Wetlands Conservation 4: Activities


In small groups, discuss the following issues and, playing the role of government officials, make decisions as how best to resolve them. Appoint someone to record your decisions.

Activity 1. Multiple land use

  • What areas could the government identify as being common areas of concern between pastoralists and conservation authorities?

  • What strategies could the government adopt to encourage pastoralists to eradicate Para grass?

  • What benefits could there be in encouraging pastoralists to become involved in tourist activities e.g. running air-boat tours of the floodplains?

  • Traditional land-owners have lodged a land claim on a section of a government nature reserve. What action do you take?

  • An overseas company wants to film a documentary of life on the floodplains, using a considerable amount of equipment and a sizeable crew. What is your general policy on the issue and what conditions do you set (if any)?

Activity 2. Nature-based tourism

Nature-based tourism, or ecotourism, may have some interesting spin-offs as for example the case where people are prepared to pay to go to remote locations in order to do volunteer work on environmental projects. What other benefits of ecotourism can your group think of? Consider local, regional and international effects.

List the possible negative consequences of nature-based tourism. Think in terms of short-term effects and long-term effects. Remember that the resource being used – the wetlands environment – is part of the national estate and not something that can be traded in for a newer model.

Activity 3. Priorities

Read the following two excerpts.

  • Natural and Cultural Heritage: The conservation of the natural and cultural features of the Park is fundamental to its management. Tourism: While recognising an obligation to encourage public appreciation and enjoyment of the Park, the provision of access to the Park by visitors must not be at the expense of, or allowed to take priority over the preceding. (Press and others, 1995)

  • Ecotourism provides an opportunity for Australia to take advantage of its unique natural environment by targeting the growing domestic and international market for environmental tourism experiences. To realise this potential it is imperative that any economic gains from ecotourism occur with minimal impact to natural and cultural environments. (Commonwealth Department of Tourism, 1994)

Activity 4. Tourist operations

Working in small groups, carry out a survey of tour operators who visit the Top End wetlands. Gather six to eight brochures and analyse their offers under headings of your choice. Your group could first of all decide on what proportion of your time would be spent in various activities: walking, swimming, observing wildlife, relaxing, boat cruises. Look for tours that match your concepts of time use. For your analysis consider some of the elements of tourism that we have discussed so far in this section as well as your group's criteria. What degree of challenge and participation was there in each tour? Your analysis can be presented as an oral report to the class.

Activity 5. Weed research

Working in small groups, and with each group selecting one of the noxious weeds listed above, prepare a description of the selected weed that can be delivered to the rest of the class in a 4-5 minute talk. Describe the plant's features (size, form, leaf shape, flowers and fruit), its habitat and distribution, its means of dispersal, its control, and its current status. Comment on the potential harm the weed can cause in wetland ecosystems. Prepare an enlarged photocopy or line drawing of the plant that can be shown to the class during your talk and later displayed.

Leaflets (called Agnotes) about each of the weeds can be obtained from: Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, PO Box 79, Berrimah.

Smith, N.M. (1995). Weeds of natural ecosystems. Darwin: Environment Centre NT.

Activity 6. Discussion

After the groups have delivered their summaries of the weed species, discuss the various weeds as threats to the heritage wetlands. Can they be grouped in any order of importance? How do students perceive the overall situation? Is there cause for any optimism, will things get worse or will they remain much as they are? What is the evidence or reasoning behind the various views presented?

Activity 7. Coordinated efforts

In the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biodiversity the following action was proposed in regard to alien species:

            Develop and implement well-resourced programs for the control and eradication of those alien species as a threat to biological diversity. Such program should:

            (a) be coordinated between Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments

            (b) involve the development of species-specific national or bioregional control plans

            (c) be integrated with catchment management, Landcare programs and whole farm or property planning and management. (DEST, 1996, p.27)

Working in pairs, discuss and record what you think is meant by these terms:

alien species                        biological diversity                        species-specific

integrated catchment management                         bioregional

Still working in pairs, say what you think is the main message (or declaration of policy) contained in the excerpt. Are there any other messages (e.g. well-resourced)? List the advantages of an integrated and coordinated program such as is suggested above. Consider the benefits to each of the various groups involved in discussing your answers. Is there anything your group would like to see added to the action statement?

 DEST. (1996). National strategy for the conservation of Australia's biodiversity. Canberra: Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories.

Activity 8. Effects of alien species

Summarise the effects and control of feral cats, wild horses, European honey bees and feral pigs on a retrieval chart. List the animals down the side of a chart and make two columns, EFFECTS and CONTROL MEASURES. You may need to research some of the counter-measures and processes used in eradication and control.

Mason, P. (1986). Feral animals. Prahran, Vic: Gould League of Victoria.

Activity 9. Saltwater intrusion

For an individual essay on the effects of saltwater entering the paperbark and floodplain habitats, obtain a copy of the 'habitat data sheet' for each of those areas. After reading them, write an essay on the effects of saltwater intrusion on the ecology of wetlands habitats. In your essay, examine some possible reasons as to why the freshwater ecosystems could not be replaced immediately by some interesting and equally productive shallow saltwater ecosystems.

Activity 10. Access roads

In small groups, discuss the claim that improved access to areas of interest may have a positive effect on people's attitude towards conservation issues. What are some arguments for and against the claim?

Develop a possible rationale and set of guidelines to be followed in deciding whether a road is to be built to an interesting site with considerable tourist potential. The site is in a protected area (national park or reserve) but your group is on the board of management. Write your guidelines to cover two options,a dirt (unsealed) road and a sealed all weather road. In what ways could the cost of construction be justified? What safeguards for the ecology of the area can be built into the guidelines? What facilities will be provided?

As a class, compare and discuss the responses of the different groups. What were the varying degrees of attitudes towards access and public use of wetlands?

Activity 11. Road map

As an individual assignment, draw a map of the area bounded by Adam Bay (mouth of Adelaide River, Oenpelli, Deaf Adder Creek headwaters, Tortilla Flats Experiment Farm (20 km north-east of Adelaide River township). Show the main rivers and mark in existing roads and tracks within that area. What are the main patterns shown by the development of roads in the region? What are the possible locations of new roads?

Activity 12. Question for thinkers

In what ways does future road construction have the potential to affect the integrity of wetlands?

Activity 13. Determining rules

The previous plan of management for Kakadu provided for bushwalking as an extended form of walking, often involving camping en route. To gauge public opinion, the planning officer asked the public to comment on the following issues before making a new management plan:

  • Carrying capacity: a limit of total annual numbers of walkers may need to be determined, along with the number of routes. How should limits be determined? Should bushwalking routes be one-way to prevent groups overlapping and doubling up at camp sites?

  • Not all bushwalkers notify park staff of their safe return, sometimes leading to unnecessary searches. Should a deposit fee (refunded on return) be introduced?

  • Many bushwalking routes are in remote areas of potential danger when accidents occur. Should walkers be required to carry location devices, flares or strobe lights? Should there be a minimum number of people in a group?

  • Despite care taken by campers, some sites show signs of overuse. Such signs include removal of vegetation, inappropriate disposal of waste and excessive campfire remains. Should there be designated camping sites on approved walking routes? Should camp fires be permitted?

Dividing into small groups, the class can carry out a survey to assess public response to the above questions. The task of each group will be to create a survey form that contains the above questions, devise a means of recording answers and carry out an actual survey. Use friends, teachers, neighbours, members of the public and relatives as subjects. Try to interview 10-14 people for each of the questions. Summarise the responses.

Your group will now respond to the questions raised, using the survey results as guides. You do not have to follow the public's majority response. Use your own understandings of the aims of conservation to make the final decision as to the most appropriate policies.

Your group will present three documents:

  • a copy of the questionnaire that the group devised and a summary of the public responses

  • the group's list of policy guidelines and regulations that cover the above questions raised by the Kakadu planning officer

  • a statement describing how much the results of the survey influenced your group's answers to each question and the final policy document.

This activity illustrates the importance of public input and the degree to which it influences the development of park rules. It also demonstrates the amount of detail and thought that has to go into producing management plans.

Above all, the activity is based on a real situation where practical solutions had to be found for a range of problems. Each problem a bearing on the interaction of humans with the natural environment and behind the whole exercise was the basic objective of the conservation of the natural ecosystems of the region.

For further information write to: Kakadu National Park,PO Box 71, Jabiru NT 0886, (with acknowledgments to Parks Australia for assistance with this activity.)

Activity 14. Plant adaptations

In what ways do plants in the Top End show adaptation to a frequent fire regime? How do bushfires in the Top End differ from those of southern states?

Press, A.J. and others. (1995). Kakadu: Natural and cultural heritage and management. Canberra and Darwin: Australian Nature Conservation Agency and North Australia Research Unit.

Brock, J. (1988). Top End native plants. Darwin NT: published by author.

Activity 15. Role of the Bushfires Council

The Bushfires Council is part of the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission. It is responsible for

  • organising rural bushfire brigades for the suppression of wildfires outside town and city limits

  • promoting community understandings of fire as a land management tool

  • gathering research material (reports, findings) on fire regimes as part of the Top End ecology.

Working in small groups, discuss the type of information that would assist you to write a report on some aspect of the work of the Bushfires Council. The subject ranges from fire as an element of wetlands management to the role of the rural bushfires association network and the practical workings of a local fire brigade, so you will need to be selective in your field of investigation.

Your group's tasks are to decide on the topics you wish to investigate, the title of your report, an outline of the report's contents and questions you want answered. As a class, compile a simplified list of information needed and write to: NT Bushfires Council, Box 37346, Winnellie 0821. It may be possible to arrange a visit of a school group to the Council's head office, but in the dry season more than a week's notice would be needed. Telephone 8984 4000 or 8984 4449.

Activity 16. Wetlands and the national estate

Divide into small groups. Discuss the reasons given for wetlands being part of the national estate and rearrange them in what the group considers to be order of importance. Go through the same process for the items listed under Scientific significance. Compare your lists with other groups. Discuss the possible reasons for any great differences. What values, standards or priorities was each group using compared to the others? What does this activity tell you about the way in which society forms opinions?

Activity 17. Beauty and aesthetic values

Using the same groups, discuss the meanings of the words 'beauty' and 'aesthetics' as given in a dictionary. Discuss the ways in which the definitions may apply to wetlands, drawing on first-hand experiences (trips and excursions) and second-hand experiences (videos, photographs), remembering to include sounds, smells, textures. Next, discuss ways in which wetlands may not have lived up to conditions implied in the definitions. Examine your answers for bias (the day was hot, nothing was happening, much of the scenery was boring, the scenery looked nicer on video). From this combination of negative and positive reactions, see if your group can now compose a balanced statement about the potential appeal of the wetlands to human beings.

This activity is important in helping your class to arrive at a realistic appraisal of the aesthetic appeal of wetlands to different people, and of examining your own sets of values (charming, pretty, dramatic, neat, colourful, exciting) as compared to the often harsh realities but undeniable fascination of nature as it exists in its own right.

Activity 18. Ramsar Convention

The Ramsar Convention is of particular significance because it keeps a register of Wetlands of International Importance, and this provides a global focus on the importance of the wetland environment. Carry out research in groups to discover

  • how many Australian sites there are on the Ramsar list of wetlands

  • what other responsibilities the Ramsar Convention has besides keeping the register of wetlands

  • how Ramsar sites are chosen.

For information contact: National Wetlands Program, Environment Australia, GPO Box 636, Canberra ACT 2601, telephone (02) 6250 0385, fax (02) 6250 0384, or Parks Australia North,GPO Box 1260, Darwin NT 0801, telephone (08) 8981 5299, fax (08) 8981 3497.  

1. Land Use 2. Management Issues 3. Heritage Values  

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