The sun peeks over the horizon, green stalks sway in the breeze, turtles and birds find their perfect spot to bask in the hot morning sun, the hum of insects crescendos to a dull roar – and another day begins on one of the many wetlands in the Burdekin Dry Tropics.
The vast array of animals that call these areas home are up and about almost as early as local farmer and fisherman, Gary Spotswood. “I go fishing when I have a free morning or afternoon, it’s good to have some quality alone time with nature”, he said.
NQ Dry Tropics Senior Project Officer, Scott Fry, explained that wetlands are more than salt-marshes and swamps.
“They include any area that is temporarily covered by water, including tidal creeks, lakes, mangroves and estuaries, making them incredibly useful to fish, including barramundi that need to move between different types of habitat.
“Anyone who wants to fish in the Burdekin area should definitely take advantage of the nearby wetlands, which normally contain a great number of species.
“Wetlands also perform important ecosystem functions such as storing water used for agriculture, recharging groundwater, preventing saltwater intrusion, and providing habitat for rare and important species.
“The condition of our wetlands and the quality of water they discharge has flow-on effects for the Reef. Wetlands are often referred to as the kidneys of our catchments, as they filter runoff and capture sediments, nutrients and toxins, improving water quality downstream,” he said
On 2 February 2016, these amazing habitats will be the centre of attention for World Wetlands Day, an international celebration of wetlands and the services they provide, which include food, clean water, and opportunities for scenic recreation such as animal spotting and kayaking.
Anglers are not the only enthusiasts who seek out the Burdekin’s wetlands for their diverse wildlife – they are also hugely popular with birdwatchers.
Local birdwatcher and Birdlife Townsville member, Wal Threlfall, is part of a thriving birdwatcher community in the Burdekin. The internationally-recognised, Ramsar-listed Bowling Green Bay wetlands, which extend from South Townsville to just north of Ayr, are renowned for their bird diversity, hosting up to 20,000 water birds annually, some of which travel from as far afield as Siberia.
“Wetlands are important for the survival of birds, and the presence of lots of birds means that the wetlands are healthy. The real thing to get across to the community is that wetlands are not wastelands; don’t reclaim them and build houses on the because we need them!” he said.
Sue Cole, a recreational wetland user and landcare volunteer, enjoys her local wetlands whenever she has the chance. Whether boating, fishing or kayaking with her family, they make her feel peaceful and relaxed.
“I just like to be beside them. It’s just a privilege to be in that natural habitat”, she said.
Too often, these natural treasures are neglected, and some types of wetland habitat are even considered wasteland, which has resulted in the loss of more than 64 per cent of wetlands worldwide since 1900.
NQ Dry Tropics Project Officer, Kirralee Donovan, said that NQ Dry Tropics is working with farmers, land carers, community groups and partners, including Lower Burdekin Water and Burdekin Shire Council, to protect and restore wetlands in the Burdekin.
“We have several programmes operating in the Burdekin at present, which preserve local wetlands and improve the way they function. For example, we have been working with farmers to manage invasive weeds, which are a major threat to wetland health. We are also restoring riparian plant buffers alongside creek banks, which can help improve the overall health of wetland systems and waterways”.
“NQ Dry Tropics also engages with the Burdekin community, and works with organisations such as WetlandCare Australia, the Burdekin Fish Restocking Association, Lower Burdekin Landcare, BBIFMAC, and the Queensland Government Department of Agriculture and Fisheries , to help spread the message that wetlands are important to more than just wildlife”, she said.