The WA Wetlands Conference, "Cultural Wisdom & Scientific Innovation for our Wetlands" was held on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of February at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn. As one of Australia's largest and most influential conferences in wetland science, management, and research, the annual event celebrated World Wetlands Day and focused on the theme of wetlands restoration. This year's conference followed the Ramsar theme, "Wetlands Restoration: Revive and restore degraded wetlands," which highlighted the importance of restoring degraded wetlands to revive their vital ecological services.
The conference was hosted in our newly renovated and upscaled facility, set amidst the verdant bushland surrounding Bibra Lake, the heart of the Beeliar Regional Park. It provided an international platform for sharing success stories, identifying emerging challenges and perspectives for collaboration and partnerships, and outlining ways to promote capacity-building with an emphasis on cooperation and its relevance to wetland conservation.
Over the course of the conference, attendees explored the ways in which cultural wisdom and scientific innovation can be harnessed to promote sustainable wetland management and conservation. Keynotes, presentations, and discussions explored a range of topics, from the role of indigenous knowledge in wetland management to cutting-edge scientific research on wetland ecosystems.
This year's conference also featured environmental humanities as a thematic topic, recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to wetland management and conservation. Various speakers explored the intersection of humanities and sciences in addressing wetland challenges and emphasized the need for collaborative efforts across various fields.
Through this conference, participants engaged in fruitful dialogue about the importance of wetlands and the need for continued efforts towards their protection and conservation. The conference provided an opportunity for scientists, managers, elders, community and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds to come together and share knowledge, ideas, and experiences to help guide future efforts to protect and restore these vital ecosystems.
It’s so important we conserve our wetlands for future generations. Wetlands are the purifiers of the environment - helping to capture, store and cleanse water, absorb floodwaters, process nutrients and filter pollutants. They also provide habitat, breeding sites and food for 40% of the world’s species.
– Hon. Simone Frances McGurk MLA BA
Minister for Training, Water and Youth
The main sponsors for the Conference were as below:
Objectives and Themes
The three-day WA Wetlands Conference was objectively aimed at increasing knowledge, awareness, understanding, and commitment to the conservation, interpretation, and management of wetlands. The overarching conference theme was in line with the Ramsar theme for 2023 of Wetland Restoration. Divided into 5 half-day sessions, the conference focused on various themes, including Leadership, Reconciliation & Truth-Telling, Sustainability, Partnerships, Humanities, and Workshops. These themes aimed to initiate, support and sustain a proactive partnership with traditional custodians, develop and deliver standards, processes, and programs that are environmentally, socially and economically justified, and showcase and explore the role of humanities in fostering the spiritual, scientific, aesthetic, historic, and social value of wetlands and their conservation. Workshops were also held to demonstrate skills, tools, resources, research, or applications that contribute to growing, managing or sustaining wetland ecosystems. Overall, the conference served as an international forum for wetland science, management, and research, bringing together stakeholders to define ways to promote capacity building with a focus on cooperation and its significance for wetland development.
The Conference program included a number of key and side events. Here are the features and highlights.
Inaugural and opening:
Day 1 Inaugural and Welcome to Country
- The conference began with a smoking ceremony, a traditional Aboriginal practice, to cleanse and purify the space.
- Nyungar Elder Marie Taylor, Elder in Residence at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, welcomed the delegates to the conference and spoke about the cultural significance of the land in the Nyungar language. She highlighted the importance of the wetlands as a sacred place and a source of life for Aboriginal people.
- Tom Perrigo, the Chairman of the Centre, was gifted a handcrafted message stick, which is an important cultural symbol that signifies the authority of the person who holds it. The message stick will hold an important place within the Centre in the coming days.
- Hon. Simone Frances McGurk MLA BA, the Minister for Training, Water, and Youth, delivered the opening speech. She emphasized the critical role of wetlands in the environment as natural purifiers that capture, store, and cleanse water. She also noted that wetlands provide habitats for a significant portion of the world's species and highlighted the importance of conserving them for future generations.
Day 2 Inaugural and Welcome to Country – World Wetlands Day
- The second day of the conference began with another beautiful smoking ceremony to cleanse and purify the space.
- Elder Marie Taylor gave the delegates a touching Welcome to Country, where she talked about the history and culture of the Nyungar people and their strong connection to the land. She also emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnerships in the conservation of wetlands.
- Mr Josh Wilson MP, the Member for Fremantle, delivered the opening speech. He spoke about the significance of wetlands in preserving cultural and First Nations heritage and the need to protect and rejuvenate unique ecosystems like wetlands to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
- The second day of the conference was also World Wetlands Day, which was remembered and celebrated throughout the day.
Day 3 Inaugural of the revamped Amphitheatre and workshops
On Day 3 the Opening Ceremony of the Revamped Wetlands Centre Amphitheatre by Marie Taylor, Elder-in-Residence at The Wetlands Centre and the Mayor of Cockburn Mr Logan Howlett JP took place. We have a special report about the day's events below.
Thematic Sessions on each day
- Day 1; Session 1: Sustainability – To develop and deliver standards, processes, projects, and/or programs that are environmentally, socially and economically justified.
- Day 1; Session 2: Reconciliation & Truth-Telling – To initiate, support, and sustain a proactive partnership with traditional custodians for the conservation of wetlands.
- Day 2; Session 1: Partnerships – To initiate and sustain the widest possible proactive participation, support and engagement for the conservation of wetlands.
- Day 2; Session 2: Leadership – To increase the knowledge, awareness, understanding, participation, engagement, and commitment to the conservation of wetlands.
- Day 3; Session 1: Workshops – To demonstrate skills, tools, resources, research or applications that contribute to growing, managing or sustaining wetland ecosystems.
- Humanities – To showcase and explore the role of humanities in fostering the spiritual, scientific, aesthetic, historic and social value of wetlands and their conservation. (Presentations interspersed between other themes)
4 Keynote Speeches
- Day 1; Sustainability Session Keynote – “Sustainable Waterways Program: Then, Now, Future and Forever WA Waterways” by Prof. Anas Ghadouani, University of Western Australia. Prof. Anas presented the Sustainable Waterways Program as an opportunity to develop a shared vision and initiate solutions for key water management challenges. This program seeks to bring together key stakeholders, including First Nations people, to position the waterways as a key pillar of social, cultural, economic, and environmental prosperity in Western Australia.
- Day 1; Reconciliation & Truth-Telling Session Keynote –“Listening to Women: Intersections of Western and First Nations Values” by Marie Taylor, Elder-in-Residence at The Wetlands Centre; Prof Susan Broomhall, Australian Catholic University; Chelsey Thomson, Yelakitj Moort Nyungar Association; Gina Pickering, Latitude Creative Services. This keynote presentation discussed the underrepresentation of First Nation (and other) women in institutional histories and large-scale land management. The speakers explored the importance of listening to women for advancing reconciliation and intergenerational learning, highlighting projects that promote an inclusive vision of the past, present, and future where First Nation women take on important leadership roles.
- Day 2 Partnerships Keynote Speech “Rehabilitating Roe 8: How to Deconstruct a Road and Restore Wetlands & Woodlands, with lots of Community Input” by Adam Peck, Rehabilitating Roe 8 Project, City of Cockburn. Adam Peck's keynote presentation discussed the ongoing ten-year Rehabilitating Roe 8 project, which aims to restore the habitat of the Roe 8 corridor back to its original state after the controversial Roe Highway Stage 8 clearing in 2016 and 2017. Peck emphasized the importance of community input and engagement in the project, including the involvement of local groups and volunteers in planting events and workshops to help restore the complex habitat types in the corridor.
- Day 2 Leadership Keynote Speech “Towards a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands” by Prof. Max Finlayson Gulbali Institute for Agriculture, Water & Environment, Charles Sturt University. Prof. Max Finlayson presented on the proposal for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Wetlands, which asserts that wetlands have inherent and enduring rights and should possess legal standing in courts of law. The proposal includes a set of inherent rights for wetlands, such as the right to exist, natural hydrological regimes, and freedom from pollution and degradation, among others. The proposal has been presented to the Ramsar Convention and is being further discussed with local communities and advocates for the rights of nature.
24 Expert Presentations, split into 2 sessions per half day
- Day 1, Morning, Wednesday 1st Feb:
- Expert Presentation 1: Winsome MacLaurin, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, "Kep Katitjin - Gabi Kaadadjan – Waterwise Perth Action Plan 2"
- Expert Presentation 2: Dr Felicity Bairstow, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, "No Roe’d Through The Wetlands - Long Term Community Leadership Leading To A Successful Conservation Outcome"
- Expert Presentation 3: Alex Hickling, Wetland Research and Management / SLR Consulting, "Control And Removal of Invasive Cyprinoid Species Within Western Australian Waterways"
- Expert Presentation 4: Dr Stephen Beatty, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, "Biodiversity, Threats and Solutions for The Sustainability of Fish and Crayfish in Southwest Wetlands"
- Expert Presentation 5: Dr Gavan McGrath, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, "Changing Salinity in Southwest Australian Wetlands: A Review of The SWWMP Database"
- Expert Presentation 6: Dr Ranjan Sarukkalige, Curtin University, "Infiltration-Based Stormwater Management for Land Development"
- Day 1, Morning, Wednesday 1st Feb:
- Day 1, Afternoon, Wednesday 1st Feb:
- Expert Presentation 1: Dr Nandi Chinna, Words Work Consultancy, "Writing Rivers and Wetlands - First Nations Writing on Water"
- Expert Presentation 2: David Broun and Rita Lusted, Western Australian Department of Education, "Connecting Aboriginal Knowledge with the Science Curriculum: The Two-Way Science Initiative"
- Expert Presentation 3: Robyn Heckenberg, Curtin University, "Connecting Our Hearts: The Significance of Plant and Wildlife Illustration and The Power of The Visual Narrative"
- Expert Presentation 4: Sue & Hazel Dempster, Western Wildflower Gardens, "Convincing to Enrolling Gardeners - A Personal Journey on Building Community"
- Expert Presentation 5: Blake Innes & Lisa Fieldhouse, FISH (Foundation for Indigenous Sustainable Health), "Creativity as Communication: Engaging Wider Audiences in Alternative Ways"
- Expert Presentation 6: Michelle Antao, Christopher “Chipper” Taylor, James “Shorty” Bellou & Jesse Ala’i, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, Karajarri Traditional Lands Association, "Groundwater Dependence - Lessons Learnt from Working Together on Country"
- Day 1, Afternoon, Wednesday 1st Feb:
- Day 2, Morning, Wednesday 2nd Feb:
- Expert Presentation 1: Sam Kowald, SPEL Stormwater, "Floating Treatment Wetlands - Replicating and Enhancing Nature"
- Expert Presentation 2: Pauline Charman, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, "Future Directions - WA Wetlands Education: Collaboration is KEY!"
- Expert Presentation 3: Renée Barton, Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, "Towards A Healthier Bindjareb Djilba"
- Expert Presentation 4: Basil Schur, Green Skills Inc., "Wetland Funding Proposal based on The Cranbrook Lakes Conservation Case Study"
- Expert Presentation 5: Anthony Santoro, Murdoch University, "Turning Science into Action: The Saving Our Snake-Necked Turtle Citizen Science Program"
- Expert Presentation 6: Belinda Robson, Murdoch University, "Restoration Of Urban Wetlands for Dragonfly Biodiversity"
- Day 2, Morning, Wednesday 2nd Feb:
- Day 2, Afternoon, Wednesday 2nd Feb:
- Expert Presentation 1: Rory Garven, City of Cockburn, "Wetland Management in the City of Cockburn"
- Expert Presentation 2: John Considine & Dr Marilena Stimpfl, Helena River Alliance, "The Helena River: A Neglected Jewel"
- Expert Presentation 3: Dr Om Dubey, ARNOWA, "IoT-Based Real-Time Smart Water Quality Monitoring Systems for Wetland Management"
- Expert Presentation 4: Robyn Pickering, Wetlands Conservation Society of WA Inc., "Wetland Conservation in WA: Past, Present and Future"
- Expert Presentation 5: Rosanna Hindmarsh, Chittering Landcare Centre, "Wasteland To Wonderland: Recreating Functioning Ecological Wetlands at Chittering Springs and Spoonbill Lake from Degraded Farmland"
- Expert Presentation 6: Georgina Steytler & Shaun Ossinger, Eungedup Wetlands Committee / Wilson Inlet Catchment Group, "Eungedup Wetlands - How they would be managed going forward"
- Day 2, Afternoon, Wednesday 2nd Feb:
4 Case Studies
- Day 1; Sustainability Session Case Study: Jake Daviot, Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems Harry Butler Institute, Murdoch University, "Can Anthropogenic Wetland Refuges Support Populations of Threatened Freshwater Mussels Under Drying Climatic Conditions?"
- Day 1; Reconciliation & Truth-Telling Session Case Study: Fiona Hook, Archae-Aus, "Archaeology of Walliabup (Bibra Lake) Wetlands"
- Day 2; Partnerships Session Case Study: Jen Middleton, University of Western Australia, Partners: SERCUL, City of Canning, Water Corp, UWA, DBCA Rivers and Estuaries Branch, "Nurdi Way Constructed Wetland and Living Stream Project"
- Day 2; Leadership Session Case Study: Linda Metz, South West Catchment Council, "Case Study on The Restoration Work Undertaken on 3 Ramsar Wetlands in The Southwest Region over the Last 5 Years"
2 Plenary Sessions at the end of Days 1 & 2, moderated by Karl Haynes, The Wetlands Centre
All the speakers from the day's sessions were called onstage for an open Q&A with the audience. Each Plenary Session was a lively discussion that provided a lot of opinions, insights and knowledge sharing.
- Georgina Steytler, "Photography & Brekkie With Birdies"
- Annamarie Weldon, Liana Joy Christensen & Lakshmi Kanchi, "The Poetry Of Wetland Textures"
- Pauline Charman, Identify And Catalogue Species - "DNA Barcoding - Fun, Accessible Way To Build Wetland Warriors Of The Future"
- Sue Dempster, Hazel Dempster & Lanie Cottam, "Growing Iconic Local Colour For Wildflower Gardens"
- Dr Felicity Bairstow, "All Creatures Great And Small"
- Gina Pickering & Mark Welsh, "Presenting Co-Cultural Values At The Wetlands Centre"
- Dr. Om Dubey, "Showcase: Smart Technology Monitoring Systems Walkthrough"
The Conference also had the following side events:
- Display Presentations and stalls
- Opportunities for networking and meetups
A New Green Initiative:
Shuttle Service from Murdoch Station to The Conference
Our first-ever shuttle service for The Wetlands Conference was a huge success, helping reduce carbon footprint by encouraging the use of public transport. Available on Days 1 & 2, our dynamic driver and volunteer team were dedicated to ensuring everyone arrived safely and on time, and we plan to make this a regular feature of all future conferences.
A Trusted Partner:
Meet our Catering Vendor: Little Hawk Freo
Little Hawk Freo, a local family-owned catering business with over 20 years of experience, provided delicious and fresh food for the WA Wetlands Conference thanks to their commitment to quality, sustainability, and accommodating dietary requirements, and are a great catering partner for the Centre offering tailor-made packages and delivery options.
Inaugural of our Revamped Amphitheatre:
A Celebration of Community, Culture, and Nature
The Wetland Centre's Amphitheatre, revamped in partnership with Western Wildflower Gardens, was inaugurated by Mayor Logan Howlett of The City of Cockburn on the 3rd of February 2023. The ceremony was attended by conference delegates, stakeholders, staff, volunteers, and members of the Wetlands Centre and Western Wildflower Gardens. This Amphitheatre has great aesthetic and cultural value as a place of congregating amidst natural bushland within a suburban setting that is accessible to the community and can serve as a vital link between the community and the natural world during events.
The total number of Conference participants were over 200 people (approx. 5% of them were Aboriginal participants). Among them, there were representatives of 70 organizations (including 5 educational establishments) from 16 cities, including:
- Ministers and MLAs
- Local government representatives
- Intergovernmental organisations
- Regional authorities
- Wetland professionals
- Academics, educators, and students
- Businesses (including interstate businesses.)
- Universities and educational institutions
- Associations and Friends Groups
- Not for profits
Our state-of-the-art website was revamped for the Conference as part of the Centre's community and engagement program. The website featured an interactive Conference program, an intuitive registration system, a new submission portal, and a detailed feedback questionnaire.
On all three days, refreshments, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea was catered to by Little Hawk Freo, Beaconsfield. Read More
The Conference was conducted with a focus on environmental sensitivity, green initiatives, and greater sustainability to reduce the environmental impact of this event. Here are a few initiatives and guidelines that were followed:
- E-program: The Conference program was available via email or through the new website. Only limited copies of the program were printed on recycled paper and made available for viewing around the centre.
- Upcycle and Recycle: The name badges were re-used from previous conferences and the names were printed on recycled paper. The name badges were collected at the end of each day of the Conference.
- Carpooling: Where possible, we encouraged the use of public transport and carpooling to the venue. We thank those who opted-in to carpool during the registration.
Our continued preparedness to mitigate COVID-19 risks:
The Conference, to the best of our ability, continued to treat this matter seriously. Face masks were made available and encouraged and hand sanitiser was available at key points throughout the venue. Washrooms and toilets were provided with hand wash. Signage with hygiene and health advice is still displayed at relevant locations, eg: washrooms and kitchen.
The Conference participants were asked to fill in a feedback questionnaire. The reviews were highly positive. The feedback to the organizers was that the Conference was highly topical and informative, and it met the participants' expectations.