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

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.

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!