A mayoral delegation from northern Japan is visiting Newcastle and Port Stephens to renew a 21-year-old agreement that gives high priority to wetlands conservation.
Kushiro Mayor Hiroya Ebina, who is President of the Kushiro International Wetlands Centre in Hokkaido, will lead a four-person delegation to reaffirm the Sister Wetlands Relationship with Newcastle and Port Stephens Councils.
Preservation of wetlands is vital to the continuation of an extraordinary natural phenomenon – annual bird migrations between wetlands of Hokkaido and the Hunter estuary, a non-stop journey of 8,500km.
Mayor Ebina, Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Michael Osborne and Port Stephens Mayor Bruce Mackenzie will sign the reaffirmation on Friday 6 November.
Cr Osborne and Cr MacKenzie will sign on behalf of the wetlands of the Hunter Estuary, while Mr Ebina will sign on behalf of Kushiro Marsh, Kiritappu Marsh, Lake Akkeshi and Bekanbeushi Marsh.
The wetlands include areas designated under the Ramsar Convention as Wetlands of International Importance. A shorebird species the municipalities share is the Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii
). About 30,000 travel between Japan and Australia each year.
“The biggest threat to migratory birds like the Latham’s Snipe is loss of habitat,” Cr Osborne and Cr MacKenzie said in a joint statement.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of volunteers and all levels of government, remarkable progress has been made in recent years in rehabilitating precious wetlands located within the Newcastle and Port Stephens municipalities.
“The Sister Wetlands Relationship will continue to provide a conduit for exchanging experiences, knowledge and skills for the conservation and wise use of wetlands.”
Peggy Svoboda, spokesperson for Hunter Local Land Services at the Kooragang Wetland Rehabilitation Project said wetlands were valued globally because of their biological diversity and high productivity.
“With wetlands under continuing pressure from human activity, it’s important that governments at all levels recognize that wetlands are delicate and fragile environments, and support their maintenance for future generations.
“The Sister Wetlands Relationship helps to increase local awareness of the international significance of the Hunter estuary and encourages community involvement in the exchange of survey results and research activities, and information on the wetlands.”
The Sister Wetlands Relationship was first signed in Newcastle 1994 following the fifth meeting of the Ramsar Conference in Kushiro in 1993, and renewed in Newcastle in 2004.
Background brief: a relationship worth preserving
The migration of birds via an 8,500 kilometres flyway between the wetlands of Hokkaido and the Hunter provides an organic link between Kushiro, and Newcastle and Port Stephens municipalities.
The three councils share in common a shorebird called the Latham’s Snipe (Gallinago hardwickii), also known as the Japanese racing pigeon.
According to bird watchers, about 30,000 Latham’s Snipes travel between Japan and Australia each year. They breed in northern Japan, mainly in Hokkaido, during the summer months there. In about mid-August they fly south to Australia where they stay until late February, and then the cycle starts over again. It is generally thought that they travel the 8,500km journey non-stop.
Another migratory shorebird, the Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes), visits Japan in large numbers each year on its way between Australia and its breeding grounds in central Siberia. Although the main route is through southern Japan, there are some important staging sites in eastern Hokkaido.
Grey-tailed Tattlers also usually travel non-stop between Australia and Japan, where typically they rest for 1-2 weeks before resuming their long journey to Siberia.
Latham’s Snipe and Grey-tailed Tattler are both regularly present in the Newcastle and Port Stephens areas each year, and small numbers of non-breeding (juvenile) tattlers remain throughout the winter.
Impetus for renewal
The impetus for renewing the Sister Wetlands Relationship came in December 2014 in a letter from Kushiro Mayor Hiroya Ebina.
The letter proposed a meeting of mayors to reaffirm the Sister Wetlands Agreement that was originally signed in 1994 and renewed 10 years later.
The letter was hand delivered to Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes at the Hunter Wetlands Centre by Kushiro Koryo High School students on a study tour. Port Stephens Mayor Bruce MacKenzie received a similar letter.
Lord Mayor Nelmes responded by inviting Mayor Ebina to a meeting of mayors in Newcastle to formally reaffirm the wetlands agreement.
The reaffirmation document makes the point that wetlands are one of the most important global environments, to be valued because of their biological diversity and high productivity. “Despite recognition of the importance of various functions of wetlands for human society, loss, destruction, degradation and misuse of wetlands continue in many areas of the world.”
The mayors declare their hope to play a leading role in promoting the Ramsar Convention all over the world and “determine to recognise fully the value and importance of wetlands through the friendly relationship between Australia and Japan”.
The document notes that the wetlands of the Hunter Estuary and Kushiro Marsh, Kiritappu Marsh, Lake Akkeshi and Bekanbeaushi Marsh include wetlands designated under the Ramsar Convention as Wetlands of International Importance.
Among the activities the mayors agree to work towards are exchanging experiences, knowledge and skills for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, exchanging the results of survey and research activities and information, promotion of research into and training for the study of wetlands and sharing information on co-research into migratory birds.
Mayor Ebina will sign on behalf of Kushiro Marsh, Kiritappu Marsh, Lake Akkeshi and Bekanbeushi Marsh, and the communities of Kushiro City, Kushiro Town, Shibecha Town, Tsurui Village, Akkeshi Town and Hamanaka Town.
Deputy Lord Mayor of Newcastle Michael Osborne and Port Stephens Mayor Bruce MacKenzie will sign on behalf of the Wetlands of the Hunter Estuary.