In a report released by the South Australian Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs MP, the Goyder Institute recommended a series of short, medium and long-term actions to restore the ecological character of the South Lagoon of the Coorong. The Coorong has been severely degraded through water extraction and the Millennium Drought, but as inflows of water have recovered, the system is still struggling, with waterbird abundance remaining low.
“This is an area we just do not know enough about. That’s why we commissioned this report – to try and get some consensus around the scientific community in South Australia and broader…what we should be concentrating on to either find out more about or get some quick wins to try and get things happening,” said the Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs MP.
Historically, the Coorong has supported up to 20% of the global non-breeding population of some shorebirds and it’s an important refuge for migratory and non-migratory waterbirds across the Murray-Darling Basin – during the Millennium Drought it hosted 90% of the Basin’s waterbirds. Along with Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert, it is recognised as a Ramsar wetland of International Importance.
The Minister sought advice from the Goyder Institute, who assembled a multidisciplinary team to establish the current ecological state of the Coorong’s South Lagoon and recommend actions for its restoration. Led by Professor Justin Brookes, The University of Adelaide, the team was drawn from experts within The University of Adelaide, SARDI, Flinders University, CSIRO and DEW.
"The Coorong is a National Treasure and needs a management plan that can ensure protection of this vital habitat in the water constrained world we now face. The Coorong expert panel drew upon expertise from a range of Goyder Institute partners to provide a set of recommended actions for restoring the ecological health of the Coorong,” said Professor Brookes.
“Drawing upon a diverse skill set is critical to understand the needs of the diverse suite of organisms in the Coorong and the interactions between them.”
The decrease in waterbird abundance has been associated with a recent shift from an aquatic plant-dominated to an algal-dominated system. The algae is preventing crucial aquatic plants, like Ruppia tuberosa, from completing their lifecycle and is interfering with the waterbirds’ ability to feed. Managers have some tools available to manipulate water, salinity and algal levels to help manage the system, but they can’t confidently predict how it will respond, because of significant knowledge gaps.
“Part of the issue is trying to find the balance between creating conditions that are ideal for one group of species like fish, but also trying to find the right conditions for waterbirds. We need to find a way to create conditions that are suitable for both groups” said Goyder Institute Director Dr Kane Aldridge.
South Australian Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs MP and Goyder Institute Director Kane Aldridge discussing the report's release on ABC 891.
The Institute’s expert panel recommended four key actions to address the immediate threats to the South Lagoon and help managers use the tools available to them without causing long-term harm. In addition to environmental water recovery, the recommendations were:
The Institute presented their findings to the Minister, with the recommendation that these actions be implemented immediately so that the Coorong can continue to: serve as a local, national and international refuge for wildlife; support associated industries that are vital to the economy; and enrich the lives of locals and visitors alike.
The Minister released the report on 9 November 2018 in conjunction with the Coorong Summit Summary Report. The Minister said the reports build a working vision to help restore the health of the Coorong, characterised by healthy vegetation and with abundant and diverse populations of waterbirds, fish and plants.
You can find out more about the research findings in the Institute’s report: Recommended actions for restoring the ecological character of the South Lagoon of the Coorong or contact Goyder Institute Director Dr Kane Aldridge to discuss the Institute’s collaborative research programs and capabilities.