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Waterbird monitoring in the Basin

The annual Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey started in October 2021 with researchers expected to survey 38 sites across the Basin.
Published: 05 November 2021

The annual Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey (EAWS) is again underway, providing another year of valuable data to help assess the health of Basin ecosystems. This survey has seen a high-resolution count of waterbird presence and breeding at specific wetlands, allowing a comparative analysis of waterbird numbers at wetlands across the Basin over time. These surveys are held across 38 environmental assets within the Basin, including The Living Murray icon sites.

Border closures in Queensland and South Australia due to the COVID-19 pandemic have complicated the survey route, but the University of New South Wales team are doing their best to survey as many sites as possible.

Led by the University of New South Wales and funded by the MDBA, the EAWS has been undertaken each year since 2010 and is considered a valuable monitoring program.

Waterbird research and monitoring provides valuable information about the health of the Murray–Darling Basin and more broadly, the benefits of the Basin Plan. There are more than 120 waterbird species in the Basin, each with their own environmental needs. Given this diversity, understanding bird life gives a good picture of many aspects of the environment.

Since the Basin Plan commenced in 2012, the number of waterbird species has remained steady. However, populations have remained very low and waterbird breeding has been infrequent. Continued waterbird declines and low numbers may be indicative of compromised conservation management, reflecting the challenges of restoring sufficient water to wetlands for feeding and breeding waterbird habitat. Water for the environment is likely to have reduced the rate of decline but not stopped it completely.

The EAWS and other long-term monitoring programs such as the Coorong and Lower Lakes waterbird census provide key datasets. The MDBA uses the data to identify trends in waterbird diversity and abundance across the Basin.

The EAWS is expected to finish mid-November 2021 with early results available in December and the full dataset in March 2022.

Waterbirds observed in an aerial assessment. Left: Pelicans at Lake Wyara, Queensland. Right: Colonially breeding waterbirds at Gavini Wetlands, New South Wales. Photos: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey.
Waterbirds observed in an aerial assessment. Left: Pelicans at Lake Wyara, Queensland. Right: Colonially breeding waterbirds at Gavini Wetlands, New South Wales. Photos: Eastern Australian Waterbird Survey.

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