Reef Aid brings life back to iconic waterhole - Greening Australia FacebookGoogle PlusInstagramLinkedInTwitter

Reef Aid brings life back to iconic waterhole

Wongaloo wetland complex, part of the Wongaloo Conservation Park adjoin the Bowling Green Bay National Park and Ramsar wetland site in the West Haughton.
Wongaloo wetland complex, part of the Wongaloo Conservation Park adjoin the Bowling Green Bay National Park and Ramsar wetland site in the West Haughton.

The future of the Great Barrier Reef is starting to look a lot less murky with our first Reef Aid wetland restoration underway.

Working in partnership with landholders, we are restoring 200 hectares of priority coastal wetlands across two sites, the West Haughton River wetlands and Palm Creek, to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef.

Coastal wetlands play a vital role in water quality, filtering fine sediment and nutrients from flood waters before they are washed out to the Reef.

‘While some are debating the future of the Great Barrier Reef we are getting our hands dirty. In three weeks, we have cleared almost three kilometres of channels choked with weeds,” says Jelenko Dragisic, Greening Australia Director of Conservation.

“We have selected sites that are interconnected and adjacent to the national park and Ramsar listed wetlands. Most sit on private land and have significant fisheries and biodiversity values. They also form an important buffer between the farmland and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.”

One of the landholders we are working with is Neale Griggs. Neale’s 100-hectare property includes a wetland that drains into the Haughton River. Neale took over the property eighteen months ago and set about clearing the China Apple infestation that covered most of his land. He is now working to re-establish grass cover and improve the productivity of his block.

Dr Niall Connolly (Great Barrier Reef Rivers & Wetlands Program Manager) and Neale Griggs (landholder of Crooked Waterhole property). Dr Niall Connolly (Great Barrier Reef Rivers & Wetlands Program Manager) and Neale Griggs (landholder of Crooked Waterhole property).

Restoration of the wetland however was something that he lacked the equipment, expertise and resources to do alone.

This once iconic local waterhole, known as ‘Crooked Waterhole’ by locals was legendary for catches of barramundi. It had become densely choked with weeds, including Olive hymenachne, Water Hyacinth, Salvinia and water lettuce, with no open water for migratory birds and dissolved oxygen levels at near zero. The only fish that could tolerate these conditions were the introduced pests, the Three Spot Gourami and Telapia.

“We teamed up with Neale to help him restore the wetland in a way that complemented his farm management. When we arrived the channels were choked with weeds. It was impossible to tell if there was even water in the channel, or what lurked beneath – pythons and crocodiles were a major safety concern,’ says Jelenko.

Two sites in Crooked Waterhole before intervention (left) showing dense stands of Olive hymenachne and other weed species covering the water and after intervention (right) with open water. Two sites in Crooked Waterhole before intervention (left) showing dense stands of Olive hymenachne and other weed species covering the water and after intervention (right) with open water.

Three weeks on and the difference is startling.

‘Due to the extremely dense vegetation over the channels we couldn’t use a helicopter to spray the weeds, it was too dense to use a boat and too dangerous for people to spray by hand. Instead, we used an amphibious excavator which allowed our contractor, Civil Plus Constructions from Townsville, to do in seven days what would normally take a team months to do.”

Because the weeds were largely floating, the use of the excavator also caused minimal environmental disturbance, including significantly reducing the amount of herbicide needed.

“It was incredible seeing the site after the amphibious machine had finished. It was like keyhole surgery – not a branch was missing!”

Civil Plus Construction’s amphibious excavator with Niall Connolly (left), Neil Griggs (centre) and Tony Compton (right). Civil Plus Construction’s amphibious excavator with Niall Connolly (left), Neil Griggs (centre) and Tony Compton (right).

“When we purchased the property it was not hard to see that the creek had a problem. Introduced species had taken over and there was very little fish activity or bird life. When Greening Australia approached us with the idea of cleaning it out, we jumped at the opportunity. They have done a mighty job at cleaning and restoring the creek back to its natural state,” says Neale Grigg.

“I believe that Greening Australia has made a huge contribution to the environment in our little part of the country. With their help, we intend to keep the creek in pristine condition.”

“In the next twelve months, we will see life return to the area. We have already seen birds move back into the estuary. With the wet season flood flows we expect native fish and crustaceans to join them and in the long term, maybe even crocodiles,” says Jelenko.

Pink lotus lilly, Nelumbo nucifer. Pink lotus lilly, Nelumbo nucifer.

“Building relationships with landholders is critical to the success of Reef Aid as is the commitment landholders like Neale make to steward the land and ensure that our efforts are not reversed.”

Monitoring of the site to track improvements in fisheries and water quality will be conducted by Greening Australia in partnership with Dr Nathan Waltham of TropWater (James Cook University) while Birdlife Australia will survey bird populations across Reef Aid sites.

Program Manager, Dr Niall Connolly, will monitor vegetation to build a model for wetland restoration which can be applied to other sites.

“We’re now waiting for the rains to flush out the channels and return the land to its full natural beauty,” concludes Jelenko.

This Reef Aid project is supported by the Australian Government, Ian Potter Foundation and Virgin Australia, and delivered in partnership with the Reef Trust.

You can lend your support too by donating at www.greeningaustralia.org.au/donate/reef-aid. All donations are matched dollar for dollar by the Australian Government.