Look at the difference an NRM can make!

(Move the slider left and right to compare the before and after photographs. Use the dots below the photographs to navigate to each of the examples featured)

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(Click on the buttons to navigate to each of the featured examples).

Improving water quality one wetland at a time

THIS is the difference a Natural Resource Management (NRM) group can make.

NQ Dry Tropics’ project officers, working in conjunction with landholders, council and water management agencies, have, during the past decade, made a huge difference to at least 10 waterways in the Lower Burdekin.

On each of the photographs on this page, move the slider right to show the waterway as it was, and left to reveal the result after NQ Dry Tropics stepped in.

The difference – compelling even at a glance – is even more impressive when you realise it’s not just the local ecology that benefits, but also the regional economy, particularly for those primary producers with land adjoining the treated wetland.

Importantly, each healthy wetland naturally improves the quality of the water leaving the Lower Burdekin catchment and flowing into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

These photographs represent some of NQ Dry Tropics’ work in systems repair in the Lower Burdekin.

Some of these sites were treated years ago, but the effect in each has been maintained, thanks to the implementation of Riparian Management Agreements (RMAs). Signatories to that agreement might include neighbouring landholders, the local council, SunWater (the State Government water services authority), Queensland Rail and local landcare community organisations.

Healthy habitat good for agriculture

Senior Project Officer in the Waterways, Wetlands and Coasts team Scott Fry said farmers working agricultural land near important wetlands benefited if the system was healthy and function as nature intended.

“Weed chokes in waterways, if left untreated, can completely destroy the natural function of the wetland,” Mr Fry said.

He said neighbouring farmers often bore the consequence of that imbalance.

Senior Project Officer Scott Fry

Typically, the first weed infestation was by floating weeds such as water hyacinth or salvinia. Once the invaders completely covered the surface of the waterway, paragrass, sedges and hymenacne were able to grow towards the centre of the waterway.

Sometimes the vegetation mat is so thick, even large plants like melaleuca trees (some as tall as five metres) can grow hydroponically on the framework of weeds, their roots dangling in water below the surface weeds.

Even in the windiest weather, water covered by weeds is no longer aerated by the breeze, and the population that normally inhabit the top column of the water disappears. Small fish, tortoises and wader birds die out, as do the predators that normally hunt near the surface – eels and barramundi.

With no baby birds being lost to predators, populations of magpie geese grow exponentially and, because of their numbers, begin to significantly damage neighbouring sugar cane crops, rooting out billets of plant cane and attacking young cane to get at the sugar.

Overwhelming populations of native coots similarly cause enormous damage.

“A healthy wetland might include 10 pairs of coots, but they build enormous flocks very quickly, particularly following an infestation of typha,” Mr Fry said.

The coots cause havoc in sugar cane crops, picking out young cane shoots and tying growing cane tips together to nest. Coots are the third-biggest pest to sugar cane in the Burdekin and directly affect production.

He said that was why it was integral to the success of the RMAs to include local land managers in the ongoing maintenance of waterways.

The Australian Government’s Restoring Burdekin Coastal Ecosystems for the Great Barrier Reef and Ramsar (Reef Rescue Systems Repair) project is funded through the Reef Program’s Biodiversity Fund.