A-W students assist with wetlands research

A-W students assist with wetlands research

04 Sep 2009

A group of second year students and staff from the Department of Environmental Management and Ecology at La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga recently travelled to   Bottle Bend Lagoon near Gol Gol State Forest on the Murray River, just upstream from Mildura.

Planting a treeThe students were assisting researchers from The Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre (MDFRC) to set up trial plots of potential management treatments for acidified wetlands.

“Acidification has become an ever-increasing problem during the prolonged drought. The water in the Bottle Bend lagoons has become much more acid since 2002. It now has a pH similar to lemon juice, leading to wetlands that are almost lifeless,” stated Dr Mark Fraser, project leader from MDFRC Wodonga.

Todd Hunter, one of the La Trobe students, was shocked by the level of degradation and pleased to be helping with this inaugural trial.

“It was a great learning experience to be out in the field and I now also have a much deeper understanding of the chemistry involved in these processes,” said Todd.

Dr Fraser explained that the wetting, drying and rewetting cycle that has occurred has activated chemical processes in the sulfidic sediments which released acid into the wetland.

“We had undertaken the laboratory work on this, so we were ready to set up field trials in the lagoon to test how different approaches can help minimize acidity,” stated Dr Fraser.

The students helped to peg out 120 small trial plots above the current water line at the lagoon and treated each plot with one of five management strategies. The treatments include: planting with cumbungi, phragmites or old man salt bush, with or without pre-digging and subsequent mulching; deep ripping of plots; and application of agricultural lime, ash or biochar. The plots will be monitored and the most successful management strategies will be developed for larger scale efforts to protect inland waterways vulnerable to ecologic damage from sulfidic sediments.

This project, the first of its kind in inland Australia, is funded by The National Water Commission, the NSW Murray Wetlands Working Group (NSW MWWG) and La Trobe University. The results of the new trials will directly inform management of inland wetlands.

For further information, please contact Dr Mark Fraser on 0488 491 860.

For further media reports on this project, visit http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2008/s2664794.htm

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