A dry lake from the air

As the Murray River overflows, nature flourishes and the region comes alive

Floodwaters from the Murray River infiltrate plains, wetlands and lakes that have been parched for half a century, prompting birds and vegetation to rebound across the drought-stricken land.

Ecologist Caitlin Polack enthusiastically monitors ecosystem changes daily from land and soil at Calperum Station, just north of Renmark.

It’s an event she said she never thought she’d see: As wildflowers bloom and tree health rebounds, the Australian ibis nests in Lake Woolpolool for the first time in years .

“It allowed nature to absolutely flourish,” she said.

“This is the first time since 1974 that much of this landscape has seen water like this…we have trees that we thought were almost dead that are slowly coming back to life.

“These events are something we cannot artificially create, we cannot manipulate – it’s just that nature is nature’s wonder and we’re stepping back to see how much we can learn from them in future knowledge. .

“We have this opportunity to collect this data in relation to vegetation data, species data, how things react to this water and that will influence management practices in the future.”

A woman with tied brown hair wearing a gray jacket sitting in a flower field next to a river
Caitlin Polack, Calperum Station Educational Ecologist.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

The water is also approaching Rotten Lake, now a gypsum mine, which has had no water since the 1956 flood.

Darren Willis, who is the wetlands team leader for the Riverland and Murraylands Landscape Board, said much of the environmental benefits were not yet visible – and may not be for four years.

“It’s understandable that an event like this would be very, very confronting for the communities up and down the river, but those communities are going to see a massive revitalization of the environment in which they live,” he said. -he declares.

“We all know how devastating the last big drought was and we know the system hasn’t really recovered.

“This opportunity is part of this great reset opportunity and I hope that once people get over the worries of the current flow, they will be excited like me.”

A man with a beard and glasses and a checkered shirt
Darren Willis, Wetlands Team Leader, Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

“Very good supply of nutrients”

Mr Willis said the environment was likely to thrive for years after the flood waters receded.

“These trees will just go through the roof, the canopy will be lush, thick and green, the understory will grow back,” he said.

“There are a lot of seeds floating around in the system, so this is a big distribution event…so the next cycle of the ecosystem is starting to happen.

“There is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to build knowledge about how we manage wetlands between this flood and the next flood.”

Mr Willis said the number of aquatic species, including fish, frogs and turtles, would also increase and spread to larger areas.

The landscape of Riverland SA near Rotten Lake.
As the impact of flooding on communities unfolds, there is a silver lining for the environment.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

But the flooding was also creating a lot of stress on some species which could see some species decline in numbers while invasive species like carp are likely to increase.

Then there was the threat of a black water event in South Australia.

“We might see fish being killed on a small scale here; people might notice fish on the surface trying to get oxygen,” Mr Willis said.

“Even the death of a fish is not a bad thing, because dead fish in the body of water create a very good supply of nutrients for the ecosystem – turtles love them.”

Partially submerged Stobie Poles in South Australia amid flooding.
Water engulfed low-lying areas, including vineyards.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

The state emergency department has urged waterfront property owners to clean up debris, trash, furniture and pollutants regularly seen moving downstream with the flow.

“We have been advised of falling gas cylinders, wheelie bins, a number of things that jam the system and go back to nature when the water recedes,” the SES Incident Controller said. , Craig Brassington.

Two men wearing navy blue uniforms patting a dog getting out of the back of a car
SES Incident Controller Craig Brassington (left) pats a dog.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

“He will get caught around the locks, but it will be in the natural areas, so when the native wildlife comes back, it may also impact how they actually survive.

“Put away your properties, anything that might be floating outside, please put it in your bins or take it to the local dump and remove it.”

Ms Polack said it was unclear where much of the waste flowing downstream would end up, but she said the environmental benefits of flooding “always outweighed the negatives”.

An aerial shot of lots of trash piled up in the dark waters of the river surrounded by trees
Rubbish along the Murray River at Plush’s Bend near Renmark.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

She said there would be many permanent changes in the river as a result of the flooding.

“If you look at a map of the Murray, it’s not a straight line, it’s this coiled snake,” she said.

“There will be sections of the channel or the back stream that will change where they are, slightly or mostly.

“It will be different when people come next season and throw their boats.

“It will be interesting to see where things end, where things settle and where things take off from – and there’s no way to predict that.”

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