Along our eastern coastline are vital areas of coastal diversity – amongst them dunes, heath lands, wetlands, and littoral rain forests. These make up diverse interrelated, inter-dependent ecosystems.
One hundred years ago, government incentives encouraged draining of wetlands to promote agricultural grazing land.
This began here with the draining of the Belongil Wetlands area in 1913, when they were crisscrossed with drains (the Union Drains system) and other smaller draining systems, to begin the land use for grazing.
However, they were never good grazing lands as the soil was always essentially wet! One hundred years later, there has been a whole re-think on the importance of these lands in their relationship to estuaries and their integral importance to marine systems.
Now, up and down the coast these wetlands are being re-classified and restored, to name a few:
* the Chickiba Wetlands in Ballina
* the 5,000 hectares of internationally significant wetlands, Everlasting Swamp National Park near Maclean, along with the expansion of the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area;
* a water quality project at North Lakes.
In 2004, Wetland Care Australia, surveyed the whole Belongil-Cumbebin Wetlands and established a strategy for their restoration.
They made many recommendations for the rehabilitation of these degraded wetlands: to continue to revegetate with melaleuca species, and preserve the habitats for birds, frogs, invertebrates and other fish species.
Two thirds of fish stocks spend part of their life cycle in wetlands and estuaries. 32 vulnerable fauna species had been noted, and 195 bird species recorded to 2001 with this basin.
They stated that ‘the implications of any further development in this wetland complex requires consideration’.
This land was never intended for development, and was held back ‘subject to further investigation’, and never met the criteria of the State Significant Site (SSS) requirements.
It was perhaps the wisdom of the councils over that time, which appeared as inaction, that the land was not dealt with for development, although there were many ‘behind closed doors’ attempts at rezoning, until the Labor government stepped in and did its own mindless planning.
Currently, these wetlands are also the filtering systems for the West Byron Sewage Treatment Plant and any attempts at their removal for development will be disastrous for the whole estuary and the Marine Park.
Considering the interference from humans, this wonderful estuary is remarkable still in its degraded state, but with this West Byron development there will be neither cow paddocks nor the essential wetlands that were meant to be preserved.
So Rose, have another closer look beyond the surface of your so-called ‘abandoned cattle grazing land’ and really see what we are about to lose!
Robbie Winter-Blick, Byron Bay