How wetlands are protected

Find out about the programs, policies and activities that help threatened wetlands survive and thrive.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) works with communities and with other agencies to protect wetlands across NSW.

The main wetland protection activities include the following:

OEH has invested in recovery programs to help restore wetlands that have been affected by different threats.

These programs included:

  • NSW Riverbank
  • Rivers Environmental Restoration Program
  • Wetland Recovery Program.

OEH also invests in the Living Murray program, which has bought 500 gigalitres of water and is improving infrastructure to benefit wetland sites along the Murray River. These sites include the Millewa Forests, Koondrook-Perricoota Forests and Chowilla wetlands.

The Living Murray program is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, NSW, Victorian, South Australian and ACT Governments.

OEH plans and manages the delivery of environmental water in New South Wales. This provides inland wetlands with enough water to support their plants and animals, and it improves habitat for native fish.

Environmental water is delivered to many significant inland wetlands, including:

  • Gwydir wetlands
  • Paika Lake and Yanga National Park on the Murrumbidgee
  • Macquarie Marshes
  • Edward-Wakool river system on the Murray
  • Booligal wetlands on the Lachlan River.

This has helped overcome the long-lasting impacts of drought, made the most of rainfall and restored many plants and animals.

The following policies, Acts and guidelines help to protect and conserve wetlands in New South Wales:

  • The NSW Wetlands Policy promotes the sustainable conservation, management and wise use of wetlands.
  • The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 protect threatened species and endangered ecological communities in wetlands.
  • The Fisheries Management Act 1994 protects threatened fish species and endangered ecological communities in estuaries and rivers. It also provides protection for coastal wetlands by protecting fish habitats in estuaries.
  • State Environmental Planning Policy 14: Coastal Wetlands, a planning instrument under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, protects some coastal wetlands. It is due to be replaced by the Coastal Management State Environmental Planning Policy.
  • The Water Management Act 2000 outlines requirements for water-sharing plans for NSW rivers. Water-sharing is one of the most important principles for effectively managing and protecting wetlands.
  • The Water Management Act 2000 also outlines requirements for floodplain management plans. These help protect and restore areas such as wetlands within floodways.
  • The Ramsar Convention and parts of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 help protect internationally significant wetlands.
  • The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 also covers migratory birds that rely on wetlands and are listed under international treaties.

The NSW Government has acquired wetlands to add to protected areas under its conservation reserve system. This ensures they are managed and protected over the long term.

About 19% of coastal wetlands and 7% of inland wetlands are managed within reserves.

Since 2005, governments have added more than 200,000 hectares of wetlands in the Murray, Darling, Murrumbidgee, Macquarie and Gwydir catchments to the NSW reserve system.

In 2010, river red gum wetlands in the Millewa Forests on the Murray River and along the Murrumbidgee and Lachlan rivers were protected as a NSW national park, in recognition of their status as internationally significant wetlands listed under the Ramsar Convention.

Many NSW wetlands are on private land. They include upland swamps, lagoons, billabongs and riverine wetlands.

Landowners can protect wetlands on their property through a Conservation Agreement or Wildlife Refuge.

These agreements and refuges provide long-term legal protection for wetlands and the plants and animals that live in them.

Examples of wetlands protected in this way include:

  • Dangars Lagoon in New England
  • Racecourse Lagoon, also in New England
  • upland swamps in the Snowy Mountains.

Monitoring and evaluation are important tools for determining the health of NSW wetlands and how effective site management strategies are.

For example, the three-yearly State of the Environment reports (published by the Environment Protection Authority) cover the status of wetlands. These were some of the findings of the NSW State of the Environment 2015 report:

  • Increased rain and flooding in 2010 to 2012 inundated many wetlands, leading to greater numbers of waterbirds and more breeding.
  • Drier conditions in 2013 to 2014 saw a reduction in the extent of wetlands inundated. This led to lower numbers of waterbirds and less breeding.
  • Inland wetland vegetation communities that received environmental watering have improved in condition since 2012.

Important monitoring activities for NSW wetlands include:

  • monitoring inundation extent in the Gwydir Wetlands, Macquarie Marshes and Lowbidgee wetlands
  • monitoring vegetation condition in the Gwydir Wetlands, Macquarie Marshes and Millewa Forest
  • documenting the status and recovery of waterbird, fish and frog populations in the Gwydir Wetlands, Macquarie Marshes, Lower Murrumbidgee and mid-Murrumbidgee wetlands
  • the annual Eastern Australia Aerial Waterbird Survey, in partnership with the University of New South Wales – this longitudinal survey has recorded numbers of waterbirds in eastern Australia since 1980
  • monitoring river health using macroinvertebrate indices – this has been completed for two Murray–Darling Basin catchments (Macquarie and Gwydir) and two coastal catchments.

OEH carries out research into the condition of wetlands in NSW.

This research has shown that many wetlands have been degraded due to the various threats they face. For example, losses of regional wetlands in New South Wales have ranged from 40% to 80% since European settlement.

Some areas, such as the Gwydir Wetlands, have lost up to 92% of their floodplain wetlands since river regulation began.

The OEH publication Water and Wetland – Knowledge Strategy 2013–17 sets out the priorities for wetlands research.

The NSW Government helps councils improve the health of NSW estuaries and other coastal wetlands. It does this by providing estuary management grants under the Coastal and Estuary Grants Program.

Twenty councils and one other organisation received grants under the 2015–16 Estuary Management Program.