Students, Scientists and Saltmarshes

 

One of the pleasures at Verse is being able to showcase the exciting things all you go-getters experience. Tessa Roberts and Emmanuel Kuol show us that even a saltmarsh can be riveting.

 

When you first see a saltmarsh, you are immediately underwhelmed by its drab appearance. ‘Breathtaking beauty’ does not spring to mind and you don’t rush to include it in your next sightseeing trip or adventure holiday. However, upon closer inspection this seemingly insignificant ‘swamp’ is teeming with rare and wonderful migratory shorebirds and tiny, but amazing plants.

Just north of Mawson Lakes Campus, along the Gulf St Vincent lies our very own Samphire Coast – and from the perspective of many, including UniSA Environmental Science students, experts, scientists and the shorebirds and rare plants that inhabit the area, it is an area of international significance.

The Samphire Coast is named so for its unique and complex coastal saltmarsh ecosystem, and more specifically after a small specialised salt-tolerant group of succulent plants called samphires. These tiny and seemingly insignificant plants grow on the flat land which is flooded every so often by the tides, forming a saltmarsh.

The saltmarsh ecosystem is very vulnerable to damage and degradation and is currently listed as a threatened ecological community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (EPBC 1999), with high conservational value. Saltmarshes support many rare and vulnerable species of plants and animals, including the vulnerable EPBC listed bead samphire and internationally important migratory shorebirds.

Our samphire coast is part of the East Asian Australasian flyway which encompasses 22 countries. Migratory birds visiting from as far as Russia and Alaska visit saltmarshes to fatten up before a very long flight back to breeding grounds on the other side of the world.

Increasing pressure from development, changing land use from the closing of the salt evaporation ponds at Dry Creek, threats from climate change and other human impacts all threaten this vulnerable ecosystem. The proposed Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary is planned for a significant portion of the salt evaporation ponds area, however what happens to the rest of the land will have huge impact on the region.

During the study break this April, The Coastal Saltmarsh Ecology & Restoration Forum and Field Trip, was held on the 15th and 16th of April at the University of South Australia (Mawson Lakes), facilitated by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management board with funding from the SA Government.

The Bachelor of Environmental Science 3rd year Restoration Ecology class ran the forum with assistance from University staff (particularly Joan Gibbs and Jelina Haynes) and Birdlife Australia staff (Aleisa Lamanna and Jean Turner). Expert speakers presented a broad range of themes around saltmarsh ecosystems at the forum on April 15th.

Students were lucky enough to witness presentations from high profile scientists and leading experts including influential scientist Professor Robert Costanza (Australian National University), saltmarsh ecologist Peri Coleman (Delta Environmental Consulting), marine biologist Associate Professor Sabine Dittman (Flinders University) and shorebird experts Aleisa Lamanna & Jean Turner (Birdlife Australia).

Over the course of two days an audience consisting of; council members, academics, NRM officers, Environmental consultants, restoration ecology students and stakeholders witnessed presentations outlining the fundamental importance of the Samphire Coast coupled with field trip visits to significant sites to see restoration in practice.

The speakers all expressed an urgency to protect our coastal saltmarshes. The common goals expressed by the speakers at the Forum were the importance of education and environmental awareness of the general public, stakeholders, planners and recreational coast users. The speakers highlighted the vulnerability of the saltmarshes to human caused damage by vehicles and other environmental degradation.

The values of saltmarshes were determined by the various speakers and they included carbon sequestration, storm protection, shorebird conservation, water filtration and purification and various cultural values (for both Aboriginal people and local residents and visitors alike).

Professor Robert Costanza discussed value of Saltmarshes in terms of ecological economics, describing their value based on natural capital (the ecosystem services they provide). This method is highly applicable to saltmarshes which provide so many benefits to us, highlighting the urgent need for their protection and restoration. If planners and policy makers valued them in this way I’m sure saltmarshes would make the front page a bit more!

This multiday event offered a discussion and exchange of ideas about conservation of our coastal saltmarsh on the Adelaide Samphire coast. We certainly learned a whole lot and developed a huge appreciation of the importance of these drab little samphires and the saltmarshes in which they grow.

Ultimately the forum acknowledged the need for the further education of council and government planners and the importance of community engagement for conservation.

Future planning is at the forefront and decisions made now are crucial. The Adelaide Samphire Coast is going through some big changes and has many challenges ahead in the face of urban sprawl and climate change among others.

The resilience of these important ecosystems and the plants and animals which rely on them will be tested, let’s hope it prevails.

 

Words by By Tessa Roberts & Emmanuel Kuol

To find out more about the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary or our Samphire Coast or to get involved, visit parks.sa.gov.au or birdlife.org.au

 

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