Coorong waterbird increase cause for celebration on World Wetlands Day

Date posted: 03 February 2016

Minister Ian Hunter

Minister for Water and the River Murray

An annual survey has revealed large numbers of waterbirds nesting in the Lower Lakes and Coorong – indicating the area devastated during the Millennium Drought is slowly returning to health.

Water and River Murray Minister Ian Hunter welcomed the survey results on World Wetlands Day.

"This day marks the date the Convention on Wetlands was adopted in 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar, and is a day when we recognise and celebrate the important role wetlands play," he said.

"The Coorong and Lower Lakes region is a Ramsar Wetland – one of many reasons that Murray-Darling Basin states must continue to work together to return the region to health.

"This significant bird breeding event is the result of environmental water delivery provided under the Basin Plan, and also careful management of water levels in the Lower Lakes.

"The environmental water has triggered a burst of ecological productivity in the region; abundant fish and invertebrates have provided good food sources, and maintenance of lake water levels has helped protect nesting waterbirds from land-based predators.

"With dry conditions forecast across the Murray-Darling Basin, it may be some time before this kind of breeding event is observed again – we must continue to implement the Basin Plan to protect this region during periods of low water availability."

The annual spring aerial survey of the Murray-Darling Basin, funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has revealed species such as Pied Cormorants, Great Cormorants, Straw-necked Ibis and Royal Spoonbills and many more breeding colonies than in previous years.

Staff from the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and the Goolwa to Wellington Local Action Planning Association (GWLAP) have tracked progress at two of the five colonies in the Lower Lakes over spring and summer.

"More than 1000 nests, mostly with eggs and some chicks, have been observed at these two Lower Lakes colonies," Mr Hunter said.

"Breeding pairs of Pied Cormorants are raising an average of two chicks, and some of these colonies have started their second round of breeding for the season, while young Royal Spoonbills and Straw-necked Ibis were also observed and have successfully fledged."

Professor Richard Kingsford from the University of New South Wales Ecosystem Science Centre said waterbird sightings in the Coorong and Lower Lakes region are particularly significant given the lack of breeding this season in most of the Murray-Darling Basin and across eastern Australia.

"Our regular aerial surveys across eastern Australia produced the lowest record of breeding in 33 years, whereas the Lower Lakes have been highly productive this spring and summer for waterbird breeding," Professor Kingsford said.