Beautiful, bizarre…and under threat

Using Australian coastal wetlands to protect the iconic Great Barrier Reef

September 12, 2016
Beautiful, bizarre…and under threat
A group of fusilier fish swims along the coast of Queensland. ©WetlandCare Australia

When DUC learned that coastal wetlands could help Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, we were intrigued. So we reached out to our Aussie cousins at WetlandCare Australia via email interview to find out more.

“It is difficult to imagine a world without the reef,” writes WetlandCare Australia (WCA) senior project officer Merv Pyott, from his office in Ayr, Queensland—a short distance inland from the Coral Sea.

Stretching along a western part of the South Pacific Ocean, the sea is home to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the world’s largest coral reef system and one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

“It is such a special gift to protect and pass on to future generations… [and] home to such a variety of amazingly beautiful and bizarre creatures,” writes Pyott.

Australia Great Barrier Reef reef species
More than 1,500 species of fish call the Great Barrier Reef home, including angel fish.
©WetlandCare Australia

Once filled with brilliant, vibrant coral, the GBR is under increasing pressure as a result of climate change, fishing, coastal development, and land-based run-off.

A future without the GBR is something the team at WCA, a leading authority on wetland and catchment conservation in Australia, want to avoid. “Staff and other environmental practitioners regard the reef as sacred, to be protected at any price,” shares Pyott.

But how can we protect the world’s largest living structure? According to Pyott, conserving coastal wetlands is one part of the solution.

“Coastal wetlands play a key role in capturing pollutants, sediments, and filtering run-off from the land before it reaches the reef,” writes Pyott.

Australia Great Barrier Reef reef species
A brightly coloured parrot fish swim among the coral reef.
©WetlandCare Australia

Last December, WCA announced it would partner with two fellow environmental not-for-profit organizations in Australia, as well as the Queensland State Government, on a $4 million project to target catchment flows into the GBR.

“We are harnessing the strength of partners, communities, and volunteers to repair and reinstate priority wetlands and catchments of the Great Barrier Reef,” writes WCA director Ian Walker.

While a final project site has yet to be decided, one thing is certain, notes Pyott: the project will benefit the GBR, endangered marine species like dugongs, as well as wildlife (like kangaroos, wallabies, native fish species, and migratory waterfowl) who rely on wetlands.

Australian waterfowl
Species like pelicans and magpie geese rely on Australia’s wetlands.
©WetlandCare Australia

“The site will showcase environmental options, opportunities and works that will have long reaching positive impacts on the GBR,” concludes Pyott.

Formerly Ducks Unlimited Australia, WetlandCare Australia was established in 1991. Today it’s one of the leading authorities in the country on restoring wetlands and catchments.