28 June 2013
Boosting waterbird habitat and supporting successful bird breeding events in the Murray–Darling Basin's north will be a key focus for environmental watering in the coming year.
The MDBA's first set of annual environmental watering priorities under the Basin Plan has identified northern wetland habitats, and the waterbirds that rely on them, as one of 10 priorities to guide environmental water managers over the next 12 months.
MDBA executive director Jody Swirepik said the colonial waterbird focus was chosen due to the important role the birds play in the basin's ecosystems.
"Colonial waterbirds are a great measure of wetland health—if we start seeing changes to their numbers and their movements, it's a pretty good indicator that there are changes happening to other species they rely on, such as fish, vegetation and invertebrates," Ms Swirepik said.
"To breed successfully, colonial waterbirds need larger flow events that last four to six months, so that they and their young have adequate food, nesting sites, and protection from predators.
"Over the years, development has changed how and when the rivers flow in the basin and this has reduced the duration and extent of flows between rivers and floodplains—essentially those areas where waterbirds nest.
"We're not aiming to trigger breeding events, but are focusing on getting water to the wetlands at the right time of year, for a sufficient period of time, so bird breeding is supported when it does start, and so chicks can fledge.
"By building resilience in these habitats, we are also giving the waterbirds a better chance of surviving future extended drought periods and climate change.
"Like all species, waterbirds have a role to play in an ecosystem, and removing any one species from an ecosystem upsets the balance.
"So, if waterbirds leave an area, it can have a profound impact on other animal and plant species—we need to make sure that doesn't happen."
Northern Basin wetlands include the Narran Lakes, Lower Lachlan Wetlands, Gwydir Wetlands and the Macquarie Marshes, which are all important habitats for colonial waterbird breeding.
Waterbirds live throughout the basin, however, some of the largest breeding events now occur in the northern basin.
Details of this year's annual watering priorities can be found on the MDBA's website at www.mdba.gov.au/what-we-do/environmental-water/environmental-watering-priorities
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