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Series of Australian wetland and waterbird projects concluded

20-Oct-2009

Wetlands International has concluded a series of surveys of wetlands and waterbirds in major wetland systems across diverse bioregions and river basins of Australia. During 2007-9, Brisbane-based staff and associates documented the biodiversity assets, importance and management issues of poorly-known wetlands on the tropical coasts of central and north-west Queensland, the arid inland Lake Eyre Basin, and temperate south coast of Western Australia. Outcomes are now being used by managers in planning for investment in natural respource and water/coastal management. Reports of these investigations are available from several sources.

Central Queensland:

     Over the past six years but especially in 2007-9, Wetlands International investigated seasonal marshes and intertidal wetlands of marine plains and shallow bays around Broad Sound and Shoalwater Bay. Teams also made preliminary assessments of sedge and shrub-dominated peat swamps (including patterned fens) in coastal sand masses. Condition of wetlands ranged from near-pristine to highly modified but all possesed high conservation value. Internationally important aggregations of migratory shorebirds (eg. Far Eastern Curlew), some known but others new, were mapped and breeding by colonial egrets and some threatened species (Australian Painted Snipe, Capricorn Yellow Chat) was discovered. Weeds (thorn bushes, exotic pasture grasses) are a present threat and shale-oil and gas extraction is a potential threat in these wetlands. Reports are available as follows: Migratory shorebirds in Broadsound 08-09 and Broadsound Coast Condition Assessment (pp 228-296) at the FBA website http://www.fba.org.au/intranet/aboutannualreport.html and Shoalwater Bay reports (migratory shorebirds, coastal and freshwater wetlands, stream condition) request from Defence Support Group, Department of Defence, Gallipoli Barracks, Enoggera QLD 4051 Australia.

Gulf of Carpentaria:

     In the Wet seasons of 2008 and 2009, Wetlands International developed and supported a survey (ongoing) of waterbird breeding colonies on the Gulf Plains by a network of indigenous ranger teams. Using boats and helicopters and tapping local knoweldge, the rangers documented 12 colonies varying from a few hundred to over 10,000 breeding pairs of Intermediate Egret, Pied Heron, Royal Spoonbill and eight other species. Most colonies had never been documented. Colonies were in riverine freshwater and mangrove forest and all were in good condition but for the present threat of rubbervine infestations and potential future dams on these unregulated rivers. Brisbane-based WI staff also documented waterbirds on the Norman River floodplain (Mutton Hole Conservation Park) for proposed development of eco-tourism involving local indigenous communities. Reports on the colony surveys may be requested from WI-Oceania (Canberra) and are partly reported at http://www.environment.gov.au/water/publications/environmental/wetlands/wa17.html and reports on Mutton Hole may be available from the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group http://www.northerngulf.com.au/projects/muttonhole_wetland.htm

Lake Eyre Basin:

     Over the past decade, Wetlands International has worked with scientists from several universities and agencies to better document and understand the biodiversity and functioning of wetlands in the Lake Eyre Basin of arid inland Australia. WI has focussed on waterbird numbers and breeding in the Channel Country rivers of Queensland, which terminate in Lake Eyre, because these assets had never been systematically quantified. Initial work as part of the ARIDFLO project has been reported ( http://www.lebmf.gov.au/publications/aridflo.html Ch. 4) and in 2009 the Brisbane-based WI staff produced a summary booklet (Floodplain Wetlands and Waterbirds, at http://www.saalnrm.sa.gov.au/Publications_and_resources/Project_Reports.aspx ) to raise awareness of the millions of waterbirds that visit and/or breed in the Channel Country after major floods (erratic, every 2-3 years). A report on waterbirds exploiting the 2009 floods is in preparation and may be requested later this year from WI-Oceania (Canberra). Outcomes of this work collectively may influence present planning for water resource management in the Basin: these rivers are among the few free-flowing, inland rivers of eastern Australia and are threatened by proposals for irrigated agriculture.

South Coast, Western Australia:

     During the 1980s, present staff of Wetlands International led intensive surveys of waterbirds in wetland nature reserves in the temperate south-western corner of Australia. Two to three decades later, the same staff in conjunction with the State conservation agency, re-surveyed a selection of coastal wetlands to assess changes in waterbird use and condition. Efforts focussed on secretive species such as Australasian Bittern and Australian Little Bittern: both were recorded, with some breeding records but some wetlands had become unsuitable for these species due to secondary salinisation and changes in water acidity. Some of the wooded wetlands had totally changed, all trees now dead, due to salinisation and episodes of prolonged inundation - delayed impacts of agricultural development are partly to blame. Fortunately, several wetlands seemed presently unaffected and continued to support bitterns and other secretive species. The project report (12 MB), which may be used to secure funding for targeted research and management planning, may be requested from the Western Australian Department of Environment & Conservation, 14 Queen Street, Busselton WA 6280, Australia or from WI-Oceania (Canberra).

 

 

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