Participants of Hunter Estuary Forum ©Hunter Wetlands Centre
The Hunter Estuary in Newcastle NSW, Australia is a place of great contrasts. It hosts the most important estuary in NSW for migratory shorebirds, the Hunter Estuary National Park and the Hunter Estuary Ramsar site, which includes Hunter Wetland Centre, Australia’s first dedicated wetlands centre. The Hunter Estuary is also home to the largest export facilities for both thermal and manufacturing coal in the Southern Hemisphere.
Since the early 1980’s the Hunter Estuary has benefitted from four significant wetland restoration projects, beginning with the restoration of a small area of drained and degraded wetlands which was to become Hunter Wetlands Centre. Each of these restoration projects took lessons from what had gone before. Most importantly strong social partnerships among community conservation organisations, governments and industry organisations underpinned these achievements.
Earlier this year Hunter Wetlands Centre proposed the idea for a Hunter Estuary Forum to commemorate the 20th anniversary Hunter Wetlands Centre being listed as a Ramsar site and to open a conversation among estuary stakeholders that have a role as managers, knowledge holders, service providers and educators for the estuary. Such an event would provide the opportunity to reconnect with our shared conservation history
The forum program was designed in partnership with Australian Ramsar Administrative Authority (Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water), NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Hunter Bird Observers Club. EAAFP also came on board in recognition of the Hunter Estuary as Site Number 10 on the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Site Network.
On 31 August, participants from Local Government, State Government, Industry groups and non-government conservation organisations joined together at Hunter Wetlands Centre to hear from both keynote speakers and estuary locals from many sectors on the priorities and the challenges for the Hunter Estuary.
The response to the event and the engagement on the day was very encouraging. It was clear from discussions from the floor and in break-out groups that collaboration across sectors has been a missing ingredient in recent years. There was strong concensus among participants on the need for a collaboration mechanism that could provide a neutral space where shared objectives might be developed.
The Hunter Estuary and surrounding catchment has a unique opportunity to demonstrate a collaborative and cooperative approach to conservation and management of our coastal environment. We have the opportunity to leverage the science and knowledge underpinning the Hunter Estuary to guide coastal wetland restoration and identify transferrable learnings that can be used in other coastal communities.
There was strong support for continuing the Hunter Estuary Forum process where some of these threads can be developed and it is hoped that a follow-up event can be held by mid 2023. Through sharing knowledge and experience, we may be better able to consider innovative management models that can deliver mutual benefits for our estuary and its stakeholders.
Article prepared by:
Christine Prietto, HWCA Ramsar Officer, Hunter Estuary Forum Convenor, Ramsar NGO CEPA Focal Point, Australia
Official website of Hunter Estuary Forum: https://wetlands.org.au/hef/