Valuing Victoria's Wetlands - Tourism

The Bracks Labor Government needs to encourage tourism as an economic boost to regional Victoria. The international birdwatching tourism industry is worth $23 billion every year. Regional Victoria should be tapping into this lucrative market. International Wetlands Tourism

represents a year round potential tourism boon to rural towns, unlike duck season, which caters to a relatively small number of duck shooters for no more than a few weeks.

In 1997, the Kennett government hired tourism

consultants to prepare regional development plans. Advance Tourism prepared the 'Murray Outback Regional Tourism Plan' for Tourism Victoria (July 1997). The section titled 'Nature Based Tourism' states:

    "A major feature of the region is its nature based attractions. Being one of the region's major strengths, it should be given high recognition."

Section 7.17 of the Advanced Tourism report goes on to say:

    "A significant drawcard not being fully exploited are the native birds, animals and endangered species of the region. … There are also opportunities to see wildlife as part of guided tours, which offer greater interpretation."

    "Birds are not only in abundance but there are many species, some of international significance."

Section 7.17.2 of the report discusses the promotion the Kerang wetlands.

    "Between Cohuna and Lake Boga are a series of wetlands which support over 150 species of birds including migratory populations which travel from China and Japan each year. They are of world interest and covered by International Migratory Bird agreements."

    "A management plan to develop their region is required. Support from NRE, Shire of Gunnawarra, local enthusiast groups, the regional tourism industry and perhaps service clubs should be sought."

Advance Tourism went on to recommend:

1 - Native wildlife should be in the forefront of promotional activities.

2 - Further bird hides, walking trails and low impact visitor facilities should be developed in the Kerang wetlands.

3 - More should done be to capitalise on events involving nature.

The Kerang wetlands are listed under the Ramsar treaty as Wetlands of International Importance. Victoria and its rural regions should capitalise on its wonderful wetland assets, as it does with the penguins at Phillip Island and Southern Right whales at Warrnambool. Tourism related to Penguins brings in about $150 million each year to Phillip Island. The whales visiting Warrnambool, between June and October, bring in about $20 million each year.

In the same way, Victorian country towns should be reaping the economic, social and environmental benefits of International Wetlands Tourism.

Regions like Kerang and nearby Boort and Donald, as well as Gippsland and Geelong, have many diverse wetlands, over 150 species of native waterbirds, and some significant Indigenous heritage sites. Facilities and services that could be developed include boardwalks, hides and telescopes, visitors centres, cafes and guided tours employing local residents. It would also provide a wonderful employment opportunity for local Koori communities to become tour guides.

The Age Editorial - 2003

Drought has a bright side for ducks
Sunday Age Editorial
12 January 2003

Wetlands will be quiet on the third Saturday of March, usually the opening day of the duck-shooting season. The peace should be permanent.

This year, at least, wild ducks will be spared the obscene slaughter that a dwindling band of shooters calls sport. In cancelling the 2003 duck season, acting Premier John Thwaites said six years of drought had greatly depleted the duck populations of South-Eastern Australia and many birds had migrated to wetlands in southern Victoria. Most of the region's breeding stocks were concentrated on relatively few wetlands, making them particularly vulnerable to hunting. The cancellation follows a similar decision in South Australia, but the Victorian Government should have gone further and foreshadowed a permanent ban, on the grounds of cruelty and environmental harm. Last month, the government's animal welfare advisory committee recommended that duck shooting be phased out.

Shooter groups have objected to the cancellation. They may have a valid complaint about not being consulted, but their other arguments look increasingly tenuous. Field and Game Australia chief executive officer Rod Drew said last week that shooters did not accept the minister's scientific advice and, based on duck counts in the state, believed the season was sustainable. Sporting Shooters Association Victorian president Sebastian Ziccone said ducks were in "plague proportions" in the state's south and there was no cruelty concern. The organisations seem oblivious to the facts of duck migration and the number wounded each season. In addition to the eight permitted target species, endangered species remain at risk even though licensed shooters must pass the "waterfowl identification test" introduced in 1990. Three years later, half the freckled ducks known to be in the state at the time were shot. The freckled duck is one of the world's rarest waterfowl. Total duck numbers have halved since 1999, on top of a long-term decline driven mostly by habitat degradation and loss, not hunting, which, nonetheless, makes opulations more vulnerable.

As for cruelty, the sheer weight of evidence from both direct observation and scientific analysis leaves no room for doubt that this is a prime concern. Shotgun dispersal patterns mean there is no such thing as the clean shot that hunters of most other game take pride in. (Hunters can play an important role by humanely culling feral species such as deer, goats, foxes and rabbits.) Research indicates shooters wound one duck (many of which succeed in flying off) for every duck they retrieve. Long-term studies, involving the capture of tens of thousands of waterfowl, found shot lodged in the flesh of 6 to 17 per cent of the birds (the figure increased with body size). These were survivors of previous shootings; wounding, shock and lead poisoning would have killed many others over days or weeks. Though a ban on lead shot was announced in 1992, opposition from shooters resulted in the phase-out being extended to 2004, even as wetlands have been polluted with an estimated 200 tonnes of lead each year. Waterbirds that ingest shot, mistaking it for grit, can take weeks to die. Lead also poisons other wildlife and contaminates ecosystems for decades.

Western Australia banned recreational duck shooting in 1990 and New South Wales followed suit in 1995. Even in Europe, where hunting traditions stretch back centuries, public opinion has turned against shooters who, in defiance of European Union conservation measures, insist on their right to hunt migrating birds in landscapes emptied of wildlife. France has about 1.5 million hunters, but nearly two-thirds of its public opposes hunting. Fox hunting, one of England's defining traditions, is on the way out. And so is duck shooting in Australia.

Victoria is the country's last bastion of duck shooting, with about 85 per cent of licensed shooters, but they are a rapidly shrinking, literally noisy, minority. In 1986, Victoria had about 95,000 duck shooters; today the state licenses about 20,000 and only a few thousand were active last season. As their numbers dwindle, so does the significance of their financial contribution to shooting retailers and rural towns. In the past, shooters have done much to protect areas for duck breeding, but this was offset by the damage done each season to sensitive wetlands and the diverse wildlife, not only ducks, that inhabit them. After decades of debate, the public, conservation groups and the RSPCA support a permanent ban, which also was Labor Party policy. A decade ago, The Age argued that an end to duck shooting should be the first step in a wider campaign to discourage the use of guns. Instead, public opinion brought about a ban on semi-automatic guns, which became a factor in the rapid decline in duck shooting. We did not expect to have to restate the case for a ban in the 21st century, but it appears we do. Mr Thwaites, who bears prime responsibility as Environment Minister, said the cancellation was based on scientific evidence and it was "not a question of a permanent ban". Based on the evidence, the question he must answer is, why not?

Sunday Age Editorial
12 January 2003

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