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Coorong freshwater soaks project: a collaborative success story

The Coorong Freshwater Soaks project is leading the way in connecting First Nation’s cultural knowledge and values with contemporary scientific research.

Coorong freshwater soaks project: a collaborative success story
Younghusband Peninsula is a long, sandy stretch of land that separates the Coorong from the Southern Ocean.

Led by Traditional Owners of the Coorong region, Ngarrindjeri and First Nations of the South East, the Coorong Freshwater Soaks project addresses critical knowledge gaps in the condition and status of the region’s freshwater soaks.

The project was developed in collaboration with the Department for Environment and Water’s (DEW) Aboriginal Partnerships team and Freshwater, River Murray and Coorong Science team. The Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and groundwater researchers from Flinders University also provided support to facilitate and assist with monitoring and research.

Freshwater soaks were identified as a key area of interest for future research during consultation with First Nations groups on the draft Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin (HCHB) Coorong Restoration Roadmap. To date, the Coorong Freshwater Soaks Project team has installed monitoring equipment, including groundwater loggers and fixed cameras, at carefully selected soaks study sites, with recent observations revealing that fresh groundwater in the area is inconsistent and hard to find but sometimes present during summer in certain areas.

Coorong freshwater soaks project: a collaborative success story
Left: Uncle Doug Nicholls and Craig Kropinyeri from First Nations of the South East at a freshwater soak near Wrecks Crossing. // Top right: Ngarrindjeri Elders Uncle Derek Gollan and Uncle Darryl Koolmatrie investigate soaks near Kartoo. // Bottom right: First Nations of the South East representatives and project participants discuss groundwater monitoring methodologies with Flinders University researchers Dr Margaret Shanafield and Dr Eddie Banks.

Freshwater soaks are a crucial resource for native wildlife in the Coorong region and several native species, including swamp wallabies, common wombats, emus, spotted marsh frogs and herons, have been captured by fixed cameras feeding, wallowing and foraging in the soaks. Unfortunately, these soaks also attract the attention of introduced species like feral cats and fallow deer, highlighting one of the many ecological challenges facing the region.

With a strong focus on integrating First Nation’s knowledge with contemporary scientific methods, project workshops and field studies have facilitated a rich exchange of cultural insights and values. The project also builds on knowledge gained through the Ngarrindjeri Knowledge Research project, which was conducted by the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation during the HCHB Trials and Investigations project (2019-22).

Incorporating scientific knowledge from research undertaken in the early 1980’s and 2000’s, the project is combining a mix of desktop literature reviews, cultural assessments, citizen science, and ecological and geohydrological evaluations to assess the current state of Coorong freshwater soaks.

Knowledge gained through this project will be critical in informing the ongoing management of ecological and culturally significant features of the Coorong region. Additionally, the Coorong Freshwater Soaks project is providing a framework for future collaborative research projects to support the ongoing management of the Coorong. As the project progresses, there are plans to expand the number of monitoring sites and to continue data collection.

This project is being delivered as part of the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin program, which is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the Government of South Australia.

Coorong freshwater soaks project: a collaborative success story
Fixed trail cameras captured numerous species of wildlife near the soak inspection sites, including fallow deer and emus.

Acknowledgement of Country

Aboriginal people are the First Peoples and Nations of South Australia. The Coorong connected waters and surrounding lands have sustained unique First Nations cultures since time immemorial. The Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin program acknowledges the range of Ngarrindjeri and First Nations of South East rights, interests and obligations for the Coorong and connected waterways and the cultural connections that exist between Ngarrindjeri and First Nations of South East across the region and seeks to support their equitable engagement. Ngarrindjeri and First Nations of South East spiritual, social, cultural and economic practices come from their lands and waters, and they continue to maintain their lore, cultural heritage, economies and languages, which are of ongoing importance.