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Look at the difference NRM can make!

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

NQ Dry Tropics’ project officers, working with landholders, council and water management agencies, have, during the past decade, made a huge difference to many 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 we 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.

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 those agreements might include neighbouring landholders, the local council, Lower Burdekin Water, SunWater (the State Government water services authority), Queensland Rail and local landcare community organisations.

RMAs represent a joint commitment to keeping local waterways healthy.

BEFORE:

Saltwater Creek, in 2009, was a mess.

The surface of the creek was completely covered by salvinia and water hyacinth.

The top column of water was inaccessible for small fish, turtles and wader birds that had been prevalent in the area. AFTER:

Saltwater Creek was "rescued" thanks to a collaborative effort involving Lower Burdekin Water (LBW), the Burdekin Shire Council and NQ Dry Tropics.

Weeds were removed mechanically, so floodwater was able to flush weeds from the creek after rain.

Wader birds and turtles returned, again able to access the top column of water in the creek, resulting in less mosquitos.

The healthy creek has been successfully maintained by LBW and the council since March 2009.   Saltwater Creek   Saltwater Creek

AFTER:

The Burdekin Shire Council's (BSC) weed harvester and the Lower Burdekin Waters' land-based excavator were deployed. Working in tandem, the harvester pushed the weeds towards the excavator to be stacked on the bank.

BSC maintains the creek by regularly spot-spraying outbreaks. BEFORE:

Plantation Creek in 2015. About 15ha of the creek was completely covered with water hyachinth and semi-aquatic grasses beginning to grow in from the edges.   Plantation Creek

Healthy habitat good for agriculture

SENIOR Project Officer in our Waterways, Wetlands and Coasts team Scott Fry, (pictured), said farmers working agricultural land near important wetlands benefited if the system was healthy and functioned 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.

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, para grass, typha, sedges and hymenachne 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 inhabits the top column of the water disappears. Small fish, turtles 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.

BEFORE:

A severe infestation of salvinia at Ironbark Creek near Ayr was a difficult nut to crack in 2010.

Boat access was limited due to the creek's steep sides.

NQ Dry Tropics Senior Project Officer Scott Fry settled on a biological approach and sourced some salvinia weevils from Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tablelands.

It was a tortuous process because of the regulations surrounding the transport of salviniai, a declared weed to sustain the weevils in transit. Eventually the 2mm long weevils arrived in tightly-sealed containers and permission was granted to release them at Ironbark Creek. AFTER:

The salvinia weevils ate the inside of the stem, causing the plant to collapse and rot.

Setting the biological control against the weed returned the area to a natural balance, and the salvinia and weevil populations both died out.

Shortly after the project kicked off, the Burdekin Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee (BBIFMAC) established weevil breeding programs in two local schools and they still supply weevils for annual control releases.   Ironbark Creek   Ironbark Creek

BEFORE:

This is a photograph of Sheepstation Creek, Ayr in May, 2018.

It was completely choked with weeds — para grass growing in from the lefthand side, salvinia and water hyacinth right across the width of the creek. With no sunlight penetrating the surface, photosynthesis was impossible.

Plants at the bottom of the creek died, and no oxygen was added to the water. Rotting vegetation from the weeds at, or near, the surface, consumed more oxygen as they decomposed. TropWATER scientists, using electrofishing equipment surveyed the creek before the project began and found the creek to be sparsely populated with only three species of fish represented. AFTER:

Three months after a treatment with herbicide, this photograph shows the creek virtually free from weeds.

Now a healthy habitat, fish and birds have returned in numbers.

The annual TropWATER electrofishing survey last year recorded a thriving fish population, and included 18 species.   Sheepstation Creek   Sheepstation Creek

BEFORE:

Healys Lagoon, on Woodstock Giru Road, was completely choked with salvinia weed in 2003. AFTER:

NQ Dry Tropics, in partnership with the Burdekin Shire Council, neighbouring landholders and Sunwater, used shore-based excavators and a paddle-wheel weed-harvester to remove the infestation.

It took about six weeks to remove the weeds from Healys Lagoon, restoring it to good health.

Since 2003, the area has been successfully maintained under an RMA that includes the Burdekin Shire Council, neighbouring landholders and Sunwater.   Healys Lagoon   Healys Lagoon

BEFORE:

Collinsons Lagoon, which neighbours sugar cane crops, was affected by incursions of water hyacinth and para grass. AFTER:

Since 2007, under a Riparian Management Agreement (RMA) that includes Sunwater and four landholders, the lagoon, near Brandon, has been kept largely weed-free.

The Burdekin Shire Council, which collects an environmental levy to fund the work, carries out the maintenance.   Collinsons Lagoon   Collinsons Lagoon

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

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OUR Annual Report, Strategic Plan, and the NRM and Water Quality Improvement plans are all available in an easy-to-read format online.
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