Building a water stewardship community in the UNESCO Western Port Biosphere Reserve, Victoria, Australia
The Western Port Biosphere Reserve was designated by UNESCO under its Man and the Biosphere Program in 2002. Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. The program aims to balance the ongoing sustainability of the environment against demands placed on it to provide our current and future lifestyles. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.
Western Port was chosen by UNESCO because it has outstanding natural values, including a Ramsar wetland of international importance, on the fringe the expanding city of Melbourne. Collaborative partnerships were early on identified as being key to securing the future of the reserve by helping manage water, and catchments, better.
In less than three years the Western Port Biosphere Reserve Foundation and AWS – Asia Pacific have successfully grown a water stewardship community across the reserve region. Working in collaboration with several local project partners, they have achieved a high level of stakeholder engagement and organisational commitment, resulting in water stewardship plan development at 28 sites in ten peri-urban river catchments, across the Biosphere region.
The partners cite keys to success for the project as including: a broad range of collaborative and supportive partners; a highly experienced and knowledgeable project leader and project team; well-researched and well-planned approaches to prospective water steward businesses and organisations; well-structured training for new water stewards; and a well-conceived local recognition program that suited the needs and aspirations of the many small to medium-sized businesses that have committed to the Alliance for Water Stewardship international water stewardship system.
A highlight of the project has been the first Alliance for Water Stewardship international Gold level Water Stewardship certification, achieved by Ingham’s Group Limited at their Somerville site in the Watson Creek catchment. Inghams was one of the instigators of the project and this was recognised in their Gold level certification.
As in all complex, multi-stakeholder engagement projects, some challenges were encountered: insufficient resources as the geographic scope of the project grew; difficulty finding time and funds for plan development especially for small to medium sized stewardship businesses; and participant fatigue and distractions.
Nevertheless, the project has been, and should continue to be if further funding can be secured, very successful in promoting and securing the adoption of water stewardship and the Alliance for Water Stewardship International Water Stewardship Standard in the Western Port Biosphere Reserve.