National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Securing a healthy future for the Coorong and Lower Lakes
Alison Perkins, South Australian Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Part of what is believed to be the world's largest bioremediation trials of their kind in the world, Lower Lakes (SA Department of Environment and Natural Resources)
World class wetlands
Located at the downstream end of the Murray-Darling river system, the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site is internationally recognised under the Ramsar Convention as one of Australia's most significant wetland systems.
Covering approximately 142 500 hectares, it includes a diverse range of freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats and is known for its rare birds, fish and plants.
The region includes attractions including the Murray Mouth, Goolwa and Coorong National Park and is one of the most visited tourist destinations in South Australia. It is popular for outdoor activities, including camping, fishing, boating and four-wheel driving.
It is also an important area for birdwatchers, attracting a third of all migratory wading birds that summer in Australia. The annual Meet the Waders Festival is a highlight for many who visit the Coorong.
Wetlands at risk
By 2009 the impacts of drought and water over-allocation across the Murray-Darling Basin left the Coorong and Lower Lakes region on the brink of environmental collapse. Salinity increased and vast areas of exposed lakebeds caused soils to acidify and led to loss of habitat and soil erosion. Environmental impacts on this scale were unprecedented.
Pelicans - iconic to the region - at Narrung Narrows (SA Department of Environment and Natural Resources)
Many local businesses that rely on the wetlands' unique wildlife and beauty to attract tourists, including caravan parks, hotels and shops, were affected.
The return of freshwater flows has provided much-needed relief and the wetlands are showing signs of recovery. But more work is needed to restore the site to a productive, resilient wetland system.
Urgent action was needed to ensure the ecosystem could recover when conditions improved.
The South Australian Government's Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Recovery Project was developed, with funding from the Australian Government, to address the environmental issues facing the region and rebuild a healthy ecosystem that can better adapt in the future.
Achieving this will directly support the local communities and industries, including tourism, that rely on a healthy wetland system.
Vegetation trials were carried out to test if adding organic material to the soil could help naturally occurring bacteria consume acid in the soil on such a large scale. They were believed to be the largest bioremediation trials of their kind in the world.
Results from these trials guided a large-scale vegetation program that initially focused on stabilising soils and managing acid sulfate soils. Now that water has returned the program continues, with a strong focus on restoring habitat for native plants and wildlife.
Other actions included:
- limestone dosing to neutralise acid sulfate soils ‘hot spots’
- managing water levels to keep high-risk acid sulfate soils submerged
- coordinating the rescue and recovery of threatened species
- restoring Meningie's lakefront habitat
- monitoring and research.
Meningie - gateway to the Coorong
The Coorong (SA Department of Environment and Natural Resources)
Meningie is the gateway to Coorong National Park and is a popular tourist destination. Government, Ngarrindjeri and local communities are working together to restore Meningie's lakefront habitat and build resilience into the ecosystem.
By carefully designing the foreshore and planting native vegetation, wildlife and plants will be encouraged to return and important breeding sites will be restored. This will attract tourists to the region.
An interpretive trail along the foreshore includes a textured pathway, seating and information on the environmental and cultural significance of the Coorong and Lower Lakes, providing a focus for tourists.
As well as improving the health of Lake Albert at Meningie, the environmentally sensitive design will encourage visitors to spend longer in the town and learn more about these special wetlands.
Securing the future
In partnership with the community, scientists, industry and the Ngarrindjeri, Coorong and Lower Lakes Recovery has developed a long-term plan to secure a healthy, sustainable future for the region.
The plan includes a range of actions to restore habitat, manage acid sulfate soils and salinity, protect threatened species, minimise erosion and maintain an open Murray Mouth.
The way the region's environment is managed will be adapted according to factors such as inflows and information from monitoring and research.
The community has played an important role in delivering urgent projects to restore the environment and its continued involvement through a community advisory panel is crucial in maintaining the site into the future.
'Lakes Hubs' centres were established at Meningie and Milang on the edges of Lakes Alexandrina and Albert as a base for government and community to share information. They play a key role in coordinating local volunteers, encouraging community input and providing information on wetland restoration work for visitors to the region.
By restoring these unique wetland ecosystems, Coorong and Lower Lakes Recovery is helping to rebuild the focus of the tourism industry that much of the local community relies on and attract more tourists to the region.
This is part of the South Australian Government's Murray Futures program, funded by the Australian Government's Water for the Future initiative.
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