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Ramsar Sites in Victoria

Life in oceans, rivers and seas

“The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources”.

Peter Hylands

May 10, 2024

Australia has 66 Ramsar sites (in May 2010 two Ramsar sites in Kakadu National Park were merged to form the Kakadu National Park Ramsar site and Victoria has added one more site). The first Ramsar designated wetland was the Northern Territory’s Cobourg Peninsula.

Victoria’s Ramsar sites

The State of Victoria has 12 of these Ramsar treaty wetlands. There are a number of Ramsar wetland sites on the border of Victoria which form part of the overall wetland system and these include Piccaninnie Ponds Karst Wetlands in South Australia, Central Murray State Forests (among New South Wales Murray wetland system) and Tasmania’s Lavinia (King Island). There are numerous other wetlands in Victoria not listed under the Ramsar Convention. Sadly, the Kerang Wetlands Ramsar site has become the 200th game reserve in the state and done so under the current Labor Government.

Victoria’s Ramsar wetlands are:

  • Barmah Forest
  • Corner Inlet
  • Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands
  • Gippsland Lakes
  • Gunbower Forest
  • Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes
  • Kerang Wetlands
  • Lake Albacutya
  • Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula
  • Western District Lakes
  • Western Port
  • Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay

International embarrassment

The Australian Government’s Australian Ramsar management principles include:

Does the plan describe actions that will be taken to deal with any impacts that endanger the wetland's ecological character? This should include mechanisms that respond to risks associated with:

  • Physical loss, modification or encroachment on the wetland;
  • Loss of biodiversity;
  • Pollution and nutrient input;
  • Changes to water regimes;
  • Utilisation of resources; and
  • Introduction of invasive species.
“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. The Convention encourages member countries to nominate sites containing representative, rare or unique wetlands, or that are important for conserving biological diversity, to the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar List)”.

Each year, for as long as I can remember, I have suggested to the Victorian Government that Victoria’s annual slaughter of birdlife on Victoria's Ramsar sites, as well as being a display of brutality and cruelty towards defenceless birdlife, is an international embarrassment.

"Your Government is party to a series of international agreements in relation to wetlands and birdlife and these need proper attention and compliance, including in the spirit of these agreements. I have raised these issues over and over again over a very long period with numerous Ministers in the Victorian Government. Nothing has changed". Peter Hylands to the new Victorian Environment Minister, Ingrid Stitt

For the 2023 duck shooting season the advice is as follows:

“In Victoria and on its Ramsar sites and other wetlands it is now prohibited to hunt the Blue-winged Shoveler and Hardhead as both species were recently listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988”. Victorian Government

Children engaged in the killing and present in the water when shooting is occurring:

"Particularly disturbing is the involvement of children in the mass killing of birdlife and the way we have been ignored when we have suggested education, and not slaughter and gun violence, would be a far more positive experience for young children. The Japanese and UN approach to education and Ramsar sites are examples I have highlighted in the past. Shockingly these positive ideas do not even receive a response, this as exciting and positive opportunities for children, are destroyed by these long outdated attitudes from your government in Victoria". Peter Hylands to the new Victorian Environment Minister, Ingrid Stitt. Stitt is also the Minister for Early Childhood & Pre-Prep

Injured Hardhead, a result of duck shooting on a Ramsar site in Victoria

What they don’t tell you is that the reason these two duck species are now threatened is that they have been shooting these birds on mass, each and every year. The claim is that this kind of killing is always sustainable, that is of course until the species becomes threatened. Just outrageous.

Merchants of spin

The response is always similar, in 2018 the response from the then Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), to my suggestions that the slaughter should cease, received a very similar response to all previous and subsequent communications on this matter. I quote two extracts from the Victorian Government’s response: 

“There are a number of laws in place under this legislation (Wildlife Act 1975 and Wildlife (Game) Regulations 2012) to ensure that hunting is conducted humanely and responsibly with minimum impact on our environment”.
“There are codes of practice in place under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1988 which guide best practice while hunting to prevent cruelty and encourage the considerate treatment of animals that are hunted or used for hunting”.

There is a vast amount of evidence documented over many years that shows precisley the opposite. The government has been presented with this evidence each and every year.

What is particularly shocking is that in Victoria Ramsar sites are not signposted, nor signed. Instead signs claim these places are game reserves.

Shooting waterbirds on Victoria’s Ramsar sites: Economic vandalism

Two things to think about:

  • Most human activity generates some form of economic activity, what is desirable and what is possible in the modern age are considerations here and these do not include the mass slaughter of Australia’s birdlife on Ramsar sites; and
  • The nature of Australia is attributed with no value at all, this is the greatest of all miscalculations.

Despite the claims of some Victorian politicians and their public servants that the slaughter of waterbirds is an economic benefit it is likely that the precise opposite is the case and that this cruel and pointless destruction of wildlife actually diminish the opportunities for regional economic development.

Victoria’s Ramsar wetlands should be an international tourist attraction, providing opportunities for tourism and regional hospitality, food and wine, education and a vast range of positive and knowledge based economic developments. The grim annual slaughter blocks these opportunities, and for what?

Above all, the Victorian Government should understand that wildlife, and there is something particularly engaging about birdlife, is more useful alive than dead or brutalised. The government's own success on Phillip Island, developing Little Penguin tourism and attracting an extraordinary number of visitors to the island should be a pointer to what is possible on Ramsar sites, and I quote from their Penguin annual report:

“In 2015-16, the Nature Parks welcomed a total of 1,093,236 ticketed visitors. 57 per cent of visitors to our ticketed venues were from overseas”.

Perhaps they think a Little Penguin ‘shoot’ would generate more visitors, I somehow doubt it.

The Little Penguin Eudyptula minor is the smallest of all penguin species.

2023 Duck shooting in Victoria

“The 2023 season will start at 8:00 am and will close 30 minutes after sunset each day from Wednesday 26 April 2023 to Tuesday 30 May 2023 (inclusive). The bag limit is four (4) birds per day”. GMA

Despite huge public pressure, shockingly, the Victorian Government has announced yet another duck shooting season in 2023.

“While the interim ‘harvest’ model has been run to inform the settings for the 2023 duck season, the outputs of this model have been modified to provide a more precautionary approach to concerns regarding the rates of wounding of ducks, poor behaviour by some hunters, and the fact that waterbird abundance, breeding and habitat availability, all show long-term declines”. GMA, Victorian Government

The 2023 season declared within days of a significant outbreak of Avian Botulism, impacting hundreds of birds at Victoria’s Bells Swamp. Ducks were the most impacted, species include the Chestnut Teals, Grey Teal, Black Duck and Wood Duck, Spoonbill, Moorhen, Coot, White-faced Heron and Magpie Lark. The last thing Australia’s birdlife needs is yet more stress from mass shooting, adding to the already immense environmental stress of climate change and pollution, to name just two.

In an attempt to keep this heinous birdlife destroying show on the road, three things have happened. Firstly a makeover of Victoria’s Game Management Authority’s (GMA) PR spin that now suggests that shooters have been doing the wrong thing and the government and the GMA, using their mea culpa spin, are going to see to it that these things do not happen in the future (an old PR ploy). So what were the duck shooters doing? Here is the list from the GMA:

  • Hunting, taking or destroying threatened wildlife;
  • Hunting, taking or destroying protected wildlife (non-game species);
  • Hunting in prohibited areas;
  • Shooting early during open season;
  • Use of toxic shot (lead);
  • Failing to immediately retrieve a downed bird; and
  • Failing to immediately dispatch a downed bird.

We have known about these things for decades.

Secondly, the continual shuffling of deck chairs in the Victorian Government (in all matters regarding government enabled wildlife killing) to diffuse responsibility for what occurs and to let the senior Ministers in that government off the hook when it comes to selling something very disdainful, often dishonest, and something they may not agree with.

So, as public pressure mounts to stop the mass killing of Australia’s birdlife, the responsibility for duck shooting has gone from the Environment Minister to the Agriculture Minister, to the new set up, which puts duck shooting under the ‘Outdoor Recreation Minister’, Sonya Kilkenny. It is always the Labor women who get handed this poison chalice. Duck shooting is however fundamentally an environmental issue.

The public service engages in the same tricks and this makes stopping the cruel abuse of wildlife very difficult.

These factors have driven a situation in Victoria where the responsibility for climate change and environment are now separated, this kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed and shows a complete lack of regards for Australian species by government in that state.

Thirdly, the timing of announcements regarding terrible conduct towards wildlife and other environmental destruction is carefully thought through to minimise the likelihood of media attention. So we have announcements on Christmas eve, on new year’s eve, during the Boxing Day test and on it goes. This time it was on a Friday afternoon as Australia’s media was focussed on the opening of World Pride in Sydney. All of this malarky suggests to me that the government has something to hide and something it knows is wrong.

Victoria is not the place to be if you happen to be a bird

Between 2009 and 2018, this was the story:

“Victoria is not the place to be if you happen to be a bird, 73 per cent of species subject to control in Victoria were bird species with a total of 397,549 birds, of which 182,721 or 45 per cent were from a range of parrot species. We also need to remember that ATCWs are not the only way animals in Victoria die, so we can add another 4.5 million dead water birds and Quail (I am being modest in my calculations) in the last ten years to the tally in Victoria because of duck shooting in the state. So all up, that is around 4.9 million birds in the state in the ten year period”.

We should not forget the mass slaughter of Stubble Quail in Victoria:

“The open season for Stubble Quail is from 30 minutes before sunrise on the first Saturday in April until 30 minutes after sunset on 30 June in each year. The bag limit of twenty birds per day for Stubble Quail minimises any long-term effects of harvesting on the overall population and ensures that the harvest of Stubble Quail is shared equitably among recreational quail hunters”. GMA

In 2023 the Stubble Quail season in Victoria was shortened to the same period as the 2023 Duck shooting season from 26 April to 30 May 2023. The Victorian Government says that the long-term average of Stubble Quail shot each year in Victoria by bird shooters is 155,000.