Wetlands are important ecosystems globally yet they are under threat, including from urbanisation. With over 50 % of the world’s population living in cities, draining and infilling of wetlands to provide land for residential housing and infrastructure is a large causes of wetland loss and degradation. Those wetlands that do remain have usually been greatly altered due to changes in hydrology, nutrient levels and habitat degradation, as well as suffering from pollution and the impacts of exotic and invasive species. At the same time urban wetlands are important for human-related benefits. They provide many ecosystem services including removing contaminants from wastewater, ameliorating floods, supporting biodiversity, modifying microclimates, sequestering carbon, and providing spiritual and aesthetic amenity and recreational spaces. In many urban areas wetlands are now being constructed to replace those that have been lost or degraded, including for the remediation of urban stormwater where they are designed to mimic the processes that occur in natural wetlands. However, the cost of constructing wetlands is often high, and it can take decades for the natural processes to be re-established and become self-sustaining. Once established they may be able to replace some of the biodiversity that was displaced or destroyed when they were lost. This begs the questions – if they are important for people and are now being constructed why destroy or degrade them in the first place? This seems like a false economy and a failure of urban planning and policy. As further evidence is emerging that access to green spaces in urban landscapes is important for general wellbeing a change in the way wetlands are managed and valued is very likely to provide a major dividend for the increasing human populations.
Bio of Prof Max Finlayson:
Prof Max Finlayson is a wetland ecologist with extensive experience nationally and internationally in the science and management responses to water pollution, mining and agricultural impacts, invasive species, climate change, and human well-being and wetlands. He has participated in global assessments such as those conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the Global Environment Outlook, and Water Management in Agriculture, and since the early 1990s he has been a technical adviser to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. He has been actively involved in environmental NGOs and science organisations and has worked with government, community-based organisations and industry to investigate the causes of ecosystem change and management responses, including restoration and the participation of local communities. Underlying these activities is a concerted effort to improve the collection of evidence for addressing complex ecological issues and providing guidance to managers and policy makers recognising that social, economic and ecological issues are inter-dependent and operate across multiple scales, particularly when dealing with regional sustainable development.
Professor Finlayson has worked extensively on the inventory, assessment and monitoring of wetlands, in particular in wet tropical, wet-dry tropical and sub-tropical climatic regimes covering pollution, invasive species and climate change. His current research interests/projects including the following: Interactions between human well-being and wetland health in the face of anthropogenic change, including global change and the onset of the Anthropocenic era; Vulnerability and adaptation of wetlands/rivers to climate change, including changing values and trade-offs between uses and users, considering uncertainty and complexity; Integration of ecologic, economic and social requirements and trade-offs between users of wetlands with an emphasis on developing policy guidance and institutional changes; and Landscape change involving wetlands/rivers and land use (agriculture and mining) and implications for wetland ecosystem services and benefits for local people.
Positions he holds include: Technical Advisory Panel, Wetland Education and Training program, Sydney Olympic Park Authority; Scientific Committee, International Lake Environment Committee; Visiting Professor, Institute for Wetland Research, China Academy of Forestry, China; Member of the Ecological Committee of the China Science Writers Association; and Editor-in-Chief, Marine and Freshwater Research, CSIRO Publishing
Professor Finlayson has contributed to over 400 journal articles, reports, guidelines, proceedings and book chapters on wetland ecology and management. He has contributed to the development of concepts and methods for wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring, and undertaken many site-based assessments in many countries.