Freshwater Protected Area Resourcbook

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1. Summary

1.1 Abstract

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, the conservation of biodiversity, including aquatic biodiversity, requires the protection of representative examples of all major ecosystem types (especially those vulnerable to degradation) coupled with the sympathetic management of ecosystems outside those protected areas. This requirement was re-affirmed by the 2004 World Conservation Congress (see Appendix 18). Although the Australian Commonwealth Government, and all eight Australian State and Territory governments are committed to this approach, only Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have funded specific programs aimed at establishing fully representative systems of inland aquatic protected areas. In Victoria and Tasmania these systems remain incomplete. Although all Australian jurisdictions have established reserves (Ramsar sites, for example) which protect aquatic ecosystems, the degree to which such reserves protect representative inland aquatic ecosystems has not been systematically assessed in any Australian State.

The resourcebook examines the policy background, history, role and importance of protected areas for the conservation of inland aquatic ecosystems in Australia. Rivers and subterranean ecosystems are identified as neglected by the current terrestrial reserve network, although the fact that comprehensive inventories of freshwater ecosystems are incomplete in most Australian States makes this conclusion anecdotal rather than quantitative. Here ‘freshwater’ is used as shorthand for ‘inland aquatic’.

Commonwealth and State programs aimed at the sympathetic management of utilised ecosystems are summarised in Chapter 7 and are also examined and discussed in appendices. A major management issue in this area relates to a failure by all Australian States to implement effective strategic programs for the management of the cumulative effects of incremental developments impacting on freshwater ecosystems. Regional natural resource management programs now under development are unlikely to deliver better results in this regard unless supported by comprehensive inventories of freshwater ecosystems.

The resourcebook recommends the accelerated development of comprehensive inventories of freshwater ecosystems in all Australian jurisdictions, partly to provide platforms for the identification and selection of protected areas. A second key recommendation is the development of a national framework for the establishment of comprehensive, adequate and representative aquatic protected areas. The protection of high conservation value rivers is also the subject of specific discussion and recommendations.

1.2 Project genesis

Biodiversity needs to be protected within the landscape – it is neither practical nor effective to conserve biodiversity values within ‘captive ecosystems’. Measures must be taken to protect biodiversity, not only within parks and reserves, but across a landscape of ecosystems (managed under different tenures) used to satisfy a variety of human needs. Within this larger framework, protected areas play a crucial role.
Representative reserves (or more correctly representative ‘protected areas’) are an accepted component of terrestrial and marine biodiversity conservation programs, both in Australian and around the world. In addition, representative reserves have important values in protecting ecosystems of special importance, in providing biodiversity ‘banks’ to assist in rehabilitation programs outside reserves, and in providing ecologically-based benchmarks useful in assessing the sustainability of management programs. However, in spite of explicit international and national commitments, Australian State governments have been slow to establish systems of representative reserves in freshwater environments.
In September 2000, the Australian Society for Limnology (ASL) established a working group to examine the issue of representative reserves in inland aquatic environments. This monograph is the product of that investigation, and examines government commitments and programs in the light of information related to the use of the “protected area” concept.
A central purpose of this document is to promote discussion of all issues surrounding the development of freshwater protected areas, including their limitations. The importance of representative protected areas provides a focus for the document. Its expected audience is primarily natural resource managers at various levels, policy makers, and scientists. It is structured to allow the reader to find specific information on a particular issue quickly, without having to peruse the entire resourcebook. The degree of detailed technical information provided establishes the work as a resourcebook as well as a discussion paper.

1.3 Biodiversity: importance of representative protected areas

A cornerstone of biodiversity protection (articulated in the international context in the Stockholm Declaration 1972 and the World Charter for Nature 1982, and repeated in the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992) is the tenet that, where ecosystems are subject to significant modification by humans (through harvesting, pollution, resource extraction, or the introduction of exotic species, for example) it is necessary to set aside from human use representative examples of these ecosystems to provide biodiversity “banks”, and benchmarks against which human management of the ecosystems can be measured in the long term.
The “mirror” of this tenet states that actions should also be taken in managed (utilised) ecosystems to minimise anthropogenic impacts by protecting natural values (including biodiversity) as far as practicable. Threatening processes need to be identified and abated as far as practicable everywhere, not just within reserves.
This cornerstone is one of the key foundations of the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, and has been broadly adopted by all national biodiversity strategies developed by signatory-nations to the Convention, including Australia's national strategy. Australia’s national biodiversity program has a long history, but was re-defined by the National Strategy for the Conservation of Biological Diversity 1996, to which all Australian States are signatories (Commonwealth of Australia 1996). This strategy built on two existing inter-State agreements: the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment 1992 and the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development 1992. Principle Eight1 of the 1996 strategy articulates the above cornerstone, re-emphasising the importance of systems of representative protected areas.
Calls for the protection of representative aquatic ecosystems in Australia pre-date the World Charter for Nature. For example, Lake (1979) recommended: “There is a clear and urgent need to conserve representative ecologically viable samples of Australian rivers and streams.” These recommendations, like those of Pollard and Scott (1966) have been largely ignored.

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