The Overwintering Project: Coorong Site Visit. Saturday 7th April.
The Coorong visit started early, with the group converging near Parnka Point. Comprising of Kate, Bronwyn and Judy from Melbourne, Ro and Robyn from Creswick, Diana from Mt. Gambier and Mary from Adelaide, we met the local parks ranger Chris and his partner Corinda. Refreshed with tea and Anzac biscuits, Chris introduced us to the Coorong.
. ‘Kurangk’ (meaning ‘long narrow neck’) is the name given to the area by the Ngarrindjeri people. The Coorong is a wetland of international importance, and is made up of a north and south lagoon, with associated sand dunes. Water flows into this area, which is located at the end of the Murray-Darling system, and therefore reliant on water flowing in from this system. Chris reported that the Coorong had been badly affected by low flows from the Murray. The salinity in North lagoon has been recorded at twice the salinity of seawater, with the South Lagoon 5 times saltier.
These low flows impacts on the growth of Ruppia tuberosa, a submerged aquatic plant. This plant provides resources for the Coorong ecosystem including habitat, foraging substrates and food for herbivorous birds plus aquatic invertebrates and fish (which in turn become food for many of the migratory waders). Ruppia reproduces by both seeds and asexually by turions – a stalk part of the plant. Chris reported that the seed count from Ruppia was less than 20% in the South lagoon.It is thought that algae may also affect the growth of Ruppia, which would then affect the waders feeding. Chris reported that local fishing had been badly affected by the environmental condition of the Coorong. Also that by observation, the bird population had reduced significantly over the last 30 years, and noticeably over the millennial drought years that we had recently.
Parnka Point is a unique junction between the north and south lagoon areas of the Coorong. Needle, Rabbit, Goat and Snake Islands provide habitat for a wide range of birds. This area is within the range of the endangered orange-bellied parrot (about 25 birds in the total wild population), emu wrens, firetails, elegant parrots and wedge-tailed eagles. From the balcony, we were lucky enough to spot a flock of Red-necked Stints (217 apparently!), and probably some red-capped plovers, as well as a fabulous view of the North Lagoon and Islands.
There is indigenous co-management of the park, which has been in place for about 5-6 years. Native title is in place from Salt Creek to Murray Bridge (Zone A), with the remaining area from salt Creek to be finalised, once zones have been confirmed.
Chris said that Avocet could usually be spotted at Villa dei Yumpa, and Pelicans at Jacks Point.
There was some discussion about The Overwintering Project, which aims to raise awareness about the value of land and the environment – especially land which is seen as not being ‘pretty’, and the migratory birds which are ‘invisible.’
There are studies of these migratory birds happening, with some birds being tagged and/or fitted with geo-locaters. The initial size of the geo-locater was 0.6g which has been reduced to 0.3g.
The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Ramsar works to protect wetlands of international significance, which is important for all migratory shorebirds. Information on this can be found at https://www.ramsar.org Australia has 65 Ramsar sites, with the Coorong/Lake Alexandrina/Lake Albert wetland listed as being one of them.
Taking the dirt road, with ripples shaped like a fish’s backbone, Chris introduced the group to Parnka Point. From the lookout area, we were lucky enough to spot pelicans in flight, soaring above us in the thermals. We also saw Lapwing, terns, black swans and assorted ducks. There were many edible native plants in the area including:
· Kunzia (also known as Muntries) – berries.
· Native pigface – the fruits were dried and eaten
· Acacia – seeds crushed and made into cakes, sometimes with added berries, and used as a food source in hard times.
· Leucopogon parviflorus -fruits
· Creeper vine – leaves are peppery, and used medicinally – when have a cold, this is hung around the neck.
Further information about South Australian Bush Tucker plants can be found at http://www.australianplantssa.asn.au/pages/australian-plants/general-articles/bush-tucker.php
There were no birds to be seen at the boat ramp area, excepting two emus walking along the base of the dunes opposite the ramp. Chris said that there is a fresh water soak at the base of these dunes opposite Parnka Point, and the emus and other wildlife will go there to drink. There were also the remains of 2 stumpy lizards.
Opposite the lookout area, to the south, there were Avocet, a pair of Greenshanks, Gulls, White-faced Herons and Pied Oystercatchers. Moving along, we had a brief stop near Woods Well on the Old Coorong Road, observing a flock of Avocet. Chris said that there used to be a round stone marked ‘good water here’, but that it had been removed. At this stage the group thanked Chris for his time and very informative tour.
The group drove to Jack’s Point for a scenic well-earned lunch break. Lugging the esky of supplies over a path winding along the edge of the Coorong to the shelter and observation area, we then admired craftsmanship of both the seating and a cobweb. During this break we saw a White-faced Heron, Red-necked Stints and a Godwit. We had a brief stop at Chinaman’s Well, then Robe taking in the lovely Wilson’s Gallery, and The Obelisk, before heading on to Mt. Gambier for a well-earned nap.
There are several good articles about the ecology and monitoring of this species. Paton, Paton and Bailey have found that “In the last 40 or so years volumes of water reaching Murray mouth drastically reduced and the usual sprint peaks infrequent or non-existent.”
Ecological character description for Ruppia tuberosa in the Coorong by David C. Paton, Fiona L. Paton and Colin P.Bailey (2015)
Annual winter monitoring of Ruppia tuberosa in the Coorong region of SA. July 2016. David C. Paton, Fiona L. Paton and Colin P. Bailey. https://data.gov.au/dataset/9c0f3a2a-c9b9-43a3-9edf-9d198c87e6e0/resource/2b5189b3-6a02-45b7-9e14-37c8458d6094/download/milestone-1-ruppia-tuberosa-in-the-southern-coorong-summer--2015---2016.pdf
Information on birds of the Coorong:
The Ramsar listing for the Coorong site is as follows:
the Coorong, Lake Alexandrina & Albert Wetland
The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina & Albert Wetland. 01/11/85; South Australia; 142,530 ha; 35°56’S 139°18’E. National Park, Game Reserves and Crown Land; Shorebird Network Site. The site is located at the mouth of the River Murray, south east of the city of Adelaide. It consists of two lakes forming a wetland system at the river’s mouth and a long, shallow brackish-to-hypersaline lagoon which they feed into, separated from the ocean by a narrow sand dune peninsula. The lakes contain water of varying salinity and include a unique mosaic of 23 wetland types including intertidal mud, sand and salt flats, coastal brackish/saline lagoons and permanent freshwater lakes. The site is of international importance for migratory waterbirds and supports the greatest wealth of waterbird species in the Murray-Darling Basin. It hosts important nesting colonies of cormorants, plovers, ibises and terns, and also supports globally endangered species such as the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) and the Murray Cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii). The site is popular for recreation activities include camping, boating, regulated duck hunting, and supports a range of commercial activities related to tourism, irrigated agriculture, and commercial fishing. The area is central to aboriginal culture and spiritual beliefs, and it is noted for its extensive sites of historic and geological importance. Ramsar site no. 321. Most recent RIS information: 201
Information on plants of the Coorong area can be found in:
Common Native Plants of the Coorong Region
by Neville Bonney
Published by Australian Plants Society (SA Region) Inc.
Soft cover, full colour, 103 pages
Reviewed by Jan Sked
The Coorong area of South Australia has sustained many species, year after year, endured season after season, for how long no one really knows. For many centuries the aboriginal people lived on its resources. The Coorong, in its many moods, has been an inspiration for many people - artists, photographers, bird watchers, plant enthusiasts.
At the western end of the Coorong are Lakes Albert and Alexandrina, where the waters of the mighty Murray River spill out into the Great Southern Ocean. From there the Coorong extends south east as a 150 kilometre long narrow waterway. In 1972 a major area of the Coorong was declared a National Park.
In this new book Neville Bonney shows us some of the most common plants of this fascinating region. Combinations of features and characteristics have been chosen to aid in the identification of 70 species found in the Coorong. Colour photographs are used throughout to illustrate the plants with several photos per plant showing the most distinctive features.
Plants are grouped according to height or habit in the following order: Herbs, Grasses and Reeds, Creepers and Climbers, Small Shrubs, Medium and Tall Shrubs, Trees. Plants are arranged alphabetically by botanical name within their group, with common names provided where known and the plant family to which each belongs. As well, Neville has included the meaning of each botanical name.
The locality and/or type of plant association where each plant occurs are given. Descriptions cover habit of growth, flowers, fruit, etc. Seed collecting and propagation methods are also discussed, and historical uses by aboriginal people and early settlers are included. Characteristics which help differentiate between similar plants are also recorded.
This richly illustrated small book captures the natural beauty of the Coorong. Whether you use it is as a guide to explore the region or as a reminder after a visit or just to dream about a place far away, it evokes the spirit of this wonderful place.
For availability and price: