The Journey Of Native Seedlings Beginning At Our SPAs

With inputs from Angela S., hobby botanist, database lead and volunteer at the Wetlands Centre.

The thriving native plant life is what makes our wetlands places of immense beauty and wonder. Their roots nourish the land and help with nutrient recycling and removal of toxins.  Their lush cover provides shelter and habitat for our wildlife. 

They add so much character to the wetlands, reflecting seasonal changes like wetland moods – flowering, and shedding. These plants have evolved to adapt to the cyclical nature of wetlands so well, coping in ever-varying conditions of dryness, wetness, salinity or freshness. And if you observe the wetlands you will catch their different tones. 

It is incredible to imagine that these plants start their life as tiny seedlings that then grow into sturdy saplings and mature plants. We, at The Wetlands Centre, do our bit in helping our native plants flourish – by ascertaining the best times to collect seeds and factors for maintaining genetic diversity, collecting seeds, storing and cataloguing seeds, propagating seeds, potting on seedlings, and then planting and rehabilitating the bushland and wetland with native plants.

We work hand-in-hand with our team of volunteers, community members, and our primary sponsors – The City of Cockburn, who are keen supporters of our work. Our established wet and dry Seed Propagation Areas or SPAs and our fully equipped “Norm’s Nursery” is where the magic happens. We’ve been maintaining detailed records of all our efforts in a comprehensive database that is proving to be very helpful in our endeavours. All the collected data can be analysed for some fascinating trends and interesting insights. 

In this blog post, we offer you a tour of our SPAs and nursery, as well as our seed store and database. While we’re expanding our knowledgebase, we are eager to learn and incorporate from your experience. We hope you’ll be able to join us in our effort to preserve, conserve and rehabilitate our precious wetlands. 

 

Collecting and Storing Seeds

It takes special knowhow to collect seeds from native plants. Some seeds are incredibly toxic, like the bright red seeds from the Zamia, and collecting them can be tricky. A whole bucket of Banksia seedpods may produce just 10 seeds (or fewer) while, Juncus and Lobelia are more prolific and only one teaspoon worth of seeds may produce over 20,000 plants!

Norm Godfrey, a wetland visionary, was a pioneer in this science. We, till date, use the list that he compiled of what seeds are best collected when. For this and for his enormous love for the wetlands we have named our water-wise garden – “Norm’s Garden” and our nursery – “Norm’s Nursery”, in his loving memory.

We collect seeds from the bushland and wetland, and we involve volunteers in all tasks, including seed collection. The collected seeds are then catalogued and stored. They are sorted by the year of their collection when they are stored. We have seeds going back to the years 2002/2003 in our seed store!

 

The SPAs and Norm’s Nursery

The centre has one wet and one dry seed propagation area (or SPA). It is here that the seeds are propagated and transplanted. We use a handy (unofficial) zone guide to determine and pick the zones. 

Norm’s nursery is a little haven for our native plants. There are 139 native plants that are officially confirmed as local to our area (there may be more that are not confirmed yet) and we grow all of these. We currently have a maximum holding capacity of up to 22,000 plants!

The City of Cockburn is our primary sponsor and most generous supporter. We grow native plants for them that they then use to rehabilitate predetermined areas. Over and above this we also use the plants to rehabilitate areas within our precinct, such as Horse Paddock Swamp. We often announce our planting day events in advance and are joined by many involved and enthusiastic members of the community.

   

Our Comprehensive Database

Our comprehensive database is the cornerstone of our management efforts. We use the database to maintain records of all our seed collection, propagation, germination, transplanting and planting activities. 

We can use the database to extract specific insights – about the timelines for the various phases of seed propagation and if these coincided with any major weather events, about the yield for each batch and if there were factors contributing to an especially high/low yield, about the best methods and techniques for growing native plants, and about the amount of seed that will give us acceptable returns in terms of plant maturation. 

The database is also helping us make our operations more economical. For example, we now understand the quantity of seeds that we need to sow for the output we require, and we are not over-sowing or over-producing. We are also gathering information on seed viability and the various factors that affect plant health. For example, we were able to keep records of how much sodium bicarbonate we added per watering can and eventually worked out the best amount to bring liverwort and other mosses under control in the nursery. 

We are assimilating this information, gathering context and improving our processes continuously. This makes management a little more scientific, precise and predictable. 

 

Planting and Propagation Events

In our 26 years of landcare, education and conservation work, we have built a considerable knowledgebase. We are learning more and more about the behaviours of our native plants and the best ways of supporting them.

We are interested in sharing all the knowledge we have collected and we welcome groups and individuals to contribute, assist and partake. There is so much to learn and do together!

If you’re interested in what we do and want to help us in our efforts, come join us as a vollie. We will be delighted to have you. Optionally, you can join us for general landcare work on Thursdays and Fridays. 

No formal qualification or working knowledge of plants is required to volunteer.  Just an open mind and a willingness to learn and embrace new stuff. There are a range of diverse and interesting activities to indulge in. And our friendly team of staff and vollies will make it up to you with laughter, fun, a warm cuppa and lots of bikkies.

We encourage you to visit us or have a chat with us at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn – about how you can participate and help your local wetlands!

All About A Backyard Frog Pond

The cacophonous and often noisy sounds of our Aussie amphibians – from the revving of the motorbike frogs to the strum of the banjo frogs and the grumpy wails of the moaning frogs, make our wetlands come alive! Little do we realise that the presence of these critters is an important sign of the good health of our wetlands.

We are blessed with a unique frog diversity with over 200 frog species calling Australia their home. Alarmingly, more and more of them are dwindling and now over 43 of them have been documented to be critically endangered and 3 seemingly extinct. Everything from human activity, urbanisation, urban encroachment and habitat loss, pollution and litter, clearing and draining of wetlands, and introduction of toxic chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers, is affecting them.

By building a frog pond in your backyard you are ensuring that these happy hoppers get a chance to beat the odds and survive. Plus, a healthy frog pond means that all is well with your garden. They will keep pests and insects in check by feeding on them. The frog pond will go a long way in enhancing the beauty of your otherwise ordinary backyard, and in bringing the lively sounds of the wetlands a little bit closer to home.

Our frogs spend more time in the bushland and return to the wetland to breed. If you can’t have a frog pond, a native garden, native plants, logs, mulch etc. will support them too!

Few caveats to begin with

Although frogs appear to be hardy, native frogs can be sensitive to their environment. Here are a few considerations to make while keeping our new friends:

  1. Frogs can be extremely noisy. Consider this before beginning construction. You may also want to talk to your neighbours and adjust the location of your frog pond accordingly.
  2. Do not use pesticides, fertilizers or other strong chemicals. These may impact your frogs’ food source.
  3. Avoid using exotic, non-native and invasive plants, such as amazon frogbit and water hyacinth, in and around the frog pond. Instead, use native species that the frogs love.
  4. Avoid adding “exotic” fish to your frog pond as these can predate on frogs, especially tadpoles and eggs. However, it may be beneficial to include some native fish, such as the Western Pygmy Perch or the Swan River Goby, as they are non-invasive as well as help in controlling mosquitoes by feeding on their larvae.
  5. Frog ponds may attract snakes, skinks and other reptiles. It is best to practice caution and be aware of these creatures’ presence while accessing the backyard. Consider covering the pond top with mesh or wire-fencing the pond to safeguard children.

 

Construction of your frog pond

Frogs need ample moisture, adequate food and some shelter. Consider these aspects while designing and constructing your frog pond. The pond itself doesn’t need to be very large for these tiny critters to feel safe and sheltered.

Sunlight is an important consideration to make. Without enough sunlight the tadpoles may not metamorphose in a season. So, the placement of your pond should be such that it receives a good amount of sunlight and some shade. Choose a location with about 70% shade and 30% sun. (And, a one-third sun during winters and a dappled sun during the summer months.)

For materials, everything from concrete to fibreglass works and pre-cast or prefabricated ponds are available in shops. Although it is essential to get PVC and UV stabilised liners for these.

Creating a comfortable home

To create a comfortable home for our frog friends, place gravel, rocks and logs in and around the pond. Frogs are ectothermic and rely on the external environment to control their body temperature i.e. if it’s cold they will try and find a sunny spot to bask and if it’s sweltering hot, they will then find a cool shady spot to relax. Make sure that variations of sunny and shady spots are available to them around their habitat throughout the year.

Ensure the walls of your pond are not too steep or slippery, as some frogs can get stuck and drown in the water. The pond must have sloping sides for frogs to easily navigate and manoeuvre around as well as move in and out of the pond. Fashion ramps made of wood or plastic or collect rocks and pebbles around the edges. If gardens are attached to the bush and attract bobtails, they too need these exit ramps to avoid falling in and drowning.

Fringing and aquatic vegetation is essential to their survival. A leaf litter and algae often safeguard tadpoles and fringing vegetation provides shelter and habitat for frogs. Use rushes, sedges, hostas and ferns to create an enclosed and safe habitat.

Attracting frogs to your pond

Once you have built your perfect pond, it may still take a while for it to become well-established and for froggies to come find it. Don’t be disheartened. Have patience!

It is important that you don’t import frogs from elsewhere into your pond, rather wait for local native species to find it. This is an important step in preserving the genetic integrity of the local gene pool. The local motorbike frogs can smell water from a great distance and will be the first ones to arrive.

Note that catching tadpoles or frogs from local water sources is illegal!

There is a local tadpole exchange program happening through the Western Australian Museum. Also, the national “Frogs Australia Network” database can be an invaluable resource while finding resident frogs through their tadpole exchange program. And, heaps of useful information on frogs and frog calls can be found here.

Should the frogs still be hesitant in arriving, here are a few tips for making your frog pond more attractive to the shy critters:

  1. Avoid keeping the pond too clean and tidy. Preserve the natural rustic state of the pond along with healthy leaf litter and organic matter. Insects and other organisms will thrive in such an environment and so will the frogs that in turn feed off them.
  2. Skip any fountains, filtration systems or waterfalls that you may want to add. Frogs like quiet, still and undisturbed waters.
  3. Create damp and cool crooks and crannies and wet areas around the pond. Use terracotta pots and planters, bricks, dead logs, driftwood, pebbles and stones, mulch and other materials. Frogs will often hide and take shelter in these spots you create.

 

Frog Pond at Norm’s Garden at The Wetlands Centre

If you’re seeking inspiration for your own frog pond or are simply looking for a spot to observe the happy hoppers in action, Norm’s Garden at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn may be perfect for you.

Norm’s garden is a water-wise garden developed using sustainable gardening practices and named after “Norm Godfrey”, a wetland visionary and poet.

Our frog pond is overflowing with tiny critters that aren’t too shy to make some noise on a good day. Or, come down to the Centre for our frog night stalk where we uncover the delightfully raucous sounds of frogs calling through the dense cover of the night.

 

References

  1. Black, D. (2019). The Amphibian Research Centre at Frogs.org.au. Retrieved 20 August 2019, from https://frogs.org.au/
  2. My Backyard » Frogs. (2019). Mybackyard.info. Retrieved 21 August 2019, from http://mybackyard.info/backyardblog/?cat=4
  3. Ponds, B. (2008). Backyard Frog Ponds. GARDENING AUSTRALIA. Retrieved 21 August 2019, from https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/backyard-frog-ponds/9428752
  4. Frog bog and pond basics | Sustainable Gardening Australia. (2019). Sustainable Gardening Australia. Retrieved 23 August 2019, from https://www.sgaonline.org.au/frog-ponds/
  5. Oz Watergardens – the know-how on frog pond design. (2019). Ozwatergardens.com.au. Retrieved 23 August, from http://www.ozwatergardens.com.au/frog-ponds
  6. Frogs – Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges. (2019). Naturalresources.sa.gov.au. Retrieved 3 September 2019, from https://www.naturalresources.sa.gov.au/adelaidemtloftyranges/plants-and-animals/native-plants-animals-and-biodiversity/native-animals/frogs

Benedict von Bibra And The Story Of Bibra Lake

Looking at Bibra Lake so full and brimming as we approach the end of winter, it immediately fills us with a sense of peace and tranquillity. The splendid birdlife, the abundant wildlife, the gentle sway of the rushes and the lush bushland beyond it – everything is picturesque and endearing.

For a host of others, from the Aboriginals – the traditional custodians who consider it sacred, to the later-day inhabitants who enjoy its rich bounty, Bibra Lake has always held special significance.

The Beeliar Tribe used the surrounds as an important camping site and archaeological evidence demonstrates that the area had been under Aboriginal use going as far back as 5000 years ago. A site older than the Great Pyramids! Indeed, the mythology of the ‘Waugal’ – the rainbow serpent, and dreamtime tales of the ‘Spirit Children’ have long been associated with this beautiful land.

There is also a great geographical significance. The Beeliar wetlands formed the major links for the journey along the coast providing shelter, fresh water, food and safety from the elements.

Around the 1800s the European settlement was taking effect. This impacted the local Aboriginal population that receded drastically. Soon traditional lands became land grants to new settlers.

In 1830 George Robb received 2000 acres of land through a land grant. His area stretched from Cockburn Road up to North Lake. Alongside Robb’s land, Benedict von Bibra was granted 320 acres in what is now a part of the suburb of Bibra Lake.

In this article, we sketch a picture of life around Bibra Lake in those days. We knit you a yarn about Benedict von Bibra and how our beautiful lake got its name – from Walubup, Walliabup, Bibra’s Lake, to now simply Bibra Lake.

 

About Benedict von Bibra

Benedict von Bibra came from Van Diemen’s Land to settle in the Swan River Colony in the early 1830s. His first impression of Perth was not favourable as it was still a relatively raw and rustic settlement. And his hopes of farming and earning his living by working the land were soon dashed when he found sand instead of soil everywhere.

However, that was not the only skill he carried! During his early days at “Coburg” (the name of von Bibra’s childhood home and property in Van Diemen’s Land), he had helped build the house and several outbuildings and had found a natural ability and inclination for carpentry. This was handy indeed as carpentry was a skill very much in demand those days.

He used the money he had collected from the sale of Coburg to establish a business together with a partner. But the arrangement was unsuccessful and the partnership dissolved in 1834.

During this period of dejection and loneliness, Benedict met Matilda Sarah Flaherty. After a brief courtship, Benedict married Matilda in April 1836 and the couple settled down in Perth. They had their first child in 1837 and named him Louis Edward. In 1838, they had a daughter, named Matilda after her mother and lovingly called Tilly, and in 1839, another son, James.

Benedict had found that he was especially adept at making shingles, an art the other carpenters were not particularly good at. He took this as a sign, putting all his energy in this direction to build a successful business. He had hit the mark and the business expanded swiftly.

In 1841 Benedict opened a new branch of his carpentry business in Fremantle together with a partner. This was also the year when he and Matilda lost their 4th child, Edwin William, who died of dysentery when only five months old.

 

A Little Bit of History

Little was known about the lake’s existence by European settlers before A. C. Gregory who chanced upon it while conducting a survey of George Robb’s land in May 1842. Gregory noted the Aboriginal name of the lake as “Walubup”.

A year later, in the summer of 1843, Benedict von Bibra conducted a survey of his own land that lay towards the southern shore. Benedict had bought this land to use for camping and to shorten his trip between his two businesses in Perth and Fremantle. That same year, Matilda and Benedict had another daughter. They named her Helen Amelia.

As he surveyed, he noticed that there was a feature – a wide depression at the edge of his land. He assessed from the stringybark trees that this basin would transform into a lake during winter months and that rainwater would fill it to a depth of seven to eight feet. He was right of course and this account gives us the historical verification that Bibra Lake has been a seasonal wetland for at least a hundred years.

He used the Aboriginal name “Walliabup” (‘up’ means place) for the lake and this version was used extensively for more than half a century. Von Bibra’s association with “Walliabup” was fondly recalled by locals who referred to the feature as “Bibra’s Lake”. The alternative name “Bibra Lake” was eventually adopted in place of the original name.

Life Around Bibra Lake

Between 1850 and 1870 development continued to occur all around Bibra Lake. Smaller lots of 10 to 40 acres became the norm towards the east of the lake and more substantial holdings occurred towards the south and north.

In 1848, Benedict’s household grew further to include another son whom they called Charles Frederick. Frances, nicknamed Fanny, was born sometime later and was their last child together. Matilda died in 1857 at only thirty-seven years of age.

Throughout the 1800s Bibra Lake came to be known as a local agricultural hub. Wheat, oats and maize crops were planted. The dairy industry was booming. Horse and cattle farming were fairly popular. Market gardeners, many of them Chinese, found lease opportunities from local landowners and thrived on the land allocated to them. Local vineyards and orchards also developed.

Considering the ever-growing popularity of the Bibra Lake foreshore, in 1898 the Fremantle District Roads Board declared Bibra Lake to be a reserve for recreational purposes only and actively opposed all applications to lease land.  Tearooms were erected and the Reserve became a popular venue for picnics and sports gatherings. With these changing conditions, several of the activities – enterprises as well as farms, gradually relocated to better suited and more accessible areas.

In the 1970s the EPA identified Bibra Lake as an important recreational and conservation area and it was eventually rezoned for Parks and Recreation in the Metropolitan Region Scheme.

Today, Bibra Lake is the centrepiece of the Beeliar Regional Park. It has a Regional Playground, the Wetlands Centre and Native ARC and an Aboriginal Cultural Centre is planned for the near future. It is an important conservation category wetland where nature and wildlife coexist in the midst of a rapidly developing urban landscape. For many people, Bibra Lake is a quiet escape from city life – a quick getaway, a place to reflect and reconnect with nature.

References

  1. Bibra Lake, Western Australia. (2019). En.wikipedia.org. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibra_Lake,_Western_Australia
  2. (2019). Vonbibra.net. Retrieved 31 July 2019, from http://www.vonbibra.net/files/TVBSChapt40001.pdf

Welcome to “Narma Kullarck” Boardwalk & Bird Hide

Narma Kullarck Boardwalk at twilight

The first thing everyone experiences as they enter the floating boardwalk after the winter rain is that sensation of walking on water – feeling the gentle swell and sway of the wetlands lapping around the boardwalk. And they carry this feeling in their spirit as they connect with nature and feed their souls on its beauty.

The floating pontoons afford a surreal view – tucked away in a thicket and emerging with the bird hide on Bibra Lake. Together, the boardwalk and bird hide, are shaped like the long neck and oblong shell (respectively) of our endearing oblong turtle. And the aerial view shows off the turtle’s form spectacularly. As a symbol, this is apt. Oblong turtles are native inhabitants here.

The boardwalk and bird hide have been named – “Narma Kullarck” – an Aboriginal Nyoongar phrase that means “family place”. And it is truly that. A place for people from all walks of life and all corners of community to intermingle and connect.

A place of meditation and exploration, where you can delve into the thriving environment and ecosystem, as well as find your roots, develop and strengthen your bond with nature. A celebration of our culture of inclusivity and openness. And an ode to the rich and vibrant Aboriginal heritage, the people on whose land the structure stands.

A satelite view of Narma Kullarck Boardwalk
An aerial view of the boardwalk, showing it’s distinct “Oblong turtle”-inspired shape.

 

Staying True to Aboriginal Values

The North Lake “Coolbellup” and Bibra Lake “Walliabup” sites within the Beeliar Regional Park have longstanding cultural and historical ties to the Aboriginal people.

Evidence collected from these sites has included more than 2000 artefacts made of clay, glass, quartz and fossilised sedimentary rock called “chert”. Of these fossiliferous chert dates back to the last ice age, more than 6000 years ago, when it could have been found on land that has since become the seabed. This evidence suggests that the sites are at least 5000 years old! To put this in context, the sites are older than the great pyramids.

The Narma Kullarck Boardwalk and Bird Hide have been constructed on Aboriginal heritage land. In order to maintain the sanctity of the ancient connection, in the initial planning phases, support was sought from the Aboriginal Community and the Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA).

The City of Cockburn initiated a consultation process that included inviting native title applicants and other senior members of the Aboriginal Community to share their views on the design, location and construction of the boardwalk and bird hide. Anthropological and archaeological reports were also commissioned in order to establish constraints.

 

Developing the Initial Plans

In 2008, the City of Cockburn engaged consultants to develop a plan for the development and management of recreational and conservation facilities at Bibra Lake. The council adopted the plan in early 2010. The plan was also subjected to full community consultation including consultation with the Wetlands Centre Cockburn, prior to adoption.

Very early on in the process, plans were altered to avoid sinking piles into the lakebed as this was considered unacceptable to Aboriginal beliefs and values. However, DIA gave permission to construct a floating boardwalk and a design for floating pontoon structures using prefabricated systems was approved.

A side view of the boardwalk's pontoons
A side view of the boardwalk pontoons showing passages enabling fauna movement

It was critical that the pontoons did not restrict fauna movement in any way. To meet this special requirement, a central access channel was designed to run underneath the entire length of the boardwalk. Numerous access points have also been incorporated for wildlife to move under the boards seamlessly.

The native paperbark wetland environment posed further challenges to the design, with poor site accessibility due to thick vegetation and its propensity for seasonal inundation. This meant that the contractors working on the project would need to be specialised with intimate knowledge of the wetland environment and an ability to work under varying conditions.

 

Project Specifics, Facts and Figures

Jarrah timber has been used for the decking. The timber decking is better (compared to GRP open grating) because it is more in keeping with the aesthetic surroundings of Bibra Lake. And the bird hide has been created out of recycled timber.

Image of kids dip netting for macroinvertebrates

The 70-metre-long floating boardwalk has been built as close to the ground as possible and is designed to lift with the water when the area floods. There aren’t any visually intrusive handrails, and at the same time, the boardwalk is wide and stable. At 2 metres wide it allows for easy access for wheelchairs and prams.

The bird hide includes viewing slots at both heights for children and adults on each of the three walls and there is ample bench seating everywhere – inside as well as outside.

There are wooden steps at a few places along the way that make working in the surrounding wetland possible for volunteers and staff during planting season. And there are metal steps at the bird hide that lead to the water’s edge for school children who come to visit the Centre during the school holidays and need to collect samples for their study.

The whole project cost a little under $650,000 to complete.

 

Opening Ceremony

The Narma Kullarck boardwalk and bird hide were officially opened on the 13th of October 2012, at a short mid-morning ceremony. The beautiful structure is a labour of love and hard work, staying true to every expectation.

Picture collage of Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk
Aboriginal Elder Revd. Sealin Garlett & City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett inaugurating the boardwalk

As a family place, it reflects the hopes and dreams of Aboriginal Elder and Chairperson of the City of Cockburn’s Aboriginal Reference Group, Revd. Sealin Garlett. Traditionally, the site has served as a place for Aboriginal families to meet, gather and exchange knowledge. And it was his hope that the new boardwalk and bird hide would continue to serve the community in similar ways.

Together with Revd. Sealin Garlett, the City of Cockburn Mayor, Mr. Logan Howlett cut the ribbon. In our case (and appropriately so), it was a braid of red, yellow and black threads woven with gum leaves in place of the ribbon.

 

Narma Kullarck Today

Volunteers after a planting event
In high spirits: Volunteers form a “pot snake” after a huge revegetating event around the boardwalk

The boardwalk and bird hide are incredibly popular with the public who come here to appreciate nature, contemplate and rejuvenate.  The vegetation is thriving. And it isn’t hard to spot some wildlife – turtles, frogs, birds and bandicoots, casually enjoying Narma Kullarck too.

 

Link to Boardwalk Inaugural Picture Gallery: Courtesy, City of Cockburn.

References

Cockburn.wa.gov.au. (2012). Summary of Minutes of Ordinary Council Meeting Held On Thursday, 9 February 2012 At 7:00 pm. [online] Available at: https://www.cockburn.wa.gov.au/getattachment/4b883dd7-e570-44f2-990d-59660740a2ea/ecm_4205509_v1_minutes-ordinary-council-meeting-09-february-2012-pdf [Accessed 13 Jun. 2019].

NARMA KULLARCK (FAMILY PLACE) BIBRA LAKE RESERVE BOARDWALK & BIRD HIDE Project in Bibra Lake, WA – Cordell Connect. (2019). Cordellconnect.com.au. Retrieved 13 June 2019, from https://www.cordellconnect.com.au/public/project/ProjectDetails.aspx?uid=1295319

Shaw, M. (2013). The Urban Bush Telegraph. [online] Bushlandperth.org.au. Available at: https://www.bushlandperth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/UBTMay2013.pdf [Accessed 14 Jun. 2019].

Wahlquist, C. (2015). Indigenous site ‘older than pyramids’ in Perth freeway’s path taken off heritage register. the Guardian. Retrieved 14 June 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/23/indigenous-site-older-than-pyramids-in-perth-freeways-path-taken-off-heritage-register

Migratory Waterbirds: Bidding Au Revoir To The International Frequent Fliers

A flock of migratory waterbirds feeding and flying over wetlands

The wetlands around us are flush with islands of congregating waterbirds, many of which are visitors only passing through. We see 36 species of birds each year including plovers, sandpipers, stints, curlews and snipes. An additional 16 species visit us occasionally.

In April we find them engaged in a feeding frenzy as they prepare for their onward journeys. And this time of year is ideal for the feeding waterbirds that form large flocks and feed around the clock. Shallow waters of seasonally drying wetlands offer up delicacies – a variety of invertebrates and fish – that the birds relish.

These incredible migratory birds take on a 26,000-kilometre round trip that spans 22 countries, flying between their summer breeding areas in the northern hemisphere and the winter feeding grounds in the south. They complete this trip in a matter of weeks, with only a few pit stops along the way to rest and refuel before they fly off again.

In this article, we take a peek at the life of migratory waterbirds as they touch and transform our wetlands while traversing the East Asian – Australasian Flyway, which has come to be recognized as a migratory corridor of global significance.

 

The start of a journey

Together, the coastal and freshwater wetlands host over 2 million waterbirds that come here from the Arctic Circle.

The waterbirds arrive here in September, reaching the “staging areas” where they rest and recuperate. Sites such as Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach are both Ramsar wetlands and important staging areas for the birds.

From here the birds disperse across Australia, taking fascinating and distinct journeys and reaching the southeastern states by October.  The migration takes them through ephemeral wetlands all along the way that act as places of comfort, rest and support.

An eastern curlew at a wetland

By March or April, they have come full circle, returning back to the staging areas from where they had first dispersed into Australia. Here they form larger and larger flocks as birds continue to return. And soon the feeding frenzy begins.

 

Protecting the waterbirds

Throughout their hard and treacherous journey, the birds remain exposed and vulnerable. They face ever-increasing threats by human activity, including development, industrialisation, and urbanisation, destruction and degradation of wetland habitats and staging areas, an influx of weeds and invasive species, pollution, water mismanagement and innumerable other pressures. 

Disturbances at one site often affect an entire network of interlinked sites used by the birds. All of this has meant that several species of waterbirds, such as the Eastern Curlew and Great Knot, are critically endangered and many populations are continually declining. Protecting these birds, their habitats and their migration routes is essential for their survival.

Great Knot

Implementing measures for protection and conservation has been a priority for governments, environmental groups and intergovernmental agencies. The Ramsar Convention was the first-ever initiative between nations aimed at conserving natural resources. The initiative has become a pivotal mechanism for wetland monitoring, research and development, policy building, education, and more.

 

Australia and waterbird conservation

In 1974 Australia named the world’s first Wetland of International Importance: Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory. Since then the number of Australian Ramsar sites has increased to 65 sites that cover an area of about 8.3 million hectares. And more than 1200 sites have been listed as Ramsar sites in the world.

For over 30 years Australia has worked tirelessly playing a central role in this preservation effort by entering into bilateral talks and signing on to pioneering agreements. Those agreements include: the Bonn Convention for the conservation of migratory species of wild animals, Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement, China-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement, and Republic of Korea-Australia Migratory Bird Agreement.

The East Asian – Australasian Flyway (EAAF) partnership was launched on the 6th of November 2006. As a Ramsar initiative, this partnership focuses on international collaboration in the protection of waterbirds, their habitats and the livelihoods of people who depend on them throughout the EAAF.

Ecologist conducting shorebird counts

 

Within Australia, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) provides for the protection of migratory species as a matter of urgent national importance.

Migratory waterbirds at The Wetlands Centre

A cacophony of sounds and bird calls fill the air creating a magical effect at Bibra Lake and North Lake. The birds are here. We are especially privileged to be located within the wetland precinct and within viewing distance, observing each seasonal transition.

But this also means that we experience things more deeply when the going is not so great. In the course of our work, we have come across some devastating evidence of climate change, urbanisation and pollution.

It has been our learning that developing and implementing robust wetland management and landcare strategies are critical to our efforts of protecting wildlife habitats. We see the need for adaptive management techniques that adjust and apply to the ever-changing circumstances. Together with collaborating with participating community groups and raising awareness of the deep-seated issues.

Our work is hands-on and requires the support of our dedicated volunteers and staff. As we continue to make strides, we call out to community members to support us and join us in caring for our feathered friends.

References

Migratory waterbirds – Parks and Wildlife Service. (2019). Dpaw.wa.gov.au. Retrieved 13 April 2019, from https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/management/wetlands/migratory-waterbirds

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2019). Department of the Environment and Energy. Retrieved 13 April 2019, from https://www.environment.gov.au/water/wetlands/publications/factsheet-wetlands-migratory-shorebirds

Department of the Environment and Energy. (2019). Department of the Environment and Energy. Retrieved 13 April 2019, from https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/migratory-species/migratory-birds

International, B. (2016). Wetlands and Ramsar. BirdLife. Retrieved 13 April 2019, from https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/policy/wetlands-and-ramsar

Home – Parks and Wildlife Service. (2019). Dpaw.wa.gov.au. Retrieved 13 April 2019, from https://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/124-management/wetlands/migratory-waterbirds

Meet Our Emblematic Native Flower Kangaroo Paw

The iconic Kangaroo Paw with its vivacious, bright and almost iridescent flower shines through the native foliage. It is a lively presence here where much else is muted.

The Kangaroo Paw calls Western Australia home and is endemic to this region. Find it growing wild along roadsides, in eucalypt forests, along river banks, around swamps and shallow waters…nearly anywhere it can take root. Since it requires well-drained soils and plenty of sunlight, that is nearly everywhere in this arid and sunny state.

Different species flower in different months from July to December. And, it is responsible for creating a colourful and pleasing display along with other bright and cheery wildflowers that add their own signature hues to the scheme.

Its remarkable features – the velvety stem and flower, the vibrant colours and the unusual paw-like flower head – make it popular and highly desired in gardens across the world. And, it is an export favourite being frequently shipped to the USA, Japan and Israel.

The unique red-green flowers are alluring. But a stunning palette of pink, yellow, orange and green is also available. And, Kangaroo Paw is perfect for both fresh and dried flower arrangements.

It stands as a testament to our dynamic yet delicate environment. Perhaps this is why it is chosen as a floral emblem for our state of Western Australia, and it even appears on many stamp issues.

This isn’t nearly enough. There is more to this amazing native flower.

Did you know that there are 11 species and 13 recognised sub-species of Kangaroo Paw, with one species holding a genus all to itself? Did you know that Kangaroo Paw is pollinated by birds and can encourage native bird activity in your garden? Or, how about the fact that this dazzling, beautiful flower is resilient, strong and hardy beyond imagination.

Read on as we rediscover a gem and discuss its fascinating aspects.

 

A bit of history

Jacques-Julien Houtou de La Billardière, naturalist and botanist, was responsible for first describing Kangaroo Paw in 1792. He made the observation when the ship he was aboard, “d’Entrecasteaux’s ship Espérance”, made a stop for repairs in Esperance during its expedition to Australia.

An illustration of the Kangaroo Paw FlowerHis collections contained more than 4000 plants, of which three-quarters were previously unknown. And, valuable descriptions of the lands and peoples that the expedition visited, including detailed accounts of the ways of the Aboriginal peoples.

The Kangaroo Paw blooms are fan-like clusters attached to long stems. Each flower has a bright red ovary and unusual paw-shaped petals. Seeing this he named it Anigozanthos rufus.

Anigozanthos – from the Greek anises, meaning unequal, and anthos, meaning flower, referring to the unequal perianth lobes of the flower. An allusion to the division of the flower into six unequal parts.

 

Some lesser known facts

Other than the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw a few other species are common.  These include the Green Kangaroo Paw, which comes in a range of colours – from lemon yellow to emerald green, and Catspaw, which has smaller brightly coloured flowers.

The Aboriginal people call Kangaroo Paw Nollamara or Kurulbrang or Yonga Marra in the local Nyoongar language. They use it in preparing traditional medicine and the plant is of considerable significance to them.

Here are other incredible facts:

  • The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw is the floral emblem of Western Australia since 1960.
  • Flowers have no fragrance. And the furry flower and stalk can irritate skin and eyes on constant contact.
  • Kangaroo Paws are pollinated by a variety of native birds, including honeyeaters and wattlebirds.
  • The stalk of the plant is sturdy enough to perch birds that are attracted to its bright colours. The shape and position of the pollen-bearing anthers enable pollen to deposit on the perching birds.
  • For feeding birds – As the bird pushes its beak into the tubular perianth to feed on the nectar, it brushes its head against the stamens which deposit pollen. Pollen is then transferred from flower to flower as the birds fly about.
  • Kangaroo Paw forms a rhizome or modified stem underground. The rhizome grows to about 5cms in diameter and is responsible for making the plant resistant to fire and drought. The plant can often survive harsh conditions and re-sprout when circumstances change to become favourable again.
  • Kangaroo Paws have tuberous roots which contain significant amounts of stored starch. These roots are eaten by Nyoongar people, similar to the way some orchids and lily species are too. Root tubers formed an important part of the traditional Nyoongar diet, and for this reason, it is possible that the roots of Kangaroo Paws were collected and gathered in large quantities.
  • The Red and Green Kangaroo Paw only occurs naturally in southwest Western Australia. Found commonly around Shark Bay to Scott’s River and at Mt. Barker – Manjimup, along the Murchison River, Busselton, Lake Muir, and King’s Park near Perth.

A close-up view of the Kangaroo Paw Flower

Kangaroo Paws at The Wetlands Centre

If you are considering planting a native garden, Kangaroo Paw is indispensable. You can start by planting at least a few varieties in your garden for that dazzling effect.

If you come down and take a stroll in the perimeter of Bibra Lake or North Lake you will find the familiar sight that is the Red and Green Kangaroo Paw. You will find them blossoming in our waterwise garden too. They thrive rather well in their natural environ here. And our team of staff and volunteers do a great job of caring for the native plant life in and around this area.

To learn more about our amazing native plants and animals, and to help us make sustained and continued efforts towards conserving and rehabilitating our wetlands, come join us at The Wetlands Centre.

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

References

Young, R. (2019). Paws for Thought – Wildflower Society of Western Australia. [online] Wildflowersocietywa.org.au. Available at: http://www.wildflowersocietywa.org.au/advice-and-tips/paws-for-thought/ [Accessed 1 Mar. 2019].

Kangaroo Paws – Anigozanthos – Australian Plant Information. (2019). Anbg.gov.au. Retrieved 3 March 2019, from https://www.anbg.gov.au/anigozanthos/

La Billardière, Jacques-Julien Houtou de (1755–1834), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/la-billardiere-jacques-julien-houtou-de-2316/text3007, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 3 March 2019.

Kangaroo Paw Plants, Flowers – Care, Prune and Growers Guide (2018). (2019). Ozbreed Plants. Retrieved 4 March 2019, from https://www.ozbreed.com.au/velvet-kangaroo-paws/

Stewart, A. (2019). Growing Kangaroo Paws. [online] Gardeningwithangus.com.au. Available at: https://www.gardeningwithangus.com.au/growing-kangaroo-paws/ [Accessed 4 Mar. 2019].

Our Wetlands In A Changing Climate

As ecosystems that thrive on so little, our wetlands are delicate. Yet they are abundant sources of water in this growingly water-starved world. They are carbon sinks, that remove and trap over 13% of the world’s carbon. They are biodiversity hot-spots where some of the most beautiful and unique species live and flourish.

While we are fortunate to still see wetlands around us, their survival is threatened. They are exhibiting what the scientists are calling a ‘distress syndrome’, wherein, their functional capacity has been radically impaired. Their plant and animal distributions have been drastically altered. And there are several disturbances, induced stresses and a range of pressures that are making their fragile ecosystems imbalanced.

Image of a starving polar bear on a melting ice sheet

Much of this has been the result of climate change. A topic that is heavily discussed but less understood in the context of wetland conservation and rehabilitation. It is only gradually becoming clear that climate change impacts each wetland in a specific and unpredictable way. And it is through constant monitoring, research, on-ground work and active participation that some of the impacts can be stalled or even reversed.

Our conservation efforts at Bibra Lake and North Lake, within the Beeliar Regional Park, have been remarkable. Through the course of our work, we are constantly learning about the nature of our wetlands, their many unseen facets and how they respond to a steadily shifting environment.

In this article, we draw a sketch of the strengths and weaknesses of our dynamic Beeliar Wetlands as they stand the test of a changing climate. And what it will take for them to survive this massive global event.

Understanding climate change

Climate change is perhaps the greatest issue confronting us today!  As greenhouse emissions continue to rise it is predicted that global temperatures could increase anywhere between 1-5 degrees in the 21st century.


This video from NASA’s Climate Change website, highlights global temperature anomalies. 2018 and 2017 were the fourth and second hottest years respectively since modern record-keeping began in 1880. NASA and NOAA work together to track the temperatures, part of ongoing research into our warming planet.

Major atmospheric changes drive hydrological changes. So, global warming at that scale can lead to prolonged droughts in some areas and pronounced precipitation in others. Hydrological changes further drive hydrogeological changes affecting groundwater recharge and water purity. These changes themselves are enough to degrade some wetlands considerably.

The continuing rise in temperatures also threatens species who depend on the wetlands for survival. Waterfowl are susceptible to changes in temperature and precipitation. For migratory birds, the climate affects their habitats as well as the migration corridors. For other species whose breeding cycles are tied closely to the climatic conditions, the rise in temperatures makes the situation unfavourable.

Climate change has a range of other impacts on the wetlands themselves, their ability to recycle and process nutrients, how they absorb and trap carbon and process sediments to generate soil. These activities further impact the distribution of flora and fauna, favouring some over the other. Invasive species thrive and change wetland ecology, damaging habitat and food source.

The stresses of climate change are only heightened by human activity – urbanization and pollution.

Climate change and Beeliar Wetlands

The Beeliar Wetlands is the name given to the two chains of wetlands that run parallel to the west coast of Western Australia. While one chain of lakes is saline, the other is freshwater. The wetlands are located towards the southwest portion of metropolitan Perth within the larger Beeliar Regional Park.

The wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain and in particular the Beeliar Wetlands are a surface expression of the underlying groundwater.  There is still much to be learnt about the effects of climate change on our wetlands.  What the data shows us is that for about the last 40 years we have been receiving less rain.

Groundwater levels have never been static, decreasing during summer and increasing when recharged with winter rain as water makes its way through the soil to groundwater.  With decreasing rainfall, the groundwater recharge has decreased and levels have dropped. Together with the decreasing recharge, there has also been incessant removal of groundwater to supplement our supply of drinking water.

In most cases, this has led to our wetlands drying out more often or for prolonged periods each year. But, bear in mind, a drying wetland is natural and it is during the drying times that those intrepid birds fly in from Siberia to eat the bugs out of our mud.  It’s tricky business and honestly, none of us have the whole story.

The unpredictable changes in the lakes drying and filling have also complicated our revegetation efforts.  While in general we are allowing for increased dry conditions and adjusting the zones in which we plant, on several occasions we have been caught with heavy summer and spring rain events inundating some of our plantings.  These conditions highlight the need for Adaptive Management.

It is not only the wetland and wetland vegetation that is affected by this lowering of the water table.  Many of our bushland species also depend on groundwater for survival.  This became very evident during the particularly low rainfall season of 2010-11 when many banksias higher in the landscape of our bushland died.

Changes in global climate may well be a contributing factor on groundwater levels, but healthy well-maintained wetlands can also be a key tool in our efforts to lessen the impact of climate change on other systems.

Here’s taking a closer look at the Beeliar Wetlands and how climate change has impacted some of the wetland functions.

1. Changing Hydrology:

The Beeliar Wetlands depend on seasonal rain to recharge. Over the years there have been fluctuations in the amount of precipitation. These fluctuations have caused alterations in wetland zonation, impacting the distribution of native plant species within the wetlands.

2. Loss of biodiversity:

With changing zonation, wading species and waterfowl are impacted.  Constant encroachment has led to a serious habitat loss, loss of fringing vegetation and bushland. This has further impacted species such as turtles, frogs, snakes and lizards many of which are endangered.

3. Carbon loss:

With many of the wetlands now experiencing a dry spell and terrestrialisation, the carbon trapped within the soils is released back into the atmosphere. And there is a further loss in capacity to capture and trap carbon from the atmosphere due to the growing number of dysfunctional and degraded wetlands.

Read our blog post on ‘Saving Bibra Lake’ for an in-depth examination into our conservation and rehabilitation efforts on Bibra Lake and North Lake.

Preventative measures

The wetlands are facing an incredible amount of stress from climate change alone, and we have to realize the importance of reducing additional pressures. This will give our wetlands a fighting chance to cope and replenish.

While most of us have come to accept the reality of human-caused changes in our global climate, we must also step up to the task of addressing the impacts of these changes.  There are many actions we can take locally to help our wetlands through this period.

Here are a few ways in which we as individuals and community can help:

  1. Reduce waste. Don’t litter.
  2. Conserve water. Be judicious. Click this link to check out Watercorp’s tips for saving water.
  3. Recycle and reuse to the maximum extent.
  4. Reduce your carbon footprint.
  5. Walk or cycle wherever you can. Or use public transport.
  6. Grow native plants in your garden. Go organic. Be fertilisewise!
  7. Participate in wetland activities. Volunteer with The Wetlands Centre.

Don’t forget to quack, quack, quack…  That is wetland speak for talk, talk, talk…  Pass on the message to friends and family.  Tell them about waterwise, fertilisewise and of course, volunteering.

Join The Wetlands Centre Cockburn

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, we are located a hop, skip and jump away from the glorious Bibra Lake, within the Beeliar Regional Park. Our proximity stirs and inspires us to work with the community to safeguard and protect this amazing yet fragile asset.

Community Planting Event at Horse Paddock Swamp in the Beeliar Wetlands

We have seen remarkable progress over the 25 years we have been around and are always looking for new helpers.  If you are not into getting down and dirty, we have education programs that need helpers too!

Combating climate change will take all our effort. Come join our forces today. Together let us maintain and improve the resilience of our wetlands so that they can continue to provide important services to us and the coming generations, even under changed climatic conditions.

Shedding Light On The Secret Lives of Microbats in Perth

A collage of microbat images, both flying and close-ups

It is common to see bats flying around streetlights on most nights – Their dark silhouette and mid-air antics. They are so fast, they are often hard to identify. Come to think of it, if we knew they were bats we would fly inside just as quickly!

Our fear of bats is quite irrational. It stems from how bats are depicted as monsters in popular culture and folklore. Their dramatic features with fanged teeth and unusually large ears, don’t help their case. In fact, it is these features that have inspired countless stories of bloodsucking vampires and their legions, and one very horrific tale of Count Dracula who lurks in the dark to stalk and prey upon his unsuspecting victims.

In truth, very little is known of our winged insect-eating critters. They are shy and inconspicuous. They are nocturnal creatures, who spend most of their active time hunting for insects and foraging food. And their curious habits remain shielded by the copious cover of the night when they operate and their ability to quickly disperse at the first sign of intrusion.

We do, however, know that they are an indispensable part of our environment. They are insectivores that help curb the spread of agricultural pests. And they contribute immensely to biodiversity.

Here in this blog, we shed light on the secret lives of microbats in Perth. Their habits and habitats. And what we must do to protect the threatened creatures.

 

Flying Mammals

Bats make up almost one-quarter of all known mammal species in the world. There are two varieties of bats – the megabat, also known as the fruit bat, and the microbat.

  • Megabats can be large and weigh up to a kilo. They have large wingspans of over a metre.
  • Microbats, on the other hand, are tiny. Some microbats weigh a mere 3gms and can fit through small gaps that are 5mm wide. The larger microbats can weigh up to 150gms and have wingspans of 25cms.

Scientists believe that the two varieties of bat evolved separately and regard them as distinctly different groups.

Microbats give birth to one pup per year, or sometimes twins. The babies are born during spring or summer, when days are warm with ample sunlight and when there is a good supply of food. They are born with their eyes closed, but within a short span of 6-8 weeks, they develop into fully grown adults that can fly and feed independently.

 

Echolocation On

Microbats are extremely adept flyers and can remain airborne for hours at a time. They use echolocation to navigate and hunt in the dark. Bats emit high-frequency sound waves that bounce off objects. By reading the returning waves they are able to tell what lies in their path. The microbats can locate flying insects and detect obstacles in their way with great accuracy using this method.

The waves that bounce back to the microbat tell it a lot about the object – how far it is, its texture, its shape, its size and if it is stationary or moving.

Many bats have special features to help them echolocate. Some have very long ears for hearing. Others have a growth on their nose, called a nose leaf, which focusses sound.

The Myotis microbat that lives near waterways has been recorded catching over 1200 flies in under 1 hour.

 

Gleaning Off

Microbats use this technique of “gleaning off” to catch insects that are not flying.

Bats do this by flying slowly, hanging on branches or even hovering closely. The microbats listen for tell-tale sounds of movements that their targets make like the motion of bugs on the ground or as insects shuffle along branches. They use a combination of echolocation and instinct to zero in on their prey. Then they strike and pluck the insects off the leaves, branches or ground, wherever they may be. In a clean hit.

The Golden-tipped microbat uses this technique to glean off spiders, swooping them straight out of their webs.

 

Torpor Mode

Microbats go into a state of torpor, which is very similar to hibernation, to conserve energy on days when food is scarce. Torpor can only be used temporarily for a few hours or days at a time.

The microbats mostly eat insects. One Australian species, called the ghost bat, is also known to eat small birds, frogs, lizards and other smaller bats.

 

City Living

During daylight hours microbats are known to spend their time inside hollows of tree trunks or branches. The clearing away of trees is creating a major lack of habitat for our vulnerable critters.

In such conditions, microbats will find shelter in manmade structures such as inside mineshafts, tunnels, buildings, under bridges, inside rooftops and in your gardens.

Usually, microbats are extremely fussy while choosing their roosts. You can help microbats by installing safely designed and comfortable bat boxes.

Clear away debris or branches from their flight path. Remove barbed wires from around your property. Ensure that the bat box you install is placed high and in direct sunlight – the best position is facing East in direct sun half-day and shade in the other half. Inspect the box regularly. And, report feral bee infestation immediately.

The Yellow-bellied Sheathtail microbat has an echolocation call that people with sharp ears can hear – a metallic sounding tick tick tick.

 

Bat Haven At The Wetlands Centre

We, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn, are located in the heart of the Beeliar Regional Park, surrounded by abundant natural beauty. Here we have been working at rehabilitating & conserving our wetlands and educating our community on wetland concerns for the last 25 years.

It is our dream to create safe habitats for all our wildlife, including our microbats. Together with bat expert and specialist Joe Tonga, we have installed a number of well-designed bat boxes towards this endeavour. Our bat boxes showcase healthy bat roosts that are thriving!

Our bat stalk night for children is an adventurous outdoor activity, where we learn about bats through real-life encounters. Children love flashing their torchlights and being out in the bush, and it is, of course, all under guided supervision. We also conduct the bat stalk night for adults with nibbles – cheese and drink – and deep conversation.

Ask us about our bat programs. Take a look at our many bat boxes. And learn more about these beautiful wetland creatures – the microbats!

This article includes insights from GoBatty.com.au, a blog run by Joe Tonga of Natsync Environmental, our local bat expert.

Saving Bibra Lake

An aerial view of Bibra Lake on a sunny day

Cradled in the swales of the ancient dunes of the Swan Coastal Plain, and spanning over 384 hectares are the Beeliar Wetlands! They are bustling with stunning biodiversity, that include some of the most unique and fragile lifeforms on earth. Here, the calm, placid Bibra Lake stands as a timeless testament to our heritage and cultural values.

Historically, North Lake – Coolbellup and Bibra Lake – Walliabup, have served as important locations for the Aboriginal Nyoongar people. They are associated with the mythology of the ‘Waugal‘– the rainbow serpent, and Dreamtime tales of the ‘Spirit Children’.  Numerous Aboriginal campsites have been documented adjacent to the lakes. The Beeliar mob had semi-permanent camps on the land, caring for the boodja (country), precisely where the controversial Roe 8 tollway was proposed.

While we closely evaded that disaster, there are still a number of factors that continue to impact our precious wetlands. Over 90% of Perth’s once ample and abundant wetlands have been lost to agricultural pursuits, urbanisation, and development & infill. Bibra Lake and the surrounds are a reminder of what we’ve lost and what we stand to lose unless we take strong action. Together.

 

Changing wetlands in a changing climate

Our wetlands are dynamic in nature and they transform with changing seasons. Water levels in the wetlands, such as Bibra Lake, rise and fall with rainfall and the seasonal movement of groundwater. Bibra Lake experiences this seasonal flooding and drying, and oftentimes, this leads to alterations in the depth and area of the body of the lake. The transient wetlands are designed to cope, redistributing their animal and plant life in accordance with these changes.

However, with a decrease in rainfall and an increase in human activity surrounding our wetlands, the natural variations are becoming exaggerated. Causing alarming fluctuations in the wetland zonation. Introducing irreversible expansions and contractions of the wetland area.

 

Comparisson of flooded zones of Bibra Lake from 1995 to 2005
Figures depicting altered wetland zonation for Bibra Lake

Looking back, we remember the water levels of Bibra Lake during the 1980’s and 1990’s to be much higher than they are now. Many of us believe that those water levels were “proper”. However, the higher water levels of Bibra Lake at the time were actually an aberration caused by the removal of vegetative cover for the development of surrounding suburbs.

On the other hand, we also see prolonged drying of the wetlands in some years. The reduced rainfall has impacted the recharging of groundwater. And since the groundwater is also our source of drinking water for the Perth metropolitan area, this has caused a further shrinkage of the precious resource.

Bibra Lake has suffered adverse impacts. Usually, maximum water levels were seen around October and minimum levels during April. However, Bibra Lake and North Lake are now breaching these standards. This has significant implications for planting and weed control.

 

Two pictures comparing seasonal water levels of Bibra Lake
Snapshots comparing maximum and minimum seasonal water levels in Bibra Lake

A thorough understanding of these circumstances is essential towards developing a successful restoration program for Bibra Lake. We need to take the variations and on-ground conditions into account, adjusting when and where we weed and plant as we maintain and restore the lake and its surrounds.  The focus as we move forward must be on adaptive management.

We must also accept that we are moving into a period of some uncertainty, with climate change and global/local weather events becoming unpredictable. We may not get this 100% right 100% of the time. But every failure is a learning and a step forward.

 

Weeds and invasive species

Weeds are one of the most pressing problems we face at Bibra Lake, and weed control is an ongoing initiative. Often, the removal of one weed creates space for another. In some cases, it even allows the overgrowth of opportunistic native plants which can pose additional challenges. We see this most starkly in the constant balancing act of Typha control on our lakes. But that is a story for another day…

A combination of manual and chemical control along with mulching and saturation planting has been the most effective method in combating weeds. (Saturation planting is when native vegetation is planted densely and in large numbers so as to saturate and give little scope for invasive species to spread.)

At Bibra Lake, the following have been our findings:

  • Weeds must be actively growing before initiating weed control.
  • The revegetation plan should be in place prior to weed management to make the best use of the weed control efforts.
  • A monthly weed control commitment is required with a plan for the whole year.
  • At The Wetlands Centre, we have developed Seed Production Areas (SPAs) and refined propagation techniques to grow plants in our nursery.
  • The weed biomass in the seasonal zone degrades during one flooding and receding event. Slashing is sometimes required to make the area suitable for planting.
  • Mulching of the lower damp to upper seasonal zone (the weediest zone) with Typha mulch reduced the frequency of weed control.

 

Satelite images of Bibra Lake from 1953 to 2018 showing vegetation cover
Satellite images showing revegetation of Bibra Lake by The Wetlands Centre Cockburn over the years

Invasive species such as feral bees, foxes and cats are also detrimental to our wetlands. The feral cats and foxes prey on vulnerable native animals. Foxes are an introduced species and our lizards, turtles and quenda are especially susceptible since they have not developed any specific defences to stay protected.

 

Runoff and Algal Blooms

Human activity is primarily responsible for the degradation of our wetlands. Our urban developments are placed closer and closer to the wetlands, with little or no buffer. Roads and tracks crisscross the perimeter. And our wetlands are losing their lush cover, that helps protect wildlife from noise, light and other forms of pollution. All this further challenges their survival, exposing our species to danger and disease, and putting them at a risk of endangerment.

This also means that there is a greater impact on how nutrients, sediments and pollutants are naturally filtered by the wetland. The degraded quality of some of the fringing and upland vegetation around Bibra Lake is causing alterations in the water-quality of the catchment. However, Bibra Lake still fairs better than other heavily impacted lakes within the Beeliar Wetlands.

Runoff, whether it is the chemical runoff from roads or the phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen from fertilizers that we use in our gardens, leads to a nutrient explosion, and subsequently, algal blooms. The algae reduce temperature and light penetration in the catchments, suffocating and dominating over aquatic life. The algae also spread rapidly and give off an unpleasant odour as they break down. There is a direct link between the excessive use of garden and horticulture fertilizers and algal blooms in our waterways.

Reducing the use of chemicals in our gardens, keeping our storm drains clear of unwanted litter, conserving water and using it judiciously, and using landscaping practices that benefit wildlife and their habitats – every little step you take can lead to positive outcomes for our lake.

 

Join The Wetlands Centre Cockburn

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, we are fortunate to be located adjacent to the resplendent Bibra Lake, within the Beeliar Regional Park. This places us in an ideal position to lead by example in the care of our natural surroundings. We recognize that we bear a great responsibility to inspire, reinforce and connect, and to work with the community to safeguard and protect this amazing area.

The issues we have highlighted in this article are very real. They are threatening the health of our wonderful lake and its bountiful surrounds. We are working hard to understand and combat these issues while spreading awareness of core problems. Our team of volunteers and staff are dedicated and ever-vigilant.

In working with the land and connecting with its nurturing ways, we have come to cherish it deeply. And we want to share this connection with the greater community. Come, get involved with us. Learn. Plant. Protect. Conserve. And spread the joy.

 

This article is adapted from and based on notes and insights shared by Denise Crosbie, Wetlands Officer, The Wetlands Centre Cockburn.

5 Fun Ways You Can Help Your Wetlands With Citizen Science

People in a wetland catchment involved in a citizen science project

Nothing compares to the joy of giving! It is immense. And it is this shared joy and community spirit that are helping us rehabilitate and conserve our vulnerable wetlands.

For, rehabilitating the wetlands is a complex project with many moving parts. Its success relies on the contribution of our volunteers, tireless efforts of wetland staff and vigilance and attention of the active community. We are also fortunate to have many landcare owners and special interest groups that look out for and assist with wetland activity. These people are our heroes!

If you’ve felt like getting involved and contributing, our “Citizen Science” projects are a great place to start. You can work independently on your own initiative, with clear guidance and help from us anytime you need. The activities are interesting and you can see the final build up as collaborators from across the community come forth with their contributions. And finally, the results are made available and published for everyone to see. It is a truly enriching experience.

Here are 5 exciting projects that are currently happening. If you are keen about making a difference and getting involved, we’ve got all the information you need. So, let’s get started!

 

1.    Wildlife Sighting

What is involved: Record your lucky wildlife sightings. This activity involves keeping a lookout for wildlife and their movement through the wetlands and bush.

Our freshwater turtles are predominantly shy creatures that only venture outside their wetland sanctuary during special periods. They are on the move now (from September until January), searching for nesting sites to lay eggs. And soon in June, hatchlings will emerge to make their way back to the wetlands.  Our bobtails, quendas and myriad other endangered and/or sensitive wetland creatures too follow a similar pattern.

What you can do:

  1. Visit ClimateWatch.org.au/mobile and download the app that lets you record your wildlife sightings.
  2. Whenever you encounter a wild animal, take the time to record your wildlife sighting on the app. Ensure that you maintain a safe distance at all times.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

2.    Installing Frog Ponds

What is involved: Creating a natural setting pond ecosystem within your gardens and/or backyards especially catering to the native frog species. This activity involves setting up a beautiful pond at a suitable place at home that attracts the frogs.

Frog pond in a home garden

Frogs are incredible creatures with well-camouflaged dappled and textured skins, that gleam green, black or brown. And sometimes with vivid patterns to ward off predators. These fragile creatures are seriously endangered and their numbers are dwindling. By installing a frog pond, we are encouraging a growth in their numbers, and in turn, helping our wetland biodiversity.

What you can do:

  1. Download this document from South Australian EPA with information about this activity and how to install a frog pond. Also, refer to SERCUL’s Gardens for Frogs in Perth Brochure that provides information about frogs and frog ponds specific to Perth.
  2. Monitor and maintain the frog pond regularly.
  3. Visit FrogID.net.au to get the FrogID app. Install and use the app to monitor and report frog calls in your pond and around your locality.
  4. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

3.    Nest box Monitoring

What is involved: Install and monitor nest boxes for bats and other wildlife. This activity involves the installation and monitoring of nest boxes.

Nest boxes with easy Do-It-Yourself instructions are available to be installed at home or in parks around your home. Ensure that you take permission from your local council before proceeding. There is a high risk of feral bees invading and occupying nest boxes. So, ensure that you check for and report feral bee infestation immediately. Check for damage and weathering of boxes regularly. Also, check for animal health whenever, and to the extent possible, without disturbing the inhabiting species.

What you can do:

  1. Purchase and install the nestbox in an appropriate area. Get permission from your local council before commencing.
  2. Ensure you do it right by purchasing nest boxes that are expertly designed to inhibit infestation by feral bees, which can be very dangerous.
  3. Monitor for wildlife – bats, phascogales or possums. It is recommended that you check at least twice a year during January/February and June.
  4. For information about bat boxes, visit GoBatty.com.au and get in touch with local bat expert, Joe Tonga, who has extensive experience building and installing bat boxes.
  5. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

4.    Water Monitoring

What is involved: Monitoring the waterbodies – sea or freshwater. This activity involves uploading images of a water source to an app and regularly monitoring it for changes.

‘Eye on Water’, as the project is called, enables people to upload photographs of a target water source to an app. CSIRO has launched an app specifically for this purpose. The app then allows you to match the image using a colour chart and visually determine the quality of water.

The images are subsequently added to a global database that will support scientists in monitoring Australian waters for activity such as algal blooms, nutrient explosion, sediment and salinity levels and seasonal changes.

What you can do:

  1. Download and install the free CSIRO ‘Eye on Water’ app on your mobile phone.
  2. Choose a water body to monitor. While you are free to choose any type of water body, we encourage you to choose a wetland. Record your findings using the app.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

5.    Shorebird Monitoring

What is involved: Participating in this program involves going bird watching to collect information about shorebird movements and habitats. Help strengthen the case for shorebird protection.

Father and son bird watching around the wetlands

This shorebird program aims to raise awareness about the incredible birds, their habitats and movements. Continued monitoring of shorebird populations is essential to implement best practices.

What you can do:

  1. Go amateur birdwatching. There is no need for professional equipment or gear.
  2. Record the location of the birds. For birds around the wetlands, you can submit your sighting information using collection forms at our centre. Also, you can record any of your bird sightings using the Birdata app from this link.
  3. Visit or call your local wetlands centre for more information.

 

Come, get #WildAboutWetlands

There is a plethora of other activities, and if you are interested, we encourage you to visit your local wetlands centre and get involved today!

Kids wading into the wetlands to collect feathers for a citizen science project
Kids collecting feathers for the Australian ‘Bird Map’ Citizen Science Project at the Beeliar Wetlands

There are several ongoing projects at any given time and you may find something that piques your interest. For example, the Australia-wide Citizen Science project – “Feather Map of Australia” which completed in August 2018, involved wearing protective/waterproof gear and wading into wetland catchments to retrieve bird feathers and studying them. Another annual initiative – “Wild Pollinator Count” is about to begin and involves tracking and monitoring bees and insect pollinators and helping wildlife enthusiasts research and help in their conservation.

When you decide to participate, don’t forget to send us a picture of your project. We’ll be waiting!