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Ramsar Sites in South Australia

Life in oceans, rivers and seas

“The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention) was signed in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971. The Ramsar Convention aims to halt the worldwide loss of wetlands and to conserve, through wise use and management, those that remain”. Commonwealth of Australia

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 28, 2023

It probably goes without saying that it is startling that the shooting of waterbirds occurs at all in the driest state in Australia, wetlands are indeed precious, and it is even more startling how cunningly integrated with the state’s Ramsar Sites many of these hunting sites are, and many are large. This story was written in 2018, nothing has changed since that time and the killing of waterbirds continues at scale for recreational purposes.

South Australia’s Ramsar sites

The driest state in the driest inhabited continent, South Australia, has six of Australia’s 66 Ramsar sites:

  • Coorong – Lake Albert and Lake Alexandrina – Murray mouth surrounds, 140,500 hectares;
  • Bool and Hacks Lagoons – near Naracoorte, 3,200 hectares;
  • Riverland – Murray River country includes a range of wetland types, 30,600 hectares;
  • Coongie Lakes, near Innamincka, Cooper Creek floodplain, 1.9 million hectares;
  • Piccaninnie Ponds Karst Wetlands, near Mount Gambier, 862 hectares;
  • Banrock Station Wetlands, (privately owned property), 1,375 hectares.

The annual slaughter

The hunting of waterbirds in South Australia occurs February through June (described as a short season) each year. In 2018 the duck season in South Australia began on 17 February and ended on 24 June.

Locations for this extensive slaughter of waterbirds are the Mud Islands game reserve covering ten islands at the southern side of Lake Alexandrina (Coorong), Bool Lagoon near Naracoorte, Bucks Lake Game Reserve (originally a National Park and now reclassified) to the south west of Mount Gambier, Poocher Swamp with its dead River Red Gums to the west of Border Town, Loch Luna and Moorook Game Reserves East of Kingston on Murray, Tolderol Game Reserve on the north western side of Lake Alexandrina, Lake Robe Game Reserve just to the south of Robe, Currency Creek Game Reserve on the western side of Lake Alexandrina and Chowilla Game Reserve at the Murray River Riverland Biosphere Reserve, Chowilla is ‘recognised as a Riverland Wetland of international importance and declared under the Ramsar Convention’ (recognised by whom I wonder? Clearly not the South Australian Government).

Apart from the great suffering of the birdlife there are many rare species in these ‘shelter’ wetlands. In the past the hunting season extended from as early as December, during the breeding season. This meant that young birds were left to starve in their nests because the adult birds had been shot. This is precisely what now occurs in New South Wales where the hunting is on private land.

“Lead shot must not be used for duck hunting in South Australia, nor may you have it in your possession while duck hunting. Several wetlands in South Australia are known to have high densities of spent lead shot in the surface mud of the areas favoured for hunting. This lead is ingested by some types of waterbirds and can cause varying degrees of lead poisoning”. Department of Environment and Water, Government of South Australia

South Australia’s 2023 duck shooting season

Incredibly, given the dire climate conditions of the last few years (toxic flood water is also bad for birdlife) the South Australian Government has called yet another duck shooting season which commences 30 minutes prior to sunrise on Saturday 18 March 2023, to 30 minutes after sunset on Sunday 25 June 2023.

"The protected species permitted for duck hunting in 2023 are":

  • Grey Teal (Anas gracilis)
  • Chestnut Teal (Anas castanea)
  • Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa)
  • Australian Shelduck (Mountain Duck) (Tadorna tadornoides)
  • Maned (Wood) Duck (Chenonetta jubata)

Off the list in 2023 are:

  • Australasian (Blue-winged) Shoveler (Anas rhynchotis)
  • Pink-eared Duck (Malacorhynchus membranaceus)
  • Hardhead (Aythya australis)

Each shooter is permitted to take 8 ducks each day.

Shooting is allowed on ‘Game Reserves’ which unbelievably include Ramsar sites. There are restrictions in place for the 2023 including Bool Lagoon Ramsar Site, Chowilla Ramsar Site and Bucks Lake. Numerous species get caught up in these mass slaughters, the South Australian Government says there are 52 native bird species on Bucks Lake, a coastal wetland system, not to mention the already stressed migrant bird species that are subject to international agreements.

We should not forget the Stubble Quail here. The killing of Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis) commences Saturday 29 April 2023 and ends on Sunday 30 July 2023 inclusive. Shooters are allowed to take up to 25 Stubble Quail each day. This largess is based on the unlikely idea that the population of Stubble Quail in South Australia is between 6 and 17 million, so at the maximum that is around 13 times the human population of Adelaide.