The annual bird count across south eastern Australia, conducted since 1983 by Dr Richard Kingsford, documents bird numbers and wetland status across the Murray Darling Basin. The recently completed 2016 run substantiates the ongoing decline in water bird numbers and reduction of the wetlands on which they depend. (see SMH “ Tennis Ball Bounce: record low bird numbers highlight water system woes” )
While heavy rains earlier this year, leading to significant flooding and a strong river flow now travelling down the Murray, may result in a successful breeding outcome and so provide a short term bounce in bird numbers, the future situation is uncertain especially if proposals to safeguard even less water for the environment under the Murray Darling Basin plan are locked in.
Changes to the Water Act to vary the Murray Darling Basin Plan result from the recent Northern Basin Review are open for comment until 10 February 2017. All interested parties, not just those who make a living from water extraction, are invited to make a submission. The long term viability of our river and wetland systems affects us all.
Further reduction environmental water provisions (from 390 to 320 Gl is proposed) would severely test the resilience of water bird populations and wetlands such as the Ramsar listed Macquarie Marshes. Just how low can we go and expect to retain an ecologically viable system?
The Inland Rivers Network urges those who care about our inland river systems to make their voice heard, and is preparing a briefing note to help people make their response: this will be posted on the NPA website early in the New Year.
'Tennis ball bounce': Record low bird numbers highlight water system woes
Published: December 18, 2016 - 12:00AM
The number of waterbirds across eastern Australia's wetlands hit another record low this year as dams and other projects in the Murray-Darling Basin undermined river health, a leading ecologist says.
A record wet winter and early spring across much of the region will produce some recovery in numbers next year, said Richard Kingsford, professor of environmental science at the University of NSW who has participated in the past 31 surveys and clocked up at least 250,000 kilometres of flying above the wetlands.
Using the analogy of a bouncing ball, the resurgence will be less like a super ball that recovers almost to the height it was dropped but rather that of a tennis ball with its rapidly diminishing rebound, he said.
"Over the past 30-odd years, because we're getting less frequent flooding – and not for as long in the Murray Darling Basin in particular – we're seeing the effect of waterbirds not coming back to the same levels they were," said Professor Kingsford.
The process would worsen if Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce got his way and arbitrarily cut the amount of water set aside for the environment in the northern basin from 390 gigalitres a year to 320 gigalitres, he said.