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!

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

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!