In the context of the site’s Ramsar status and the current ECD study, the primary monitoring needs relate to the need to assess the suitability of limits of acceptable change (versus natural variability) and to assess more definitively if changes to ecological character have occurred or are being approached. Principally, this monitoring should relate to:
Broad-scale observation/monitoring of wetland habitat extent (noting that a logical precursor to this would be to establish a better correlation between existing wetland mapping and the Ramsar wetland type classification system).
Habitat condition monitoring (principally in the form of monitoring underlying wetland ecosystem processes such as water quality and hydrological process or surrogate biological indicators).
Formal species-level monitoring programs for threatened species, specifically measuring trends in abundance and responses of these species to designated management actions for them.
More regular counts of breeding, roosting and feeding waterbirds with a particular emphasis on those species that meet the one percent population threshold and in key life-cycle locations.
Continued and more intensive survey and monitoring of fish and invertebrate species that underpin the critical services of the site including key nursery area and spawning sites.
A monitoring program for non-indigenous flora and fauna, providing data on habitat, densities and damage. Data needs to be analysed within the appropriate quantitative frameworks to provide robust appraisals of the threats of non-indigenous species (risk analysis) and the options for control (cost–benefit analyses) (Finlayson et al. 2006; Bradshaw et al. 2007).
Monitor the number, nature and condition of archaeological materials, sites and rock art sites associated with wetland environments and habitats that contribute to historical cultural heritage values of the sites for Bininj.
The Ramsar Convention recognises that developing communication, education, participation and awareness (CEPA) messages is a powerful tool for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. As such, the Convention has a CEPA Program that was adopted by Resolution X.8 in 2008 (following previous Resolutions in 1999 and 2002). The guidelines of the CEPA Program encourage Contracting Parties to a number of activities that promote Wetland CEPA.
A comprehensive CEPA program for an individual Ramsar site is beyond the scope of an ECD, but key communication messages and CEPA actions, such as a community education program, can be used as a component of a management plan.
A combined set of CEPA messages relevant to the ECD can be used to communicate the importance of the Kakadu National Parks Ramsar site, why they were listed, the ecological character of the site, threats to the site and future actions required. These key messages also serve as a summary of the key findings and conclusions of the ECD study and are as follows:
Kakadu National Park is listed as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and meets all nine Nomination Criteria.
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 encompassed the East Alligator River, Stone County and inland areas of the Park, and the Stage II site which is centred on the floodplain wetlands associated with the Wildman, West Alligator and South Alligator River systems. 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.
Through its unique and outstanding cultural landscape, the world’s oldest ‘living culture’, extraordinary rock art, archaeological resources and Bininj environmental management, Kakadu National Park provides a unique example of wise use of wetlands through the application of traditional Bininj practices. This provides excellent opportunities to showcase wise wetland management through a cultural landscape and to empower local communities.
Limits of acceptable change for these wetland services, components and processes have been set by the ECD that can be used in future planning and management of the Park. In particular, the ECD outlines information gaps and monitoring needs for assessing whether the ecological character of the site is being maintained over time.
Based on a review of information and data at the time of the site’s listing in 1980 and 1989 in combination with the extensions in 1995 and 2010, critical components, processes and services identified as being present at the time of listing continue to be provided by the site at the time of preparation of this ECD in 2010. This includes the site continuing to support substantial waterbird, saltwater crocodile, turtle and fish populations during different life history stages, the presence of a range of wetland species of conservation significance, and cultural and provisioning services that are significant to both indigenous and non-indigenous wetland users.
While it is considered that there has not been a change in ecological character since listing, there are particular wetland elements that appear to have declined in abundance since the time of listing. In particular, saltwater intrusion into freshwater wetland areas has resulted in the loss of freshwater billabongs and associated Melaleuca communities that have high natural and cultural values. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the abundance of some wetland-dependant fauna, such as freshwater crocodiles Crocodylusjohnstoni, may have declined since listing, possibly in response to cane toad invasion. Further research is required to quantify changes and to possible implications with respect to maintaining the ecological character of the site.
A number of weeds have proliferated within the Park since listing (mimosa, salvinia, para grass, olive hymenachne), but as a result of active management and control, it is a conclusion of the study that the ecological character of the site has not been significantly changed or degraded.
Positive changes to ecological character have also occurred over the intervening decades since listing of the site, principally through the eradication of buffalo from the Park’s floodplain wetlands and the return of these environments to somewhat of a ‘pre-buffalo’ state.
In terms of future threats to ecological character, the site continues to be threatened by weeds and other exotic flora, exotic fauna, impacts from increasing visitors and recreational activities, mining activities and future threats such as climate change which is likely to exacerbate saltwater intrusion impacts already observed.
Given the current and future threats, it is imperative that ecological understanding of the site continues to be obtained and developed and wherever practicable, broad-scale monitoring of possible changes to ecological character needs to be pursued.