Let’s Support Our Wetlands – For Disaster Risk Reduction

 

There is something very calming about being near water. Whether it be walking beside a creek with the dog, spending time camping or having a picnic near one of our rivers or damns, immersing ourselves in a fresh waterhole or the salt of the sea, or fishing from a stream. The recreational rewards of being near water are obvious, as are the spiritual and reflective benefits. Watching water can echo our moods, from its tranquil moments, to its whirlpools, white waters, waterfalls and crashing waves. Water is quite literally the ebb and flow of life. Sustaining the planet and all its inhabitants from the largest to the microscopic. Without it we’re nothing.

Beree Badalla Reserve reflections at dawn and high tide. September 2014

And while those larger bodies of water are usually the most talked about in terms of needing protection due to the life they sustain, the planet’s wetlands while just as important, are often seen as wastelands. More alarmingly, over 64% of the world’s wetlands comprising of mangroves; coral reefs; rivers and flood plains; inland deltas and peatlands have been slowly disappearing since 1900. That’s over half of our wetlands – and at a staggering rate.

The Earth’s wetlands are just as vital to our survival, which is why on February 2nd, 1971 the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands was established in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. It is also why World Wetlands Day was established in 1997 to raise awareness of the values and benefits of the world’s wetlands and to help promote their conservation and wise use[1].

This year’s theme “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction” is to further raise the awareness that rather than being wastelands, healthy wetlands are there to help us cope with extreme weather events such as flooding due to storms, storm surges, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis. With Climate Change impacting the planet every day, it is no secret that it is predicted that these types of extreme climatic events, including droughts, are expected to increase in frequency and intensity. In fact, the frequency of these types of disasters worldwide has doubled in the last 35 years, and UN Water estimates that 90% of all natural hazards are water-related.[2]

What types of things are threatening our wetlands?

Dead hollowed out tree stump in a dry mangrove.

According to WWF Global, impacts on our wetlands are mostly due to the conversion of wetlands for commercial development, drainage schemes, extraction of minerals and peat, overfishing, tourism, siltation, pesticide discharges from intensive agriculture, toxic pollutants from industrial waste, and the construction of dams and dikes, often in an attempt at flood protection.[3] WWF Global also note that alien invasive species have substantial effects on local aquatic flora and fauna; whereby they upset the natural balance of the ecosystems. Pollution too, is a big problem, affecting drinking water, upsetting biological diversity, and killing off species of aquatic life. Dams (of which there are now over 40,000) also alter the natural flow of water impacting on eco-systems. Climate Change, with its increases in temperature causing polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise, creates the swamping of shallow wetlands which in turn submerge and drown some species of mangrove trees.

Merrimac Floodplain flooded June 2014

How can our wetlands help in times of natural disasters?

Wetlands are defined as land areas that are flooded with water, either seasonally or permanently, and so are a natural buffer against disasters. When extreme events hit, healthy wetlands absorb some of the shock and help cushion damage to local communities. Wetlands also help speed up recovery and act as natural water filters and nutrient restorers. So, it makes sense to maintain and preserve healthy wetlands, and to restore degraded ones.

What’s happening locally?

Unfortunately, due to many of the freshwater wetlands on the Gold Coast being filled in and built upon, there are now very few freshwater wetlands left in the area. Those which are left include:

  • the Coombabah wetland at Helensvale;
  • an area known as the Greenheart, which is a floodplain which holds Mudgeeraba Creek;
  • small remnant areas on the Carrara floodplain;
  • the Elanora Wetlands, and;
  • Mangrove Tree Haven, Currumbin Creek, Beree Badalla Reserve[4]
Currumbin mangroves May 2015

The Elanora Wetlands which were previously used as a dump by Gold Coast City Council, has since been lovingly and successfully rehabilitated by the Elanora Wetlands Bushcare Group led by Gecko Environment Council’s ‘Walk with Wildlife’ team volunteer Tom Fletcher, together with the support of council. The horseshoe shaped Elanora Wetlands Habitat, is a section of Schuster Park, and is separated from the main park by Tallebudgera Creek. It also partly surrounds the Elanora Water Treatment Plant. The birdlife which can now be found there is a credit to their work, and so successful has been the restoration that Tom and his team are now working further west past the area Council had designated.

GeckoEd Eco Explorers learning about mangroves at the Currumbin Creek, Beree Badalla Reserve

Gecko’s own GeckoEd is also involved in educating children of all ages about the importance of the mangroves on the north bank of the Currumbin Creek Beree Badalla Reserve (Mangrove Tree Haven). The area is also visited by groups of students from Singapore each year, while Seagrass Watch is involved in the monitoring of the health of the seagrasses in Currumbin Creek.

Other tidal saltwater wetlands in the Gold Coast include the whole estuarine area of the Broadwater, from the Seaway up to Jacobs Well; of which the coastal areas of the Moreton Bay Marine Park down to South Stradbroke Island are Ramsar listed.[5]

(To explore local Ramsar sites visit Ramsar Sites Information Service Maps online).

Mangrove and pneumatophores in Moreton Bay, QLD

So how can we help? 

There are many things we can do to help the wetlands in our local areas:

  • Pick up any litter around wetland areas;
  • Send an email to your local council members to raise any concerns you may have;
  • Save water! Pay attention to your own water consumption at home, work and school;
  • Take online action! Make a pledge, sign a petition or add your voice to campaigns. Not just our campaigns or local campaigns, but for wetland campaigns worldwide;
  • Spread the word! Share this information with others via social media or email;
  • Let your local environment groups know of any local areas of concern.
  • For more Fact Sheets visit World Wetlands Day
  • Ages 18-25 can enter the Wetlands Youth Photo Contest (2/2/17 – 2/3/17)

Last but not least, if you’re on the Gold Coast visit Gecko’s Event Calendar linking you to details for the Mangrove Watch Program happening this Saturday February 4th as well as many other local volunteer groups who work at rehabilitating these vital areas. If you’d like to join the continuing extended restoration of the Elanora Wetlands (headed up by Tom Fletcher), or to book your young EcoExplorers into one of the GeckoEd mangrove education programs, contact the Gecko office on (07) 5534 1412, and they’ll put you in touch.

Let’s all help to support our Wetlands – for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Above and below water view at the edge of the mangal (mangrove).

References:

[1] Australian Government, Dept. of Environment and Energy – World Wetlands Day 2017

[2] WorldWetlandsDay.org – Wetlands: a natural safeguard against disasters

[3] WWF Global – Threats to wetlands

[4] Lois Levy, Gecko Environment Council

[5] Gecko Fact Sheet – World Wetlands Day, 2010

Image Credits:

  • Heron at the water’s edge of a wetland: jdpfelt0 via Pixabay.com BY-CC0
  • Beree Badalla Reserve reflections at dawn and high tide September 2014: ©Lois Levy. All rights reserved. 
  • World Wetlands Day 2017 Logo: WorldWetlandsDay.org
  • Merrimac Floodplain flooded June 2014:©Gecko Photo Library. All rights reserved.
  • Dead hollowed out tree stump in a dry part of the Currumbin mangrove: ©Gecko Photo Library. All rights reserved.
  • Currumbin Mangroves, May 2015:©Gecko Photo Library. All rights reserved.
  • GeckoEd Eco Explorers learning about the mangroves at Beree Badalla Reserve, Currumbin Creek:©GeckoEd Photo Library. All rights reserved.
  • Mangrove and pneumatophores in Moreton Bay, QLD: Boundary Rider via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Above and below water view at the edge of the manual (mangrove): Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

*Link to Article as Published on Gecko Hills to Headlands.

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