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First tranche of $16 million of Reef coast wetlands program released.

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MEDIA 04/804



First tranche of $16 million of Reef coast wetlands program released The first tranche of funding under the $16 million Great Barrier Reef wetlands protection program, won by the Australian Democrats in negotiations with the Howard Government, is now up to tender, with priority to be given to assisting landholders to manage wetlands on private land.

Democrats Agriculture spokesperson Senator John Cherry, who negotiated the establishment of the program with the Environment Minister David Kemp, said the program was vitally important to the health of the Great Barrier Reef because wetlands act as a filter for land runoff.

"Wetlands are absolutely crucial to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, providing filtering and buffering of sediments, pesticides and nutrients as well as important fish habitats," Senator Cherry said.

"The Hildebrand Report on the Sugar Industry recognised that the clearing and drainage of wetlands in sugar areas has significantly impacted on the marine environment, and needed to be reversed. In some coastal areas up to 80% of the wetlands have been damaged or destroyed.

"The Democrats-initiated $16 million program includes new incentives focusing on conservation agreements on private land, acquisition, restoration and on-going management of coastal wetlands.

"The Federal Environment Department has now invited tenders to develop and manage a $2 million, two-year pilot program for an on-ground program to conserve and manage wetlands under the Great Barrier Reef Coastal Wetlands Protection Program.

"Key priorities will be negotiating with landholders, regional bodies, local government and industry and developing proposals to undertake activities in identified priority wetlands such as voluntary conservation agreements, fencing, vegetation buffer restoration and weed control.

"The program will integrate with the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and complement the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust regional plans.

"This program is strong evidence that the Democrats have been able to continue to win significant concessions for Queensland's environment working with the Government of the day," he concluded.

Tenders close next Tuesday

Media contact: Pam Hose 0408 752 750