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Host Country Recognized in Three-Nation Efforts to Preserve Wetlands

5 June, BALI, Indonesia— Indonesia, together with Australia and Papua New Guinea, today received the World Wide Fund for Nature's highest award, the "Earth Certificate of its "Gift to the Earth," programme, for efforts to protect important and threatened wetland areas in the three countries.

The three nations signed a new memorandum of understanding yesterday to continue and intensify their joint programme, the "Tri-National Wetlands Initiative," which is working to preserve over three million hectares of wetlands through the joint projects, shared skills and the exchange of staff.

At an awards lunch today, Indonesian Minister of Forestry, Dr. Ir. Muhammad Prakosa, hailed the initiative as a collaborative approach to address the problems faced by the wetlands. The initiative, he said, allowed all stakeholders, including governments, community groups, non-governmental organizations, researchers, and universities, to participate in activities aimed at achieving wetland management. .

The wetlands include Kakadu National Park in Australia, Wasur National Park in Indonesia, and the Tonda Wildlife Management Area in adjacent Papua New Guinea.

Speaking at the awards ceremony today, Australian Minister of Environment and Heritage Dr. David Kemp announced that the Australian Government will increase its contribution to the Initiative by a $250,000 over a five year period.

"This is a very appropriate way to observe World Environment Day," Kemp said. One of the world's great natural phenomena, Kemp said the wetlands were part of the Australasian Flyway, the route taken by millions of birds on their semi-annual migration. But the wetlands, he said, were threatened by intrusive weeds, fire, and feral animals.

"We have a great deal to learn from each other," Kemp said, adding that the WWF award was important in building support for these types of projects in Australia and in other countries.

"Papua New Guinea recognizes that this is the beginning of a new challenge and not the end," according to Dr. Wari Iamo, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Conservation for Papua New Guinea, and added that it was significant that the award was presented during the PrepCom for the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

The Initiative recognizes the rights of the local people and communities to serve as custodians of the wetlands, and utilizes their traditional knowledge and methods as primary tools to preserve the landscape. Still, new ideas and technique are also put to use.

All three wetlands suffer from an invasion of water hyacinth, a weed with a beautiful flower that chokes waterways that people rely on for transport, and crowds out other native plant species. But Jamie Pittock, WWF Programme Director, says that a beetle can play a major role in eliminating the nasty weed, and now local communities are growing the beetle.

According to Pittock, the Earth Certificate is the highest accolade issued for achievement in the Give to the Earth Programme. "We want to recognize outstanding achievement and we also seek to mobilize funding for this and other programmes.

He said the Tri-National Initiative is a practical example of a government commitment that leads to a systematic result. In this case, the Initiative is a direct result of government commitments to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

According to Delmar Blasco, Secretary-General of the Ramsar Convention Bureau, there are presently 131 Contracting Parties to the Convention, and 1173 wetland sites, totaling 101 million hectares, have been designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

"This is a very significant example of conservation in action," Blasco said. Calling the Initiative "impressive," he said the programme was noteworthy for the work that had already been carried out and would continue into the future.

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24 August 2006