This Section provides general information about the Ecological Character Description (ECD) process and the Kakadu National Park Ramsar site.
The Kakadu National Park Ramsar site was historically two separate Ramsar sites within Kakadu National Park. These were Kakadu National Park (Stage I including wetland components of Stage III) and Kakadu National Park (Stage II). Kakadu National Park Stage I was originally listed as a Ramsar site in 1980 and expanded in 1995 to include wetland components of Stage III, while Stage II was listed in 1989 as a separate Ramsar site. The separate listing under the Stages reflected the historical listing of the area as a World Heritage site and a national park.
The Kakadu National Park (Stage I including wetland components of Stage III) Ramsar site comprised of all lands and waters in the eastern portion of the Kakadu National Park, following the eastern boundary of the Park along the East Alligator River and including the Nourlangie, Jim Jim and Barramundi Creeks. In 1995, the boundaries of site number two were extended to include only the wetland habitats within the eastern and southern areas of Kakadu National Park (Stage III). Specifically, the Stage III area encompasses the in-stream waters, waterholes and associated tributaries of the South Alligator River commencing at the western border of Kakadu National Park Stage I and following the river corridors southwards to the headwaters, and including the wetlands located on the Marrawal Plateau.
Kakadu National Park (Stage II) encompassed all lands and waters situated in the northern and Western part of the National Park, including the Wildman, West Alligator and South Alligator River systems and their floodplains, following the western Kakadu National Park boundary. The Stage II area also includes both Field Island and Barron Island within Van Diemen Gulf to the low water mark.
In April 2010, the two Ramsar sites were merged together to form a single Ramsar site, called Kakadu National Park. In addition, the site was extended by approximately 600 000 hectares to include all remaining areas of Stage III. The merger and extension bought the Ramsar boundary in line with the existing boundary of the national park.
Kakadu National Park is co-managed by Indigenous owners and the Director of National Parks through a joint management board. Three excisions from the National Park and Ramsar site encompass mining lease areas (Uranium) and freehold land.
The Ramsar Convention sets out the need for contracting parties to conserve and promote wise use of wetland resources. In this context, an assessment of ecological character of each listed wetland is a key concept under the Ramsar Convention.
Under Resolution IX.1 Annex A: 2005, the ecological character of a wetland is defined as:
The combination of the ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time.
The definition indicates that ecological character has a temporal component, generally using the date of listing under the Convention as the point for measuring ecological change over time. As such, the description of ecological character should identify a wetland’s key attributes and provide an assessment point for the monitoring and evaluation of the site as well as guide policy and management, acknowledging the inherent dynamic nature of wetland systems over time.
This is the first ECD document prepared for the site and although the document has been prepared for the whole of Kakadu National Park, it needs to draw on and identify baseline data from the different listing dates of the three Stages to provide appropriate assessment points for the monitoring and evaluation of the site. Although additional areas of Stage III were added to the Ramsar site in 2010, it is worth noting that the ‘wetland components’ of Stage III were already included in the Ramsar site in 1995. The 2010 extension of the site adds all other areas of Stage III into the Ramsar site consistent with the national park and World Heritage listing. Whilst ECDs describe the ecological character of a Ramsar site, they predominantly focus on the wetland values and characteristics that contributed to the site being listed as a Wetland of International Importance. As such, the ECD will retain a focus on the listing dates 1980, 1989 and 1995. Hereafter, the combination of all three Stages is referred to as the ‘Ramsar site’ or ‘Kakadu National Park’, with attention drawn to individual Stages as necessary.
The report has been prepared in accordance with the requirements of the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia’s Ramsar Wetlands (DEWHA 2008) (hereafter referred to as the National Framework). Further information about the requirements of the Framework is discussed in Section 1.2.
Note: Throughout this document, the term ‘Bininj’ is used to refer to traditional owners of Aboriginal land and traditional owners of other land in the Park, and other Aboriginals entitled to enter upon or use or occupy the Park in accordance with Aboriginal tradition governing the rights of that Aboriginal or group of Aboriginals with respect to the Park.
Bininj is a Kunwinjku and Gundjeihmi word, pronounced 'binn-ing'. This word is similar to the English word 'man' and can mean man, male, person or Aboriginal people, depending on the context. The word for woman in these languages is Daluk. Other languages in Kakadu National Park have other words with these meanings, for example the Jawoyn word for man is Mungguy and for woman is Alumka, and the Limilngan word for man is Murlugan and Ugin-j for woman. The authors have decided to use the term Bininj for the purposes of this Ecological Character Description.
1.2Scope and Purpose of this Study
Figure 1 -1 shows the key steps of the ECD preparation process from the National Framework document which forms the basis for ECD reporting. Based on the National Framework document (DEWHA 2008), the key purposes of undertaking an ECD are as follows:
1. To assist in implementing Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention, as stated in Schedule 6 (Managing wetlands of international importance) of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Regulations 2000 (Commonwealth):
a) To describe and maintain the ecological character of declared Ramsar wetlands in Australia
b) To formulate and implement planning that promotes:
i) Conservation of the wetland
ii) Wise and sustainable use of the wetland for the benefit of humanity in a way that is compatible with maintenance of the natural properties of the ecosystem.
2. To assist in fulfilling Australia’s obligation under the Ramsar Convention, to arrange to be informed at the earliest possible time if the ecological character of any wetland in its territory and included in the Ramsar List has changed, is changing or is likely to change as the result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
3. To supplement the description of the ecological character contained in the Ramsar Information Sheet submitted under the Ramsar Convention for each listed wetland and, collectively, to form an official record of the ecological character of the site.
4. To assist the administration of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), particularly:
a) to determine whether an action has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on a declared Ramsar wetland in contravention of sections 16 and 17B of the EPBC Act, or
b) to assess the impacts that actions referred to the Minister under Part 7 of the EPBC Act have had, will have or are likely to have on a declared Ramsar wetland.
5. To assist any person considering taking an action that may impact on a declared Ramsar wetland whether to refer the action to the Minister under Part 7 of the EPBC Act for assessment and approval.
6. To inform members of the public who are interested generally in declared Ramsar wetlands to understand and value the wetlands.
The key audiences for this document are expected to be:
The Kakadu National Park Board of Management, the Director of National Parks and Parks Australia as the principal managers of Kakadu National Park.
Bininj, as traditional owners and custodians of Kakadu National Park and its wetlands.
The Northern Territory Government, the Natural Resource Management Board (Northern Territory) and local governments that make decisions that could affect the ecological character of the site.
The Office of the Supervising Scientist (OSS) as the lead agency for science and research associated with uranium operations within and adjacent to the National Park and more generally in terms of tropical wetlands.
DSEWPAC as the Administrative Authority for the Ramsar Convention in Australia.
Other sectors of the community with a scientific or general interest in the Kakadu National Park Ramsar site.
Figure 1 1 Key steps in preparing an Ecological Character Description (source: DEWHA 2008)