What are Wetlands and why are they important?

Wetlands are areas that are either permanently, seasonally or occasionally waterlogged or covered with water that may be fresh, saline, flowing or static. They can be naturally occurring or created artificially in order to accomplish some function or value, such as aesthetics or to improve water quality. Wetlands provide many benefits which include:

  • Wetlands can help keep water clean by filtering out pollutants and nutrients, providing a buffer zone which protects our rivers, estuaries and shorelines.
  • Wetlands are a source of food and shelter for many birds, fish, frogs, tortoises and invertebrates.
  • Wetlands intercept run off and floodwater in the catchment, hence regulating stream flow and decreasing flood peaks.
  • Many wetlands are great spots for recreation, such as camping, bush walking and bird watching.

Within the Shire of Murray there are a number of wetlands which are recognised as being internationally important wetlands under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (to which Australia is a signatory), such as the Peel-Harvey Estuary, Lake McLarty and Lake Mealup and nationally important wetlands, such as Barragup Swamp.

Around 80 per cent of all of the natural wetlands that were once present on the Swan Coastal Plain prior to European settlement have been cleared, filled or developed. An estimated 15 per cent have retained high ecological values and are known as Conservation Category Wetlands.

While Conservation Category Wetlands enjoy the highest protection standards, there are also other wetland classifications in the Shire of Murray, such as Resource Enhancement Wetlands and Multiple Use Wetlands. All proposals that may interfere with Conservation Category Wetlands and Resource Enhancement Wetlands are referred to the Department of Environment and Conservation for their assessment. Generally, a 50m buffer applies around those identified wetlands where effluent disposal systems, stables or livestock will generally not be supported.

The following activities can degrade wetlands

  • Filling, draining or clearing.
  • Addition of water (e.g. from stormwater, from de-watering.)
  • Change in flow regime in riverine wetlands.
  • Use as detention basins.
  • Removal of water (e.g. for stock or horticultural use.)
  • Excessive abstraction of groundwater.
  • Introduction of exotic plants and animals within and adjacent to wetlands.
  • Grazing of stock.
  • Removal of wetland vegetation (either directly or indirectly)
  • Fire.
  • Spraying.
  • Various kinds of development, particularly those resulting in increased numbers of people living nearby.
  • Threatening processes such as climate change, weeds and plant diseases.

More information is available through the Department of Parks and Wildlife Wetlands website.

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