By Jonathon Howard
Last weekend was World Wetlands Day. I took the opportunity to canoe down the Murray with my kids. We were lucky enough to spot four platypi before we reached Noreuil Park. Our trip also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the health of our wetlands.
Wetlands are important reservoirs of ecosystem resilience during these dry times. They provide clean water, water supply, storm protection, carbon storage, health and wellbeing, tourism and recreation and jobs.
Normally wetlands play a role in mitigating the effects of drought and fires. They provide a refuge for wildlife and can be sites from which plants and animals can re‑populate the nearby bushland. Unfortunately, it seems that this summer many of the fires were simply too intense. Reports are coming out from the Upper Murray are there have been mass deaths of a variety of large mammals who gathered in wetlands to seek refuge from the bushfires – only to find the fires were too intense.
Similarly, more than 3000 hectares of the Macquarie Marshes were burnt in October. This has placed a question mark over the long-term viability of this internationally significant wetland.
It would be easy to be glum about all this but there are community groups, businesses, and scientists working together to improve out wetlands.
For example, James Van Dyke at La Trobe University has a citizen science project, ‘TurtleSAT’, aimed at improving our understanding of turtles by encouraging people to record observations of turtles and turtle nests. Similarly, Charles Sturt University also has a citizen science fish kill project that allows everyone to record observations of fish kills in the Murray Darling Basin.
These efforts complement our region’s world class expertise on fish and wetland ecology. We have scientists living in our community who are providing critical insights on fish kills, fish passage, fish migration, fish spawning and fish dispersal. There are also others who work on the conservation of wetland-dependent frogs, river rehabilitation, and the delivery of environmental water.
By the time I finished my canoe trip I concluded there is no doubt that we have historically undervalued the importance of wetlands to our environment, society, and economy. But I think we have now come to realise wetlands are essential to the wellbeing of our community. Their wellbeing is our wellbeing.