Conference Proceedings – Sustainability SessionThe 18th Annual Western Australian Wetlands Conference

2nd & 3rd February 2022
Cultural Wisdom & Scientific Innovation for our Wetlands


The overarching theme of our conference followed the Ramsar theme for 2022 of ‘Wetlands Action for People & Nature’. The 2-day conference was divided into 4 half-days, each of which is set to feature the following themes - Leadership, Reconciliation, Sustainability and Partnerships.


Day 1 | Morning
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022


Day 1 | Afternoon
Wednesday, 2nd February 2022


Day 2 | Morning
Thursday, 3rd February 2022


Day 2 | Afternoon
Thursday, 3rd February 2022


Day 2 | Morning | Thursday, 3rd February 2022

To develop and deliver standards, processes, projects, and/or programs that are environmentally, socially and economically justified.



Re-enlivening wetlands: infusing through the sciences, the arts, and activism

This paper is framed by the concept of wetlands as living systems. We start with a consideration of how wetlands conform to three principles of life and lifeforms: the ability to evolve, to be bounded physical entities but intimate with their environments, and to operate as purposeful wholes. Side-by-side, in the second perspective, we will use historical, ethnographic and generational storying of the Beeliar wetlands, how they have been used, where foods are, the stomping ground of ceremony, a spirit, to consider wetlands as long time places. A third perspective sees wetlands as agentic and lively, and how we come to make the shift from walking to wetlands, to walking with wetlands. We consider the adjustments necessary to shift thinking beyond the cognitive and the abstract, to the affective, multisensory, embodied and emergent, and how we see ourselves as part of wetlands, and wetlands as part of us. Our presentations will be followed by an interaction between the three speakers where they will respond to each other around the contexts of activism and action - what it might take to re-enliven wetlands, at which point we will be joined by audience comments and questions. Our aim is to leave with a gratitude (for regeneration), a respect (for spirit), and a re-iteration (to remember), of what it is to be wetland.

Expert Presentation 1

New methods for creating drought refuges for imperilled freshwater species in southwestern Australia

Southwestern Australia’s drying climate threatens the survival of native freshwater species through loss of permanently flowing rivers and perennial wetlands. Climatic drying since the turn of the millennium has caused many formerly perennial streams and lakes to begin to dry out each year, caused by a combination of declining groundwater levels and low rainfall. Solutions are few, as new water cannot be created to replace lost rainfall, yet substantial species losses have already occurred in response to drying. Recent research shows substantial losses of diversity in wheatbelt lakes inside nature reserves and streams in water catchments in the Perth Hills, and negative effects of drying on frog populations. A new solution is to manage remaining permanent freshwaters as biodiversity refuges, wherever the water is located in the landscape, including natural and artificial waterbodies on both private and public land. These permanent waterbodies can act as drought refuges - places where native species can persist during dry periods and from which they can spread out to repopulate the landscape during wetter times. Current research shows that artificial waterbodies such as farm dams can support significant native diversity, but management is required to transform them into drought refuges. Communities and natural resource management agencies are keen to manage these drought refuges, but there are no appropriate methods or guidelines available to support their management (especially for artificial waterbodies). Our new project, funded by a State NRM Community Collaboration Grant, aims to identify refuges, understand their biodiversity and ecological function and develop new management methods applicable to both natural and artificial waterbodies. This includes field trials of some new potential methods for increasing their capacity to support biodiversity. The project focuses in 2 regions: the Perth Hills (supported by Perth NRM) and the Harvey region (supported by the Harvey River Restoration Taskforce and Peel-Harvey CC). We are seeking additional perennially-inundated sampling sites (natural and artificial) and citizen scientists to volunteer to collect waterbird and frog data for the project. 

Expert Presentation 2

Environmental DNA in freshwater ecology: characteristics and prospects of an emerging biomonitoring tool

• Introduction: definition of eDNA, characteristics
• Analytical background – TrEnD Lab at Curtin
• Examples of studies in water ecology
• eDNA in wetland biomonitoring
• Connecting “who is there?” (via eDNA) with “what are they doing?” (via stable isotopes analysis)
• The eDGES programme and conclusions

Establishing eDNA as a monitoring tool and determining a best practice protocols - Fish Assemblages in the Canning River

Freshwater ecosystems are highly dynamic systems that host a wide variety of biodiversity and offer essential services. Unfortunately, these systems are increasingly subject to threats such as altered hydrology and water quality, climate change and invasive species. Western Australian freshwater systems are not exempt from this global trend, and many need management to enhance and preserve their biodiversity values. To make management decisions, robust, efficient monitoring efforts are required to understand the current state and trends within the system and what management actions are required. Traditionally, animal biodiversity is monitored by physically capturing and identifying the target species, but over the last decade, environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring has emerged as a complementary method to traditional methods. This study contrasted eDNA and traditional fyke netting for sampling aquatic vertebrates in the highly modified Canning River in Perth. Additionally, as an alternative to the more labour-intensive active filtration method, we investigated if passive eDNA sampling could be used successfully in a freshwater system, as previously published studies were in marine environments. The implications of this research are the development of an eDNA monitoring protocol that will complement traditional monitoring methods, leading to the potential for greater stewardship of the Canning River. Freshwater ecosystems are highly dynamic systems that host a wide variety of biodiversity and offer.

Expert Presentation 3

Wetland Buffers - A controversial subject

Establishing wetland buffers is one component of an integrated approach to wetland protection and management in WA. Wetland buffers are essential to wetland conservation, providing for the long-term protection, maintenance and enhancement of important features that support wetland values. Buffering involves separating a wetland from the adjacent land uses that might threaten its desired values such as habitat for waterbirds or other wildlife that call wetlands home. Buffers also ensure wetland activities do not impact unduly on important land uses, through either spatial separation or through the use of physical barriers.
A large body of research is available that establishes evidence of the importance of wetland buffers to protect wetland habitat and other critical components of wetlands, some of which is summarised in this presentation.

Case Study 1

Studying and managing wetlands from the sky

Traditional methods of detecting species and communities inhabiting wetlands as well as their changes over time are typically highly time-consuming, easily affected by observer bias, and could pose health and safety risks for researchers. There is a pressing need for novel, safer, more efficient and accurate survey techniques to overcome these challenges. In recent times, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’ have revolutionized the way ecosystems, including wetlands and other aquatic habitats, are studied, managed, restored and conserved. With various associated sensors, ground-breaking advances have been made in surveying wetland systems that are too vast to study from land, or have limited field access, are inhabited by aquatic species that may pose a safety risk (e.g. crocodiles), or are too cryptic to monitor via conventional methods. Here we highlight recent work undertaken by our team members and discuss how drones may help reduce or replace logistically demanding field surveys in wetland environments in the future.

Case Study 2

Long-term wetland vegetation monitoring in the South-west

Monitoring the vegetation condition of groundwater-dependent wetlands across the SW forms part of a long-term program run by Department of Water and Environmental Regulation (DWER). The aim of the monitoring is to ensure current and/or proposed groundwater use does not negatively impact representative ecosystems. Outcomes inform the review of Water Allocation Plans and license assessments for the Gnangara, Jandakot and South-West groundwater area plans. Sites across the Swan Coastal Plain, Scott Coastal Plain and Blackwood Plateau monitored either in-house or by contractors on an annual or triennial basis since 1996. The monitoring represents a substantial investment of money and time by DWER. This type of long-term intensive monitoring of vegetation condition is quite unusual and the Gnangara monitoring dataset represents one of the most extensive on a global scale. This presentation will discuss the monitoring approach and outline the methodologies we use.

Case Study 3

Narrative Sustainability and Transformation: Storying Lake Monger’s Contested Ecological past and Uncertain Ecological Futurity

Transformed wetland spaces such as the suburban site of Lake Monger (situated in the Town of Cambridge and bordering City of Vincent, Perth, WA) challenge narratives of sustainability because their histories of urban development and human intervention undermine or defy conceptions of nature, and “natural states,” as distinct from people and culture. The site’s history of cultural significance and human intervention complicates the question of sustainability, centering it at a point of tension between conflicting narratives, agendas and cultural trends. For sustainability efforts to succeed for sites which, like Lake Monger, are “natural” environments thoroughly enmeshed in and transformed by a social broader social environment, it becomes necessary to ask questions about the site’s narrative sustainability. That is to say: what practices do we use to tell stories about these sites? What sort of possible futures do these stories suggest or preclude? Which of these entailed narratives of futurity align with sustainability goals? For a site to be sustainable, we must first be able to imagine, collectively, that site’s continued sustainment; such acts of collective imagination are played out in narrative space. This presentation is part of a broader research project that explores place-based creative writing practices and narratives of futurity in suburban ecological spaces. Here, theoretical frameworks derived from of narratology—the study of narrative structure—and literary theory are applied to scientific and historical literature describing Lake Monger and wetland areas of the Swan Coastal Plain at large. The aim of this analysis is to clarify the narrative component of “sustainability” in places that are fundamentally tied up with human communities and stories. Narratology and literature comparison are used to differentiate and navigate the conflicting conceptualisations of spaces that are described, and potentially overdetermined, by diverse sets of human agendas and narratives. Understanding sustainability and transformation as enacted in narrative space can contribute to the formulation of sustainability practices that are sensitive to the forces of cultural memory, and—it is hoped—produce narratives of futurity that are able to realise both continuity and resilience in threatened wetland spaces. 


This conference was made possible thanks to our benefactors and supporters

Gold Sponsor

Silver Sponsors

This event is supported by PHCC through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Bronze Sponsors

Gavin Waugh


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