Environs Kimberley was successful in its application for Lotterywest funding for a three-year Kimberley Wetlands Project.
The landscape of northern Australia is defined by large swathes of arid land. Each year, however, the monsoon rains transform the West and Central Kimberley from this vast tropic savannah to a patchwork quilt of seasonal floodplains, wetlands, marshes and billabongs. The Fitzroy River and its tributaries break their banks and create interconnected ecosystems that span the Kimberley.
Kimberley wetlands provide a key habitat and refuge, and contain numerous plants and animals endemic to this region. In particular, they provide a migration stop-over area for migratory shorebirds travelling some 9,000 kilometres from Siberia — along what is known as the East Asian-Australasian Flyway — to winter feeding grounds in the southern hemisphere. The wetlands are also nationally significant waterbird breeding grounds, for species such as the Australian Pelican, Little Black Cormorant (Phalacrocorax sulcirostris), Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos) and Plumed Whistling-duck (Dendrocygna eytoni).
Despite this, little research has been done on these highly productive environments. Even conspicuous species have been overlooked; scientists have only recently found 20 new species of freshwater fish and recognised the Kimberley as an international hotspot for waterlily diversity.
Culturally, wetlands are significant habitats for Aboriginal people, providing camping spots and food, and are the location of law grounds, sacred sites and homes of creator beings.
This importance is reflected in the fact that ten out of the ten Kimberley Healthy Country Plans — collated by Bardi Jawi, Yawuru, Karajarri, Nyikina Mangala, Ngurrara, Gooniyandi, Bunuba, Dambimangarri, Wunambal Gaambera, Balangarra and Wilinggin — identify freshwater places as culturally and environmentally important for protection and sustainable management.
As part of this project, Environs Kimberley will work alongside Rebecca Dobbs, a Freshwater Biology Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, to support up to five ranger groups over a three-year period.
To date, wetland conservation across the Kimberley has been given very little regional support. Rangers and Aboriginal communities have not been equipped with the tools to accurately document the plant and animal species found in the wetlands and to manage the wetlands’ values, which are easily degraded by human activities such as grazing and irrigation.
The Kimberley Wetlands Project will link ecologists with ranger teams, elders and their communities to better document, protect and manage priority Kimberley wetlands.
Specifically, Environs Kimberley and the ranger teams will work across the Kimberley region to develop wetland management approaches and increase the documentation of plants and animals found at several wetland sites. The wetlands project will directly improve collaboration between ranger groups, conservation researchers and government bodies and help to share knowledge about wetlands with the wider community.
When the national heritage-listed wetlands are managed properly, their ecological and cultural values will be better protected.