Critical wetlands on farms in north Queensland’s Burdekin region are being revived by drying them out and allowing nature to once again take its course.
The trial has killed invasive weed species, seen fish life flourish and restored vital habitat for native and migrant bird species.
Third-generation Burdekin farmer Gary Spotswood said it is mimicking the natural cycle he witnessed as a child.
“Thirty or even 20 years ago they were actually salt water marshes,” Mr Spotswood said.
“In the wet season the wetland would fill up, plants would grow and the birdlife would come in. Then it would dry down at the end of the year — everything would die off.
“That was the cycle, but now we have a system full of water 24/7 every year and it’s just changing the environment.”
Scott Fry, from land management group NQ Dry Tropics, said waterways in the Burdekin were artificially flooded all year round for farming irrigation and it had allowed invasive species like tall reed-like typha grass to take hold.
“These wetlands should be naturally open, but typha completely chokes them out,” Mr Fry said.
“It becomes a barrier for fish to move through the waterway and when the plant material breaks down, it sucks all the oxygen out of the water and becomes inhabitable for fish.”
NQ Dry Tropics is using $2 million in federal funding to improve the wetlands over five years.
Mr Spotswood is one of five farmers in the region to trial the drying down method on his property by capturing excess water before it enters his lagoon and using it elsewhere on his farm.
“It’s had a pretty big impact and the surprising thing is how quickly it happened. In just one year we’ve killed off most of the Typha in the lagoon,” he said.
Great Barrier Reef to benefit from wetland funding
Birdlife Australia’s Norm Rains said the waterways were vital support systems for nearby Ramsar-listed wetlands.
The Ramsar Convention is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
“A lot of the habitat is being destroyed, it’s being developed, they’re draining swamps and all that type of thing. This is such a unique situation here where you’ve got a landholder who’s absolutely caring for his land,” Mr Rains said.
“Just to know that places like this exist is very heartening for bird lovers.”
The project is also benefiting the Great Barrier Reef, which sits just off the coast.
“Wetland areas are often considered the filter of the kidneys of the world,” Mr Fry said.
“Having them in good health vastly improves the water quality of the run-off flowing out to sea. When the wetlands are dried down, the dry, cracked clay captures and absorbs the nutrient rich farm run-off that comes with the first rains of the wet. Stopping it from running out onto the reef.”