Widespread ecological benefits have been observed along the River Murray system in the year since the 2022-23 flood.
Just in time for World Wetlands Day on 2 February, the Department for Environment and Water can reveal that monitoring in spring and early summer last year found the flood – and recent environmental water releases from upstream – has resulted in a range of benefits for the region’s waterbirds and plants.
While the flood had a significant effect on many communities, it provided much-needed water to parts of the river and its floodplains and wetlands for the first time in more than 60 years.
Flood waters greatly improved the health of mature black box woodland and lignum shrublands in the Riverland, which up until last summer had been in decline due to a lack of inundation.
This provided high-value habitat, with spring woodland bird surveys detecting 75 native species – including rare species such as hooded robins, little friarbirds and Gilbert’s whistlers – revelling in the conditions at the Chowilla, Pike and Katarapko floodplains.
During a spring aerial waterbird survey, large numbers of pelicans, swans and ducks were recorded in the Coorong, particularly in the areas closest to the barrages where freshwater flows from the Murray.
In the Lower Lakes, cormorants, ibis and spoonbills formed large breeding concentrations in reed beds and on islands.
Tony Herbert, Environmental Water Manager at the Department for Environment and Water, said that while the flood hit communities hard, it had a very positive effect on the River Murray’s natural environments.
“Vegetation that has been struggling in recent years was boosted by the waters, which in turn provided improved habitat for our native species to flourish,” he said.
“The River Murray flood and subsequent releases of water for the environment have had an overall very positive effect on the River Murray’s wetlands, floodplains and estuary.
“Water managers will continue working to deliver water for the environment to prolong these positive conditions for as long as possible.”
The recent water for the environment deliveries from upstream storages in the River Murray, Goulburn River, Murrumbidgee River and Darling/Baaka River were sourced from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and Murray-Darling Basin Authority (The Living Murray).
Ecological monitoring at the Chowilla floodplain and Lower Lakes and Coorong is supported by The Living Murray program.
The Living Murray is a joint initiative funded by the South Australian, New South Wales, Victorian and Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
Monitoring at the Pike and Katarapko floodplains is funded by the South Australian Department for Environment and Water as part of its ongoing responsibilities for effective use and management of water for the environment in South Australia.
Coorong monitoring is also delivered as part of the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin program, which is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the Government of South Australia