Wetlands are good for us: find out more from the people working to protect them
Looking after wetlands is an investment in our environment – and did you know that they are good for our wellbeing?
First up, what exactly is a wetland?
Wetlands are an essential part of South Australia’s natural assets.
The word ‘wetland’ is used to describe areas that are either regularly or permanently inundated with water. Most wetlands in Australia experience a dry phase, some of which can last for years.
Estuaries, coastal marshes and swamps, mound springs, floodplains, and seasonal, ephemeral and permanent lakes and watercourses are all types of wetlands.
The key indicator of a wetland is that it supports animals and plants that need water to complete all or part of their lifecycle.
How long, how deep, and how often water is present will determine the wetland type and the plants and animals present.
How do wetlands help us?
Wetlands contribute to our wellbeing in many ways, including:
- helping filter and purify water
- reducing the effects of floods
- replenishing groundwater
- providing refuge, nursery areas and habitat for many species
- often having special meaning for Indigenous people
- offering opportunities for fun and relaxation.
These people are helping to look after our wetlands – hear about the work they do, and why:
I instantly feel calm when I’m out in a wetland
'I instantly feel calm when I’m out in a wetland.
The various sounds of nature and the profound sense of just sitting still in the shallow waters, being at one with nature, create a unique experience.
Also, being an ecologist gives me a sense of pride that the work I’m doing – particularly working with threatened species - is making a difference.’
Steph Robinson, wetland ecologist with the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board.
The pink glory that is Lake Bumbunga
Nick Nicholls has a special connection with Lake Bumbunga, a salt lake in Lochiel in the Mid North whose pink hue attracts tourists, Instagram photographers and even Australian brands like RM Williams and Mimco for their marketing campaigns.
Nick is a landscape officer with the Northern and Yorke Landscape Board.
He was raised and still lives on a farm just 5 minutes’ drive from Lake Bumbunga and, together with his family and the local progress association, has cared for the lake and its surrounding environment for decades. They’ve worked on revegetating areas with native species, removing feral Aleppo pines, installing fencing to prevent vehicles damaging the lake’s surface and creating an interpretative walking trail. It was their work trimming up roadside pines that triggered increased interest in the lake, as it gave passers-by an unhindered view of the lake’s changing colours. A more recent installation at the lake is the ‘Loch-Eel Monster’, another fun attraction for visitors.
Nick says the best time to view the lake in its pink glory is on a warm day during spring or summer when water is still present. Its colour palette ranges from pink to purple and white, or brown if it’s been dusty. Nick can’t see the lake from his home but says sometimes the pink tint is reflected in the clouds; a rare event that’s special to see.
Lake Bumbunga is home to unique biodiversity, including samphire growing at its shoreline, a wolf spider that only lives in saline lake systems and birds like swans, straw-necked ibis and red-necked avocets that pay a visit in good years.
Why is Lake Bumbunga pink?
Various sources agree that the pink magic happens when lakes have the right combinations of salt and salt loving bacteria and algae. Factors such as minerals and environmental conditions can also play a part.
If the idea of visiting pink lake appeals, check out South Australia's Pink Lake Bucket List at southaustralia.com.
Importance of re-learning cultural values of Fleurieu swamps
While the scientific and agricultural values of the Fleurieu’s swamps - storing water, reducing flooding and supporting pest-controlling wildlife - are well researched, little was known about the Aboriginal values of these now rare ecosystems.
Mark Koolmatrie, Ngarrindjeri Elder, recently led a project that has helped address the imbalance.
‘The Fleurieu swamps are a unique ecosystem that needs to be looked after,’ said Mark.
‘We are grateful that we were able to generate support for Warki, Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people to re-engage with Fleurieu swamps, starting a process of re-learning and sharing Aboriginal knowledge and values to encourage more people to restore and conserve Fleurieu swamps.
‘Importantly, we can now pass this knowledge on to our young people so that they can take this forward.’
The Aboriginal Knowledge and Values in Fleurieu Swamps project was initiated by Mark Koolmatrie and supported by funding from the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board.
Unique Outback wetlands feel the love
Mound springs are incredibly important and unique features of the Outback landscape, bubbling up from underground water sources such as the Great Artesian Basin.
The fragile ecosystems support plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world and are culturally significant to First Nations groups including Arabana, Adnyamathanha and Dieri.
A dedicated group of volunteers, the Friends of Mound Springs (FOMS), has been working to protect and monitor the springs for nearly 20 years, travelling to some of the most remote parts of South Australia.
FOMS secretary Simon Lewis said the efforts of the volunteer group had multiple benefits.
'It has been fantastic to work with the Arabana Rangers and many others to achieve some good outcomes for mound spring conservation,’ said Simon.
‘There is also no doubt that working in these wonderful wetland environments has significant benefits for the physical and mental wellbeing of our FOMS volunteers.’
The volunteers are working closely with First Nations groups to continue and expand the work which includes recording native plant and weed species and repairing and installing protective fencing to prevent damage to the fragile ecosystems.
Protecting the incredible, endangered saltmarsh on Eyre Peninsula
On Eyre Peninsula, coastal saltmarshes (listed as a Threatened Ecological Community) are a vital part of the local ecology. They protect shorelines, act as blue-carbon sinks, and are important fish nurseries and bird habitat.
For many people in the Eyre Peninsula community, fishing and spending time around some of the beautiful saltmarsh and mangrove places such as Laura Bay, Smoky Bay, Franklin Harbour and Coffin Bay, is a sought-after way to relax.
‘During the last four years, I’ve been working with our team and the community to increase our understanding of these important wetland areas and undertaken a range of activities to improve and protect our saltmarshes,’ said Eyre Peninsula Landscape Board Western Team Leader, Liz McTaggart.
‘Saltmarshes are such an important ecosystem to protect, and we are lucky to have them spread across the Eyre Peninsula, providing critical breeding sites for a range of fish and other marine species, and additionally the incredible efficiency of saltmarsh and mangroves to sequester and store carbon.’
Liz said that learning together and getting a range of the community involved in saltmarsh restoration and monitoring activities, including Far West Coast Rangers, schools, landholders, local government and science experts, has resulted in greater awareness and appreciation for this important ecosystem in our landscape.
Get started on your list of ‘must visit’ wetlands in South Australia
Sometimes you must experience something to really understand its value – why not take the time to find out about and explore any wetlands in your local area?