National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Wonga Wetlands (NSW) - ecotourism on Albury's doorstep
Wonga Wetlands is a revived ecosystem of lagoons and billabongs covering around 80 hectares on a picturesque bend of the Murray River just five minutes' drive from the centre of Albury.
'Wonga' is the Wiradjuri word for black cormorant - one of the most abundant bird species in the area. Before European settlement the river and wetlands were a rich food source for the Wiradjuri people, who travelled in bark canoes cut from red river gums.
European settlers began to arrive in the 1830s. In those days the wetlands were fed by extensive spring flooding.
After the construction of the Hume Dam in 1919, the spring floods needed by the river and wetlands ecosystems became much less frequent. Over time, this alteration to natural flows dried out many of the floodplain wetlands and billabongs, degrading vegetation and destroying breeding habitats.
The Wonga Wetlands project began in 2000 to help restore natural water flows and rehabilitate ecosystems.
Birdlife at Wonga Wetlands (Dennys Ilic)
Wonga Wetlands is a living laboratory showcasing an outstandingly successful experiment in river restoration. With a return to natural flow patterns, birds and other wildlife are returning in droves. The area has also been made more accessible to the public and researchers.
Wonga Wetlands has a dreamy, timeless atmosphere that captivates visitors. Standing among the majestic red gums, it's hard to believe that less than a decade ago the wetlands had almost disappeared.
Sustainable wastewater management and river restoration
The water bringing new life to Wonga Wetlands comes from Albury's award-winning Waterview wastewater treatment facility. During the drier months this water is used to irrigate woodlots. In the wetter months it is redirected to Wonga Wetlands, helping to recreate the original hydrological conditions.
Tourism and recreation
Wonga Wetlands now features high on the 'must-see' list for visitors to Albury. It is also a favourite green space for locals seeking an idyllic barbecue spot, a peaceful stroll or some great bird watching. Picturesque walking trails wind through the wetlands, with bird hides at intervals. Quiet visitors may be rewarded by the sight of a great egret, white-faced heron, Peron's tree frog, black swan, musk duck, brushtail possum or eastern snake-necked turtle.
Education and research
The education centre at Wonga Wetlands tells the story of the wetlands' rehabilitation and offers hands-on sessions exploring the rich floodplain environment.
Wonga Wetlands draws researchers in areas including hydrology, ornithology and riparian vegetation. Charles Sturt University, La Trobe University, the CSIRO and Monash University have all conducted major research projects here.
The Wiradjuri people have developed a working campsite at Wonga Wetlands which helps visitors understand Wiradjuri culture and hosts meetings and ceremonies. The campsite is set out according to tradition with areas for cooking, sleeping, tool making and rock art and a ceremony and dancing circle.
In managing tourism at Wonga Wetlands, maintaining the ecological value of the area is of paramount importance - after all, this is why people visit. Through signage, visitors are gently educated to respect their surroundings. Visitor numbers and impacts are closely monitored so that potential problems can be identified and prevented.
Some 154 bird species have been recorded at Wonga Wetlands including the Japanese snipe, sea eagles, Eurasian coots, Caspian terns and pink-eared ducks. As bird life is a key indicator of ecosystem health, this indicates how much progress has been made in less than a decade.
The popularity of Wonga Wetlands has helped raise community awareness of the importance of restoring the river to health. This can be seen locally in the high priority given to river-related projects in Albury's community-generated strategic plan.
The Wonga Wetlands story shows the enormous potential for tourism as a by-product of environmental rehabilitation. It shows that, if sensitively managed, tourism and ecological health can thrive together and that this type of tourism can be a great opportunity to extend environmental awareness to a wider audience.
Plans to expand the visitor education centre at Wonga Wetlands are under way, as there is no doubt that visitor numbers will continue to increase.
Most importantly, as the wetlands become more established we can also expect to see increasing diversity and numbers of feathered and other non-human visitors and residents in this beautiful place.
For further information visit: