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Don't fear Ramsar

Monday, 16th May, 2011

There was nothing to fear, except fear itself, from the push to list Menindee Lakes as a wetland of international significance, the city will hear tomorrow.

Tony Sharley, the former manager of South Australian winery Banrock Station, will tell attendees at a community meeting tomorrow night that a Ramsar listing would bring locals closer to the environment, improve visitor numbers and make the lakes instantly more recognisable.

Mr Sharley was at the helm of Banrock Station when a wetland on the property was successfully listed with Ramsar, the peak world wetland organisation in 2002.

He said the only concerns locals should have about the push to have Menindee Lakes listed was people's own fears.

"I think the biggest deterrent will be the barriers that people in the community put up themselves," Mr Sharley said.

Far West Regional Development Australia (RDA) is currently leading the push to have the Menindee Lakes listed as a wetland of international significance.
RDA invited Mr Sharley, who was also at an RDA-organised Menindee information session in March, to be one of two key speakers at tomorrow's second public forum.

Mr Sharley, who has a background in wetland management and wetland science and was a former employee of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, said the listing would not impact on the Lakes' status as the area's water playground.

"There were people who were concerned about, you know, might this impact on our ability to go fishing or yabbying? The answer is well no it wouldn't because fishing and yabbying don't actually change the character of the site," he said.

"The really important thing is that fishing and yabbying in a sense are one of the traditional or cultural values of that area so if that was under threat then there would be a problem.

"The other critical point is that Ramsar is about keeping communities connected to the environment and if fishing and yabbying and camping and bird watching are things that people value and they don't threaten the ecological character you (won't) shut them out."

The SA-based consultant will also move to quell community concerns that the listing would lead the area to be locked up.

"Ramsar is nothing to do with moving towards achieving wilderness status or exclusion status, it's about inclusion," Mr Sharley said.

"It's a status though that gives the community some power because they get to determine what are the objectives for the management of that area."

Uncertainty from the community would be replaced with "empowerment" through information sessions, like this one, he said.

"Getting them a better understating of what Ramsar is all about and what the opportunities are and through that empowerment process facilitating leadership from within the community because ultimately it's going to be up to the community to basically lead the whole process," Mr Sharley said.

"And with the support of the RDA and the other agencies to find the resources to help them through the process of developing their plans, their visit, their objectives and so on and the resource information from which you can then build, you can have some really smart economic development."

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