Wetland rehabilitation to help save the Reef

Posted 24 June 2016

wetlandsSimple projects restoring “nature's kidneys” to health could play a significant role in preserving the Great Barrier Reef, says a James Cook University researcher.

Dr Nathan Waltham has been working on the successful rehabilitation of North Queensland's Mungalla Wetlands and is calling on governments to fund similar projects.

“They call them nature's kidneys: coastal wetlands provide a level of filtration of water coming down catchment areas so things like nutrients and sediment get treated and stored in wetlands,” the  TropWATER Principal Research Officer said.

“There's many thousands [of wetlands] that are in serious need of investigation and repair to restore that function of improving the quality of water that does end up at the Great Barrier Reef.”

The story of the Mungalla Wetlands, near Ingham, provided a good example of what could be achieved, Waltham said.

“The earth wall built on Mungalla Station in the 1940s disconnected a floodplain area there so the upstream side of the wetland became a freshwater habitat that was overgrown with invasive aquatic plants,” he said.

“We did some surveys in 2009 and we basically had three fish species and oxygen levels were getting to acute and chronic levels consistently.”

In conjunction with CSIRO and the Mungalla Aboriginal Corporation for Business, James Cook University has spent the last few years restoring the habitat.

“This project has been a pretty simple process of removing an earthen wall and allowing connectivity to happen again and we're starting to see some good results,” he said.

The Corporation concentrated on weed control (mainly Hymenachne) and revegetation through the strategic planting of locally-sourced native plants.

CSIRO monitored vegetation and water quality using novel aerial image capture techniques, before and after saline intrusions into the wetland.

Waltham said funding and collaboration were the keys to delivering improved outcomes for wetlands and the reef.

“There's a lot more work we need to do and certainly projects like this show that with investment and working as a team, working with landholders, Indigenous Rangers, you can achieve some really positive outcomes,” Waltham said.

“More projects like this need to be on the table and funding towards them.”