National Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Conserving and enjoying urban wetlands: Tamar Island Wetlands, Launceston, Tasmania
Stella Rodriguez & Alison Moore, Tasmania Parks & Wildlife, Northern Region
Tamar Wetlands (David Hicks)
Tamar Island Wetlands are an important urban wetlands located about 10 minutes' drive from Launceston in the north of Tasmania. They provide habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, frogs, fish and invertebrates and are part of the Tamar River Conservation Area, which protects the Tamar River's remnant wetlands and estuarine environment.
There is a boardwalk from the car park which leads to an excellent interpretation centre. The boardwalk extends for 1.5km to Tamar Island, which has picnic and free barbecue facilities. The boardwalk is wheelchair and stroller friendly. Entry is by donation, which helps to maintain the facilities within the reserve. The Tamar Island Wildcare volunteers contribute significantly to the centre's resources by staffing it 364 days per year.
Tamar Island features prominently in the early history of the Tamar. It was first sighted by Europeans in 1804 and named Upper Island. At the time it was a heavily wooded island, surrounded by marshland.
The wetlands on the western side of the reserve were drained in the 1820s and 1830s by convict labour. This increased the amount of pastureland available to the growing settlement of Launceston. Levee banks, most of which are still visible today, were used to curb the tidal flow to the wetlands.
In the 1880s a decision was made to dredge parts of the Tamar River to increase access to the growing port of Launceston. Tamar Island was chosen as a base for the dredging crews. A later part of the operation involved the scuttling of barges, ships and floating docks in the western channels of the Tamar to concentrate the river's flow to the main channel.
The 1890s saw a growth in interest in Tamar Island as a picnic spot. It was then known as Pig Island, but Tamar Island was considered more appropriate. To give the island a more park-like atmosphere, the hill on Tamar Island was planted with a variety of exotic species, including spruce, fir, pine and oak.
From the early 1900s until the 1950s, the island was offered as a farming lease. A hut in which farmers, and formerly dredging crews, lived is a remnant of this time.
Special and unique features
Green and gold frog (Helen Jones)
The wetlands are a superb site to see bird life in Tasmania, with around 60 species being identified in the reserve. There are several species of duck, black swans, egrets, cormorants and swamp harriers, as well as occasional visitors such as the white-bellied sea eagle, and northern hemisphere migrants such as the common greenshank. There is a bird hide about 500 metres from the start of the boardwalk, from which many of the local bird species may be observed.
The reserve is an important breeding site for the nationally vulnerable green and gold frog. This frog was formerly abundant in the Tamar valley but has declined significantly since the 1970s.
Reptiles also make their home in the reserve, with the metallic skink and lowland copperhead snake the most commonly seen, especially on warm days. The rare glossy grass skink is also known to live in parts of the reserve.
The Tamar Wetlands also include one of the largest remaining areas of vegetation dominated by Phragmites australis, or common reed. Swamp paperbark, Melaleuca ericifolia, communities are also present in the wetlands, around the bird hide.
Threats and challenges
The most prominent threat in the wetlands is from the introduced pest fish species, mosquito fish, Gambusia holbrooki, which was introduced to Australia in the 1920s and 1940s from the Gulf of Mexico in North America. Unfortunately, the species eats less mosquito larvae than native fish. It is primarily carnivorous, preying on a range of small freshwater invertebrates.
Gambusia poses a threat to the vulnerable green and gold frog (Litoria raniformis) as it eats almost everything, including frog and fish eggs. It is also highly aggressive, nipping the fins of larger fish. Once established, the fish are extremely difficult to eradicate.
Urban development also poses a threat to wetlands in Tasmania. Draining and reclaiming of wetlands for housing and other uses alters their ecology drastically. Much of the Tamar River's wetlands have been lost in this way, with most of the remnant patches now protected as part of the Tamar River Conservation Area.
A comprehensive strategy for the Tamar Island Wetlands Centre and Reserve is needed to clearly address the aspiration of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife and volunteers for improved services and facilities, while meeting the imperative for the enterprise to be self-funded. A management strategy will advise on wise use of Tamar Island Wetland Centre and Reserve to protect and maintain its significant ecological character and values within the Tamar River Conservation Area.
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