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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Matthew Kelly

Cost to protect Port Stephens wetland won't be cheap, report warns

Nominating Port Stephens' famous Mambo Wetlands as a wetland of international importance would cost ratepayers about $150,000, a council report says.

Port Stephens Council voted earlier this year to investigate nominating the 175 hectare nature reserve at Salamander for protection under the Ramsar Convention.

The push to give the area, which has been described as the "lungs of the Port Stephens marine wonderland", greater protection follows a decade of controversy.

The previous state government sold the Mambo Wetlands Reserve to a developer in 2016 for $250,000.

The Mambo Wanda Wetlands in Salamander Bay. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

However it was forced to buy the land back in 2019 for $420,000 following community and political backlash.

The Ramsar convention was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and aims to promote and protect wetlands throughout the world.

Areas that provide habitats for threatened or endangered species are typically listed.

The Hunter Wetlands Estuary and Corrie Island at Tea Gardens are among 67 Ramsar listed sites in Australia.

Mambo Wetlands Reserve.

The council report, to be considered at this week's council meeting, also says the cost of maintaining a Ramsar protected wetland would cost upwards of $190,000 in the first year and $150,000 each year after that.

"It is noted that Ramsar listing may improve access to grant funding however this cannot be relied upon as a recurrent funding source," the council report says.

The report also flags the risk that development adjoining at Ramsar-listed wetland would be subject to additional approvals resulting in delays and additional costs.

"There is a risk that council activities not detailed within the wetland management plan would be subject to the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act approvals resulting in delays and additional costs," the report says.

The report recommends updating the 2006 Plan of Management for wetlands, which provides a framework for the long term protection and management of the site, at a cost of $75,000.

"It is recommended that an action be included in the Port Stephens Coastal Management Program to update the Plan of Management. This has the potential to attract state government grant funding and reduce the associated costs to council," the report says.

Port Stephens EcoNetwork has been among the groups lobbying to have the wetland listed on the Ramsar convention.

Group convenor Nigel Dique said he was disappointed that the council report did not recommend proceeding with the nomination, however, he remained hopeful that alternative funding sources could be found.

"It's disappointing the report doesn't recommend taking the next step and agreeing in principle to nominating the area," Mr Dique said.

"It's probably a little bit unfair to expect ratepayers to stump up that sort of money when they've got other priorities. But I think they can get funding from elsewhere.

"If they got a listing they would be the only council in Australia, which will be responsible for managing a Ramsar listed wetland."

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