The CSIRO is one of the largest science agencies in the world, working on improvements to everything from oceans to energy, metals to medicine, and sustainability to food. I was lucky enough to participate in a sub-project contributing to the restoration of the Paika Lake and its surrounding wetlands, in the Murrumbidgee catchment. Until 2011, this lake had been isolated and from flooding for over 100 years, and disconnected from the rest of the floodplain system by levees and roads. The project here aims to rehabilitate these historic wetlands by restoring flooding, fencing, and selective grazing management to maximise biodiversity and vegetation recovery, and monitoring the responses of biodiversity to these changes. Needless to say, a project as big as this requires a great deal of dedication to the cause. CSIRO’s role is to use photographs taken by motion-sensing and time-lapse remote cameras to examine the presence and abundance of feral mammals in these wetlands.
This brings me to the part I had to play in this huge restoration initiative. I had the seemingly mundane task of scrolling through the photos taken by the cameras from various sites around the lakes and wetlands, and recording the types and abundance of wildlife caught going about their everyday activities. This activity proved much more interesting than I had first anticipated. The cameras caught some fascinating images of the wildlife that occupy these wetlands, primarily feral predators such as cats, foxes, and pigs that are responsible for the plight of Australian native fauna. I recorded data including the site location, species, time of day, date, temperature, and water level. This data that I documented directly from the photos will be analysed and used to explore feral animal associations with vegetation type and structure, lake watering regime, and other such variables.
Since the project’s commencement, opening up the previously-used water paths has resulted in an amazing wildlife response. Waterbirds have arrived in tens-of-thousands, which encouragingly includes three threatened species – the blue billed duck, freckled duck, and Australian painted snipe. Vegetation condition adjacent to the wetlands has already improved, and seedling regeneration is abundant. Obviously, the invasive mammals that are roaming these wetlands need to be controlled, as their introduction to the area has resulted in significant declines in native fauna. Domestic stock such as cattle, sheep, and goats are also extensively grazed on one of the sites monitored by this project, producing great environmental costs to native flora and fauna. Continued monitoring of the recovery progress made by native fauna is integral if the project is to successfully restore flooding to the Paika Lake and thus maximise vegetation and biodiversity recovery in the area. So far, so good!
Ellen Gearing; U5175120