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!

A Protective Circle: Why Safeguarding Wetland Health Begins With Ensuring A Healthy Buffer Zone

A wetland landscape in black & white with only the fringin vegetation coloured in it's original green.

Located only a hop, skip and jump away from our very doorsteps, wetlands are closer and more accessible than ever before! We are fortunate to have them in our direct vicinity like this. But for the wetlands themselves, that are often surrounded by busy roads, cycle tracks and pedestrian pathways, disturbed by invasive activities of humans and domestic/feral animals alike and degraded by pollution, nutrient explosion and urban runoff, this proximity can prove costly!

A healthy buffer zone can help in these situations, as a simple yet effective solution. A buffer zone with ample vegetation and thick foliage distributed around the wetland periphery acts like a protective circle safeguarding our delicate wetlands. Wetland buffers can significantly reduce exposure, bolster wetland function and minimize damage and degradation. So much so that their establishment has been encouraged and enforced by wetland management authorities around the world.

In this article, we take a closer look at some key questions: What does a healthy buffer zone look like? What does it mean for our wetland health? And, how can we help our landcarers establish and maintain adequate buffer zones around the wetlands?

 

What is a buffer zone?

The wetland buffer zone is an area of fringing vegetation, which usually begins from the periphery of the wetlands and extends outwards. Pretty much like a border around the wetland.

The buffer zone can vary in size and nature – it can be several meters wide or narrow, and it can contain a variety of wetland plants, shrubs and bushes. Its nature may also vary depending on recommendations for a particular wetland:

  • The noise and visual screening requirements – a thicker and more effective screening may facilitate the nesting and breeding of certain wetland species,
  • The conservation significance of the wetlands – more significant wetlands may require a thicker belt for the buffer,
  • And, the safe-distancing from the nuisance of insects – For example, mosquito producing wetlands are required to be at least 2km away from residential areas depending on the severity of the nuisance.

 

Why are buffers important?

Buffers are important, not just for the preservation of our environmental assets, our wetlands, but also for protecting the plant and animal wildlife that inhabit them. They aid in wetland function, ensuring wetland ecosystems thrive and flourish.

Here are a few more reasons why wetland buffers are essential:

  1. They absorb surplus water from surface runoffs, floods and storm drains.
  2. They reduce the nutrient, pollutant and sediment loads in runoffs.
  3. They help maintain the water quality in the wetland catchments by filtering out pollutants and sediments to a considerable extent.
  4. They provide habitat, shelter, and feeding/breeding/nesting grounds for wetland wildlife.
  5. They reduce disturbance to native flora and fauna from surrounds, creating safe corridors for wildlife.
  6. They reduce the invasion of weed species by keeping the vegetation dense and impenetrable.
  7. They provide for areas of recreation and engagement within the wetlands – trails for bushwalking, wildlife photography or amateur birdwatching.

 

What does a healthy buffer look like?

A buffer may differ considerably from wetland to wetland, depending on the features and requirements. However, there are a few common features that are shared by all healthy buffer zones. For example, a buffer should be at least 50 metres wide. They can be wider, not narrower. The buffer should be effective in keeping invasive species such as weeds and feral animals out. And, you can often tell of its effectiveness by its density, biodiversity and the health of the vegetation in the buffer. Similarly, a healthy buffer will keep its wildlife well protected and nurtured within its confines, with little need for them to venture out!

 

What can we do to help?

Our constant activities with little regard to our fragile wetlands, as well as the more permanent changes in the environment, have drastically impacted our wetlands. Our wetlands are threatened and need our help! The wetland buffers are perhaps the best way to begin.

Here are a few ways we can help our wetlands:

  1. Think of ways to minimize disturbance to the wetlands. Be sensitive to the movements of wetland creatures. Beware of plants that are growing or sprouting.
  2. When walking/cycling stick to the pathways. The pathways, trails and tracks are designed to lead away from environmentally sensitive areas within wetlands.
  3. Do not discard your garden waste – cuttings and prunings, or waste from aquariums or terrariums directly into the wetlands.
  4. Do not let your pet animals – cats, dogs and/or rabbits, stray in wetland areas. Animals are known to prey upon the vulnerable wetland wildlife. Collect and discard your pet’s faeces appropriately and do not discard in the wetlands. Pet faeces are a detriment known to contribute nutrients and, in some cases, carry weeds.
  5. If the buffer zone around your wetlands is at risk due to human activity, building, construction or development work, or being along roadside, highways or curbs with heavy traffic, a light fence can be erected in order to shield it.
  6. If the fringing vegetation and buffer around your wetlands appear to be disturbed or degraded, contact your local landcarers or wetlands facility. Note: Only specific native vegetation may be grown as buffer vegetation. Do not plant without advice!
  7. Participate in community planting, weeding and landcare events. Take an active interest in the health of your wetlands.

Why not get involved with us?

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, here in the heart of the breathtaking Beeliar Regional Park, we are working towards building healthier wetlands for everyone.

We are involved in landcare, conservation and rehabilitation work. We run some exciting educational programs. We are community driven, we have a fantastic community outreach. And, we are pioneers in wetland management.

With a dedicated team of volunteers and staff and our love for wetlands, we are doing just what it takes. Come join the team and get involved with us today. Together we can make a difference!

A Wetland Habitat For Our Amazing Turtles

A close-up shot of an oblong turtle with an inset of one swimming in the wetlands

Turtles are remarkable and resilient creatures that inhabit our wonderous wetland worlds. They are widely celebrated in both popular culture and folklore as totems of balance, beauty and prosperity. In Aboriginal culture too, turtles are seen as symbols of longevity, endurance, and the continuation of life (especially in the face of great hardship and struggle).

We have much to learn from our endearing turtles. However, the avenues are limited as turtles are also inherently shy creatures. They seldom venture out, staying confined to the comfort of their wetland habitat and sanctuary for long stretches of time. And their rituals of mating, nesting, feeding and living, remain largely undocumented and mysterious.

Hidden in the grassy underbrush and marshy swamps, they thrive. Feeding on bugs, snails, worms, fish, crustaceans, plants and animals, scavenging and flourishing, they play a crucial role in the wetland ecosystem. They are vital indicators of wetland health. This is why their ever-dwindling numbers, impacted habitats and disrupted food-webs demand our most serious consideration.

 

Come, Meet Our Oblong Turtle

The oblong turtle or, the long-necked turtle, is a native species that is only found in this part of the world – in a small pocket at the southwestern tip of the state of Western Australia. And we are fortunate for their presence here!

The oblong turtles owe their name to the oblong shape of their carapace (upper shell) and snake-like long neck. Dark brown or muddy black in colour, these turtles are found in waterways across Perth and throughout the south-west. They occur in permanent and seasonal freshwater habitats, including rivers, swamps, lakes, damp lands, and natural as well as artificial wetlands.

Adult turtles can grow large and measure about 30-50cms from the tip of their tails to the end of their beaks. The young hatchlings are tiny as they begin their journey though, with a carapace merely the size of a 20-cent coin!

A long neck turtle walking through the wetlands
Image by Sharon Mcarthur

The Turtle Nesting Period is On!

September to January is a special season indeed. At this time of year, you can witness turtles leaving their watery homes in search of suitable nesting sites. They are known to travel up to a kilometre in search of the perfect site with soft sandy soils where they can lay their leathery eggs.

Unfortunately, a turtle out of water is a turtle at risk! Turtles get run-over by cars as they cross busy roads and pavements, oftentimes distracted by loud sounds and noise from moving traffic. Turtles are also exposed to birds and other predators that prey on them as they find their way. Dehydration and tiredness from the long journey and the added confusion of a changed or disturbed site can cause the turtle to feel lost and ultimately perish from fatigue.

If you are lucky to site a turtle that is on its way, help it cross the road by halting incoming traffic till it crosses. If this is too risky, you could lift it across the road (make sure that you take it in the direction it is headed and not back!) and ensure that there are no other threats around. If you have the time, you could also follow the turtle (at a safe distance) to and from the nesting site. Protecting our exposed and vulnerable turtles can go a long way in ensuring the survival of the species.

 

Threats to The Oblong Turtle

We lose a number of turtles to road accidents each year. In fact, in the period leading from September to January when turtles nest, and from June to July when hatchlings make their way back home to the wetlands, our turtles are at their most vulnerable.

A baby oblong turtle peeks above the water surface to breathe.Feral animals including birds of prey, cats, dogs and foxes are a significant threat to our oblong turtles. Feral animals are known to attack the turtles as well as their nests, feeding on eggs. Poaching and removing turtles from their wild habitat to keep as domestic pets is also a major threat. Although catching and keeping turtles as pets is illegal and punishable by law, it still happens.

And finally, it is the increasing urban sprawl, especially in the vicinity of the wetlands, that is leading to fewer and more disjointed habitats for our turtles. The compromised water quality and enhanced pollution levels are impacting their numbers, even as safe and suitable habitats become threateningly scarce.

 

Turtles on Your Property?

If your home happens to be popular with the turtles and you see a great number on your property, chances are that you are on a nesting site! Turtles are known to follow the same pattern year-on-year and are likely to end up in the same favourite spot for nesting. If you are a turtle buff, this can be an incredible opportunity for you to witness something magical!

Allow the turtle to nest and observe at a safe distance. Ensure that your pets are on a leash and away from the turtle. Make sure that there are no other threats that could harm the turtle. The female turtle will take anywhere between 15-30 mins to lay her leathery eggs, using her plastron (lower shell) and legs to dig and later cover-up the hole.

The turtle will be tired from her strenuous journey and vigorous nesting activity. If you find her at risk, you could help her get back to the wetlands safely, but not unless you are sure that’s the direction she is headed in. Keep the nest undisturbed while the mum is away. Turtle hatchlings will emerge after a period of incubation, and you can help them get back to the water too.

Here are some handy instructions if you are required to move a nesting site or handle a turtle anytime. Please remember that our turtles are wild creatures, and it is not encouraged to interfere with their movement unless they are at risk. That is please do not pick up hatchlings or adults unless absolutely necessary!

An illustration showing the right way to hold a long neck turtle.

Handling a Turtle: When handling a turtle prepare for them to resist and squirm strongly. They do not bite; however, they are known to scratch and struggle. Take care to keep a strong hold and not to drop them when this happens. Wrapping a small damp towel around the turtle can help you get a good grip. Always use both your hands and keep the turtle away from your own body.

Moving a Nest: If you are required to move a nest for any reason, or if you come across a compromised nest and want to help relocate it, here is what you do: Make sure you dig around with gentle hands and get all the eggs in the nest. Mark the position the eggs were in exactly and ensure you put them into the relocated site as they were found. The fresh hole you dig should be at the same depth and with similar conditions of dampness or dryness. Remember turtle eggs that are rotated will not hatch! If the temperatures are too cold too, the eggs won’t hatch!

 

Facts You May Not Know About Our Turtles

Here are some quick oblong turtle facts that may surprise and wow you!

  1. Freshwater turtles, such as our oblong turtles, can drop their body temperature, slow their pulse rate and use their stored body fat in place of fresh food to survive severe hot and dry conditions. This ability, known as aestivation, is the reason our hardy turtles can cope with the roughest Western Australian weather.
  2. Turtles are the only creatures with an exterior shell that is all bone and attached to their spine. The turtle shell is living material, much like our own fingernails. And they can sense pain, touch and temperature through it!
  3. It is a common misconception that our oblong turtles can protect themselves by retracting into their shells. Oblong turtles cannot retract into their shell!
  4. Our oblong turtles can live a long life of over 60 years when the conditions are right. They need to live long because they have very low recruitment rates (few surviving offsprings). In fact, on average only 1% of turtle eggs go on to hatch and survive until adulthood.
  5. Turtles are known to feed on the dead and decaying organic matter and debris. Turtles help keep the waterways clean and aid in wetland function.

 

Help Us Turtle Watch!

Sighting a turtle is a beautiful and moving experience! Be sure to share your lucky sighting at climatewatch.org.au. You can log your sighting using their app. Or call us at The Wetlands Centre Cockburn at our Turtle Watch Helpline.

Keeping a lookout on the migration patterns and movements of our native turtles helps us identify important habitats and nesting grounds. It also helps us create safer homes for these amazing wetland creatures!

Our Battle Against Weeds

A collage of weeds illustrations against a background of a weed infested field and people doing weeding work.

It is easy to be moved by the earthy and bountiful beauty of our wetlands. Carried within the constant rush is the spur of everyday life in the wetlands. From the smallest creatures to the most complex ones, all life is interwoven and interconnected. And delicate, diverse bionetworks bustle with unseen activity.

Weeds are slowly changing all we love about our wetlands. They overwhelm the ecosystems, choking and outcompeting native flora. They crowd and degrade the habitats. They spread aggressively, establish themselves stubbornly and are extremely hard to dislodge.  They hamper the myriad ecosystem functions.

In Australia, over 4 billion dollars are spent annually towards managing weeds. Costs compound when you consider the impacts from loss of biodiversity and environmental services.

Our battle against weeds is ongoing and persistent. And winning it will take a precise combination of science, engineering, ingenuity and committed on-ground support!

 

What are “Environmental” Weeds?

Environmental Weeds are unwanted invasive plants that establish themselves in natural ecosystems and permanently alter the natural processes of those ecosystems (as opposed to Agricultural/ Pastoral Weeds that thrive in agricultural and pastoral lands).

Here are a few weed facts.

  • Over two-thirds of the weeds now established in Australia originated from gardens and ponds.
  • About 10% of Western Australia’s flowering plants are introduced weeds.
  • Of the 1233 identified weed species in WA, around 800 are found in Swan Coastal Plain bioregion.

 

How Do Weeds Invade the Wetlands?

Weeds showcase resilience and they flourish in the nutrient-rich wetland environment. So much so, that weeds have established themselves in every wetland in Western Australia.

Weeds are disturbance opportunists – plants that respond positively and rapidly to changes in soil, salinity, dampness, pH and native plant distributions. So, the disturbed edges of our urban wetlands are most at risk – where roads, verges, tracks, paddocks and housing settlements, are located close to the wetlands. In these disturbed areas, conditions quickly become favourable for weed growth.

A host of activities that we humans undertake can also boost the spread of weeds in the wetlands. Urban run-off and leaching, dumping garden and pond waste, prunings and clippings, fire events such as burn-offs and arson, and overusing groundwater from bores and wells, can all have serious impacts.

 

What Effects Do Weeds Have on Wetlands?

The wetland vegetation is specialized and contributes to processes within the wetland ecosystems. And these ecosystems are delicate, often relying on natural conditions of light, salinity and dampness.

When weeds encroach our wetlands, they affect the distribution of wetland vegetation. This, in turn, has a detrimental effect on the plants and animals that depend on native vegetation for survival.

 

Weed Impact at a Glance

  1. Loss of biodiversity and simplification of wetland plant community.
  2. Impacted and altered ecosystem functions.
  3. Altered nutrient recycling.
  4. Loss of habitat and food source for wetland fauna.
  5. Increased risk of erosion.
  6. Increased fire risk, as weeds add to the fuel load.
  7. Altered soil quality.
  8. Loss of water quality.
  9. Loss of aesthetic value.
  10. Increased management costs.

 

Ways to Fight Weeds

Compared to disturbed areas, densely vegetated areas are far more resilient to weed attack. Here circumstances do not permit weeds from taking a foothold or competing successfully for nutrients, sunlight and moisture.  Thus, rehabilitating the wetland vegetation is a crucial first step towards weed control.

Restoring dryland vegetation and establishing shelterbelts around the wetlands is important too. They act as a line of defence and barrier from weed invasion.

Prevention is key. Prevent garden prunings and clippings from entering the wetlands. Similarly, prevent aquatic plants from ponds and aquariums from entering the wetland catchments. Prevent pet animals entering the wetlands, where they may graze on native plants. Pet faeces have been known to carry and spread weeds.

And finally, participate in wetland rehabilitation and conservation activities. These include weed removal, as well as planting activities, to re-establish native plants.

 

Join Our Forces!

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, here in the heart of the breathtaking Beeliar Regional Park, we are working towards building healthier wetlands for everyone.

We are involved in landcare, conservation and rehabilitation work. We run some exciting educational programs. We are community driven, we have a fantastic community outreach. And, we are pioneers in wetland management.

Get some action when you join us on Thursdays and Fridays. We start early, at 9am, and you can work for as long as you want until the close of day at 4pm. We have an array of weed control measures that we undertake. Or, you could participate in the nursery, where we nurture native flora.

Talk to us today and join our forces. Together let us win this fight!

10 Things You Could Do To Help Our Wetlands

A conceptual image of caring palms cupping wetlands

Taking a walk through the lush wetlands is a delight this time of the year. The winding tracks and sturdy boardwalks that open up hidden new worlds. The thick bush, fringing vegetation and the canopy of swaying trees. Startled animals we catch off-guard that quickly scamper away. And, the thin blanket of mist that lies settled over the water.

We discover a different pace and rhythm as we let go. Unwind. And absorb a hundred splendid experiences that the wetlands offer unbiddenly. There is such peace and tranquillity here.

We are fortunate that our wetlands are so close to our urban dwellings. We are able to enjoy their unique splendour and partake in their beauty. But being so close to urban habitation poses a serious threat to our wetlands. Urban run-off, littering, leaching and degradation – there are several impacts that continue to take a toll.

As much as the wetlands are places of recreation and pleasure, they are also grounds that support delicate ecosystems, intricate bionetworks, diverse wildlife and their habitats. They require our care and attention. Here are 10 simple things we can do to help our wetlands:

 

1. Household Plants and Gardens

By practising a little care in our gardens, we can help the wetlands immensely. For example, limit your use of chemicals – fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides or fungicides – and use organic remedies instead. These potent chemicals can leach into groundwater, and subsequently into the wetlands. Use animal manure that is great for the garden and has no unpleasant side-effects.

Be careful while discarding plants or seeds. Our non-native household plants can be invasive and dominate over native flora. The same goes for aquatic plants from our aquariums. They must not be dispensed into the wetland catchments.

 

2. Pets and Pests

Our cuddly pet animals can be quite destructive. Cats are known to prey upon native species – turtles, frogs and even lizards. Rabbits can wreak havoc on plants by binging on them, any fresh regrowth and seedlings. Rabbit faeces are known to carry and spread weeds.

It is best to keep pets indoors or under supervision. They are likely to cause less harm if they are not allowed to stray.   On a similar note, pests that are introduced into the wetlands can have a detrimental effect on the wetland ecology.

 

3. Waste and Recycling

Using safe, sustainable and eco-aware methods of waste disposal will go a long way in protecting the wetlands. Reduce the use of plastic, whether it is plastic water bottles or disposable plastic containers, straws and cutlery. Reuse and recycle to the maximum possible extent.

Maintain a worm farm or compost pit at home. Compost can be great for your garden, and you will be amazed at how much of your waste – like cardboard, paper, egg shells and tea bags – can be put to good use. Get your children involved.

 

4. Reduce Pollution

Reducing pollution can begin at home with some relatively small but consistent steps. Be conscious of your choices. Buy organic, eco-friendly and sustainable products. Your local farmers markets can be great places to shop.

Be energy-conscious and use energy wise appliances. Avoid throwing away stuff carelessly. If you find litter in public parks or wetlands, be considerate, pick it and throw it in the bin. Every step counts.

 

5. Conserve Water

Lifegiving water is central to wetland health. Observe the wetland vegetation. Their leaves, limbs, roots and other remarkable features help them conserve water.  Even wetland wildlife is adept at using water, a vital resource, judiciously.

Turn off the tap when not in use and use only as much as you need. Check your pipes and fittings regularly for any leakages. Harvest rainwater. During the summer months, water your plants early in the mornings.

 

6. Healthy Wetland Vegetation

Healthy vegetation is crucial for sustaining life in the wetlands. This includes upland vegetation, fringing vegetation and aquatic plant-life. Wetland vegetation is highly specialized, in that it has evolved to thrive in varying conditions of dampness and salinity.

Within the wetland catchments, ecosystems flourish based on an energy exchange between living organisms and the non-living environment. Leaves or branches from overhanging trees and shrubs, fall and are broken down by microbes, bacteria and fungi. These, in turn, become food for larger animals within the food web.

You can help in the conservation and rehabilitation efforts – by planting native flora, creating habitats for wildlife and participating in citizen science projects and initiatives.

 

7. Help Wetland Wildlife

Much like the wetland vegetation, wetland wildlife too is exposed, fragile and susceptible. Turtles that live in the swampy wetlands are known to venture out, cross busy roads or polluted areas in search of suitable nesting sites. Similarly, snakes and bobtails too are known to sneak-out to bask in the sun during winter months. Accidents are common and animals get run over. It is also common for animals to get entangled and hurt in the plastic debris.

Animals sometimes venture into homes and gardens, looking for nesting sites or grounds to lay eggs. There are many ways in which we can help these animals, by looking out for them, helping them get to their destination and protecting their eggs or hatchlings.

Apart from the permanent wetland residents, some migratory birds use the wetlands for resources. The dwindling bush and fringing vegetation and the changing environmental conditions are posing a serious threat to all their lives.

 

8. Important Contact Information

It can be useful to locate and carry information on local bodies responsible for wildlife rescue, wetland rehabilitation and conservation work, and research organizations. This can be especially significant if you reside in an area close to wetlands. We encourage you to keep such information handy.

At the Wetlands Centre, we are involved in wetland conservation, rehabilitation, research and education work. We can be contacted through phone, our website or through our social channels. We welcome your messages.

 

9. Learn and Educate

Wetlands are fascinating worlds that open doorways to some interesting natural activity. Take the initiative to deep dive and learn about the wetlands – their mysteries and intricacies. While there are several avenues for learning, there are also avenues for teaching, educating and spreading awareness.

 

10. Participate and Volunteer

At “The Wetlands Centre Cockburn”, we are a warm, friendly, community-based organization. We are located in the heart of Beeliar Regional Park, in the vicinity of the beautiful Bibra Lake. Visit our centre nestled in nature. Take a look at what we do.

We run a range of educational programs all-year-round. We have a fantastic community outreach. And, our in-house nursery and Seed Propagation Areas (SPAs) are our pride and joy.

There is so much you can do! Come begin this journey with us and help us restore our wetlands for everyone to enjoy!

Wetlands & Water. Rehabilitation & Conservation.

A bird's eye view of a wetland and its evirons

Watching our wetlands transform is an awe-inspiring experience. We may see change with seasons. Or, through circulation of life-giving water and rainfall. The transformation is evident in the way their vegetation thrives, blooms and blossoms. Within the catchments where delicate ecosystems flourish as diverse organisms interact with each other and with the environment. And, in the cacophony of bird and animal sounds that fills the air with every favourable shift.

Water brings out the unique character of our wetlands.

Not all wetlands are waterlogged all the time, some depend on groundwater and others on surface water flows and still others are coastal wetlands that are revived by the seas. They may be seasonally, intermittently or permanently drenched. They may be saline or freshwater. They may be still or flowing. No matter what the nature of the wetland, water plays a central role.

 

Wetlands – A Living System

Wetlands support complex and diverse bionetworks. They shelter and sustain wildlife. Here landforms and soils are created, nutrients are naturally recycled and waterways are filtered and cleaned.

The specialized wetlands vegetation helps in stabilizing the soil, cleaning the water and providing resources and habitat. From upland vegetation – shrubs and trees, to fringing vegetation – sedges, rushes and paperbark trees, and floating and submerged aquatic plant-life – adequate vegetation is fundamental to wetland health.

Leaves or branches that fall from overhanging trees and shrubs are broken down by microbes, bacteria and fungi. These, in turn, become food for larger animals within the food web. And wetlands ecosystems are sustained by the functions of these tiny organisms.

 

Wetlands and Water

Wetlands that see water once every few years, or those that are permanently waterlogged, every wetland ecology is unique. Species of plants and animals have evolved to suit these very specific conditions of dampness, salinity and nutritional availability.

Urban and rural encroachment have posed some serious threats to the wetland ecology.

Paved roads and concrete structures mean that a greater volume of water now finds its way into the wetlands. Road run-off often contains oil, heavy metals and various other substances that leach into the wetlands. Fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals from nearby home gardens or agricultural fields too seep into the groundwater, from where they travel to the wetlands.

Environmental degradation has caused drastic changes in the water cycle. Wetlands now face prolonged inundation or drying and a constant change in the physical, chemical and biological composition of water entering the wetlands. This imbalance adversely impacts native species that are unable to survive or cope. Further, loss of native vegetation has the potential to disrupt and collapse the delicate wetlands food web.

 

Wetlands Rehabilitation

Our wetlands are an important and essential resource. They provide us with a natural filtration system, cleaning our waterways of harmful pollutants, absorbing and trapping carbon in the marshy soil, and replenishing our groundwater and underground aquifers. Wetland plants and animals function to strengthen this delicate link between water and wetlands.

They help regulate the climate. They supply food, fibre, fuel and medicinal plants.

Above and beyond the functions they fulfil, wetlands are a source of great beauty. They are gateways to adventure and for “experiencing nature” away from the hustle and bustle of our cities and suburbs. The abundant life they support – from native species to migratory long-distance travellers. The deep interlinkages and connections, and the balance they restore.

Wetlands rehabilitation is, therefore, the single most crucial calling of our time – revegetation, habitat restoration, conservation and protection. An involved community and teamwork. And spreading awareness about their importance.

 

A water level guage mirrored on a still wetland surface.

Water Conservation

Inland freshwater wetlands provide water to over three billion people around the world.

Without our wetlands, the water in our households, industries and farms would have been unusable.

Water conservation is a vital aspect of wetlands rehabilitation work. It involves using and uncovering innovative wetlands management techniques that help control the quality of water within catchments.

Water Sensitive Urban Design Principles, in the context of urban wetlands, protect the wetlands from urban run-off and degradation. Applying these principles ensures that the infrastructure we create does not impact them unfavourably.

Water conservation is also largely dependent on the native plant and animal species, their distribution and propagation. And on our sustained rehabilitation efforts.

 

Come, Get Involved!

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, here in the heart of the breathtaking Beeliar Regional Park, we are working towards building healthier wetlands for everyone.

We are involved in landcare, conservation and rehabilitation work. We run some exciting educational programs. We are community driven, we have fantastic community outreach. And, we are pioneers in wetlands management.

With a dedicated team of volunteers and staff, and our love for wetlands, we are doing just what it takes. Come join the team and get involved with us today. You can make a difference!

7 Things You Should Know About Our Wetlands

A beautiful scene of wetlands at sunset

Our stunning wetlands are a remarkable feature of the Australian landscape. From rivers that crisscross our cities and drain into surrounding seas, to the vast floodplains of central Australia that only see water every few years, these breathtaking natural and artificial wetlands capture our imagination.

The amazing diversity of lakes, mudflats and billabongs, marshes, swamps and fens and coral reefs, mangroves and peatlands – our wetlands come in all shapes and sizes. Even amidst our urban sprawl, we have manmade lakes, ponds and canals, together with some serene natural wetlands that serve as centres of recreation for us and refuge for our wildlife.

We often pass by them wondering at their natural beauty and abundance. The diverse wildlife and plant-life they support. Their scenic beauty. The interlinkages and connections. And the cycles and seasons that bring out their unique character. Yet their many other (important) functions go largely unnoticed by us.

It is hard to imagine Australia without its beautiful wetlands. They are special places serving as storehouses of life-giving water. And, they play a key role beyond sustenance, water conservation and climate control.

 

1. Wetlands are “Nature’s Kidneys”

Wetlands have been likened to nature’s kidneys owing to their deep cleansing effect on our waterways. They are essential for sustaining healthy waterways on which communities throughout Australia depend.

Much like the kidneys that filter and extract waste and balance the hormones in the human body, the wetlands trap and filter the nutrients, sediments and pollutants, cleaning the water and recharging the underground aquifers. By absorbing pollutants, wetlands improve the quality of water and the surrounding bushland.

 

2. Wetlands and the Impact on Climate Change

Wetlands have the unique ability to capture and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus slowing the impacts of climate change. Coastal wetlands are known to store large quantities of ‘blue carbon’ (the carbon in coastal ecosystems is known as blue carbon).

The flourishing vegetation is responsible for consuming carbon dioxide. Some of the used-up carbon dioxide is released back into the atmosphere, but most of it remains trapped around the roots, sediments and in the marshy ground.

Statistics show us that although the wetlands cover only 5 – 8% of the Earth’s land surface, they hold anywhere up to 30% of the total store of carbon on the planet.

 

3. Wetlands Act as Storm Buffers

Wetlands perform a crucial function as storm buffers – including inland flood control and coastal storm buffers. The thriving foliage – seagrasses, reefs, rushes, reeds, bushes and more – all protect against the destructive action of flood-water and dampen their impact.

Wetlands protect coastal communities from extreme events, such as typhoons, cyclones and hurricanes. They protect our shores from corrosive wave action.

 

4. Wetlands Serve as Habitats for Biodiversity

Wetlands are vital habitats for native species such as the oblong turtles and black swans, as well as a horde of international migratory birds such as greenshanks, red-necked stints and sharp-tailed sandpipers. They provide much-needed refuge for a number of migratory shorebird and seabird species, serving as important feeding and resting habitats during spring and summer months. Some endangered species such as Carnaby’s cockatoo and the peregrine falcon rely on the wetlands for their food and water.

Wetlands support a unique ecosystem. And some of the plant and animal varieties are curiously distinct, having evolved specifically to survive the changing water and salinity conditions.

 

5. Artificial Wetlands and Recreation

Constructed wetlands or manmade wetlands, that are designed to mimic our natural wetlands are often found in urban areas. They can serve the same function as our natural wetlands – of supporting wildlife and creating booming ecosystems and habitats, although they often lack the amazing biodiversity of natural wetlands.

Artificial wetlands are popular destinations for recreation and ecotourism, they also provide us with an opportunity of ‘experiencing nature’ right in the heart of our own cities and suburbs.

 

6. Water Conservation and Sustenance

The wetlands ecosystem teaches us a great deal about water and water conservation. The underground aquifers, which are vast, natural, water-storage reservoirs in the wetlands ecosystem, help replenish the groundwater. While the wetlands themselves act as filters, cleaning and restoring our waterways. The wetlands are often the surface expressions of these aquifers.

All Australians rely on water to sustain life. And water plays a large part in our lives. Whether it’s water for our households, schools, industries or communities, wetlands play an indispensable role and their conservation should be a top priority.

 

7. Wetlands Need Our Support

Threats to wetlands continue as many of them are being filled, drained and replaced with agricultural fields, roadways and urban developments. Rural and urban encroachment is perhaps the biggest threat. Leaving our animal and bird populations homeless, our waterways exposed and compromised, and our environment permanently degraded.

The wetlands need our support today. From generating public awareness to community involvement in their protection and rehabilitation.

We encourage you to visit us – The Wetlands Centre at Bibra Lake – or your nearest wetlands, to learn about our community outreach and how local communities can participate in and benefit from the wetlands.