Life or Death for South Australia’s Coorong

Cr Roger Strother, Coorong District Council. “We don’t need more water in the lower lakes. We just need certainty each year.” #mrgcbtb12Twitter July 9 2012.

The Minister of Water for Victoria, Peter Walsh, stated in an interview with Radio National Breakfast show earlier this year that he did not support the latest draft of the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s Plan as he thought is would result in the destruction of many communities in Victoria. He did, however boldly state that the proposed return of 2,750 GL/year to the environment was more than enough to maintain the health and productivity of the lower lakes and the Coorong in South Australia.

Dry and dusty, the Coorong in South Australia

 Original image by: INCITE


Original image by: INCITE

The Coorong is a salt water estuary and national park which feeds into the Murray Mouth in South Australia, and along with Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetlands, has been listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. The region is a most important ecosystem for water birds, some of which travel from the northern hemisphere for breeding. For the last 15 years or so, the Coorong and Lower Lakes have received less than average flows due to high rates of extraction in other states. In combination with the impacts of Climate Change, we have effectively created what Rebecca Lester, of Deakin University describes as “human-induced drought conditions.  In response to Peter Walsh, Associate Professor David Paton, of the University of Adelaide, stated that the Coorong wetland is the barometer for assessing the health of the entire Murray-Darling Basin.

So why is the Coorong such an important asset to the Murray-Darling Basin?

Pelicans often found feeding within the Coorong

Original image by: mikecogh

Flock of pelicans and seagulls - Lake Albert, Meningie - 8x zoom
A flock of penguins at Lake Albert

Original image by: avlxyz

Many seem to think that the recent flooding of the Murray-Darling system should have been enough to returning region to its former health. However the level of water is not the only concern. The drought conditions of the past decades have resulted in a low rate of resilience within the system. This means that small influences can have a greater impact than expected. The Coorong is unique in that the freshwater input is via man-made barriers located at the same end as the salt-water coming in from thenMuRray Mouth [1]. The estuary is therefore known as an inverse estuary. The reduced flows through the lower region have had a dramatic impact on the salinity levels of the ecosystem, rising to up to seven times the concentration of seawater. In such conditions it is almost impossible for many aquatic plants to survive. For many species, these conditions have limited their range of movement and in some cases prevented breeding and migration movements [2].

On signing the Ramsar Convention, Australia agreed to endeavour to maintain the integrity and health of the region so that the safe haven it provided would be maintained. But even without the promise we made, shouldn’t we feel the pride and responsibility to maintain the environment for nature, for our country and for our planet?

1. Lester RE, Webster IT, Fairweather P and Langley RA 2009, ‘Predicting the future ecological condition of the Coorong. The effective management actions & climate change scenarios’, Commonwealth of Australia

2. Lester R 2012, Coorong recovery begins, but still room for improvement, The Conversation


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