It’s a Murray-Darling bird-breeding party in the Gayini (Nimmie-Caira) wetlands in south west New South Wales, as birds thrive.
Thousands of breeding waterbirds are flourishing thanks to water that’s been specifically allocated to help boost the environment, and the wisdom of the traditional custodians of Nari Nari Country.
Gayini is a wetland complex of nearly 88,000 hectares situated between Maude and Balranald, and part of the Murray-Darling Basin. It is home to many bird colonies and holds cultural significance to First Nations peoples, so the breeding event is a big win for the birds who live there.
“This has been a fantastic result for the basin’s waterbird populations and for water management in the Murray-Darling Basin,” says Kate Brandis, of UNSW.
“The fact that we can actually get enough water for the environment to stimulate the birds to breed, and mimic a flood is really promising.”
The effort to look after the wetlands was the result of collaborations between researchers from UNSW and Charles Sturt University, state and federal water managers, and the Nari Nari Tribal Council.
Extra water was given to the area from dam water that had been specifically allocated for environmental use. The water policy, introduced by the Murray-Darling Basin plan in 2012, paid off, because the breeding event included endangered species.
“I’ve seen royal and yellow-billed spoonbills, cormorants, Australasian darters, rufous night herons and pied stilts,” says Brandis. “Importantly, a number of lesser known or threatened waterbirds also benefited, including great egret, great crested grebe, and the endangered Australasian bittern.”
To keep the area controlled, water levels were closely managed by the Nari Nari Tribal Council.
“These birds only breed when flooding conditions are right,” says Brandis.
“What would normally happen is we would have lots of rain, a big flood, and then the birds would start breeding. Then we would use environmental flows to either extend the flood duration or top up water levels in colony sites.”
The influx of water wasn’t just good for the birds.
“It also created opportunities for native fish, turtles and frogs – threatened southern bell frogs in particular – to breed and move,” says James Maguire from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. “The population growth in southern bell frogs in the Gayini wetlands has been another fantastic outcome.
“Water for the environment has been strategically used for many years and we are finally seeing this threatened species in great numbers across dozens of wetlands from Gayini over to Yanga National Park.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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