Explore the waterways and let curiosity lead

Photo Mary Gardner.

Story & photo Mary Gardner

Where to go during the holidays? Try following waterways and discovering waterplaces. Start with a ramble down some path or an hour along a shore: curiosity will take over. Where did this water come from? What is it doing now? Where might it go? What does it mean?

All waters are found in catchments. These geographic units are the shape of land that directs the flow of water from high ground to low. In our region, the Belongil and Tallow catchments are quite small (less than 50 square kilometres), the Brunswick is a collection of catchments covering 520 square kilometres while the Tweed and Richmond are much larger (1,326 and 7,000 square kilometres respectively).

Stories from deep time

Underneath them all are groundwaters and aquifers. These are not well understood but they can influence the flows of surface waters and the types of vegetation found in different areas.

The water-scapes of our region tell large stories starting in deep time. Our new roads, which criss-cross these catchments, make holiday jaunts easy. But our structures and regulations complicate understanding what we see.


So explore Clarrie Hall or Rocky Creek Dam or Killen Falls to see the hearts of different regional water supplies. Snorkel the inner reefs of Byron Bay’s Main Beach to The Pass or at Torakina to witness the changes in fish habitat.

Storms drive sand which buries or lays bare the underwater reefs. Travel by boat up the Brunswick, Richmond and the Tweed. Spot the sites of abandoned jetties on each waterway.

Walk into very old remnant forests at Victoria Park or Booyong as contrasts to the wetlands at Pottsville or Cumbebin Reserves. Compare the waterway in Palm Valley, Arakwal Park with one by the Butler Street Reserve. Or the Ainsworth Lake with the one at Baywood Chase.

Try birdwatching at Byron’s sewage treatment works: the old ones near the high school or the new ones beyond the IGA. Visit in the evening to record frogs using the FrogID app from Australia Museum.

Some journeys are free-wheeling. For instance, try tracking each drainage channel through any town or village to see what it’s like and where it leads. Follow the path of water pipes from an indoor faucet or toilet to its council treatment centre. Trace the routes of storm-water from a roof, driveway or even a nearby road.

All these water-scapes are stories of connection. They support the many lives of animals, plants and microbes. They also bluntly expose us to ourselves: how we use, bungle or enhance water-nature. Here we meet with the great issues of our times: sixth global extinction, climate change, marine degradation and freshwater scarcity. What can we do?

After the holidays, keep exploring our waterplaces. Sign up now for one of the new WaterPlaces training courses for 2018. This 12-hour program offers hands-on experience about local waterplaces. It’s a community-based citizen science and history initiative offered by WaterPlaces, our new not-for-profit group.

Learn about water

Learn how to survey sites and monitor water quality. Find out how to identify water-bugs: they indicate different levels of water quality. Use the digital multi-meters and test pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and other parameters. Join the equipment loan library, collect data, make plans and support actions that engage with these great issues of our times.

This opportunity does come at a cost. The full price per participant is $250 (minimum six per course and maximum twelve). We are raising funds to subsidise some or all places on these courses. We are also seeking sponsorships (tax-deductable). This will expand the mentoring we can offer. It will finance the work to collate this independent data and to promote the plans and actions.

This project follows on from the volunteer community-based HotSpot Surveys of 2014 and 2016. The digital multi-meters were purchased with prize money from the Ngara Institute.

WaterPlaces acts on an important idea. Together, citizens and specialists can develop vital knowledge about water-nature. Protection, enhancement and even restoration is possible. Look at this Byron Shire paddock restored as a functional wetland. Recently, brolgas were seen dancing here once again.

n For more info, please email Dr Mary Gardner: [email protected]

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