodologies to be used in areas that had significant gaps in data, or of indicative species.

Environmental Protection of National Matters of Significance

The Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act is the national Government’s key piece of environmental legislation to protect Ramsar wetlands and endangered species. The Thrombolite (microbial) community of Lake Clifton was listed as a critically endangered community under the EPBC Act in January 2010. Lake Clifton is part of the Yalgorup Lakes, which is listed under the Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar System.

Water Quality

Inappropriate land uses within the Peel-Harvey Catchment, such as land clearing and fertiliser use, have increased the nutrient input to the waterways, resulting in nuisance algal blooms. In 1994 the Dawesville Channel was constructed to alleviate pressure on the Peel Inlet and Harvey Estuary by increased flushing with the Indian Ocean. The Department of Water (DOW) is responsible for the Peel-Harvey estuarine water quality monitoring program, which measures changes in water quality since 2001.

As a means of addressing declining water quality within the Catchment the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Peel-Harvey Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP), which is being implemented through the Filtering the Nutrient Storm project. The WQIP recommends actions to decrease nutrient input to the Estuary to that there are less algal blooms.  The Ramsar project has completed natural resource management projects, including:

Waterbird Monitoring

The Peel-Yalgorup Ramsar System provides an important refuge for waterbirds and is recorded as an important bird area for conservation. The PHCC has been working closely with Mandurah Bird Observers Group and Birds Australia (Peel), as well as other community groups, to undertake waterbird monitoring on the Ramsar System. Since the Ramsar System covers such a large area we have needed lots of local volunteers to help. Monitoring of the shorebird population is carried out as part of a wider Australian-wide waterbird monitoring program, the Shorebirds 2020 initiative.

Funding from the Australian Government was used to hire ornithologist Bill Rutherford to train volunteers in shorebird identification and counting techniques.

Two shorebird workshops were held, in association with Shorebirds 2020 and the City of Mandurah, to engage the community to participate in the shorebird counts of the Ramsar System. The coordinated Shorebird 2020 in 2010 increased the area counted from previous efforts due to the successful workshops held in the lead up to it.

The 2010 count recorded a total of over 71,000 waterbirds. The final dataset can be downloaded here. The shorebird counts will be repeated in late January or early February each year. Please contact the Ramsar Coordinator if you would like to get involved.

The Ramsar Initiative also provides support to Birds Australia volunteers who monitor the Hooded Plover ground nesting birds that breed on Yalgorup Lakes.

Rehabilitation and monitoring of vegetation

Revegetation and invasive species control at Lake McLarty has been undertaken in partnership with DEC and with support from community groups Peel Preservation Group and Men of the Trees. Further to other revegetation efforts around McLarty the 2009/2010 Ramsar initiative has planted 3 hectares of rushes into riparian and littoral wetland zones. A further 3 hectares has also been planted on the southwest corner of the lake, reconnecting fringing bushland vegetation.

Weed control at Lake McLarty and on the eastern side of the Estuary has targeted Typha orientalis, Cottonbush, Watsonia, Sydney Golden Wattle, deadly nightshade and Thistle.

Lake Mealup

Lake Mealup has become increasingly acidic due to a drying climate and diversion drains changing natural water flows. Working in partnership with the Lake Mealup Preservation Society and DEC to address this problem, the PHCC sourced Caring for our Country funding for water quality monitoring and typha control.

A Lake Mealup Advisory Committee was formed to review all of the data that has been collected, which included hydrology, water quality, acid sulphate soils, waterbird counts, and macro-invertebrate surveys. The Committee determined that water levels on the lake needed to be maintained to reduce acidity and stop the lake bed from oxidizing. The PHCC (through the Filtering the Nutrient Storm project) is working closely with DEC and the DOW to install a weir in the Mealup Main Drain, south of the lake, and divert water into the lake.