Friday, March 31, 2017

Speaker's Report - March Meeting: Wyreema Wetlands

Pink-eared Duck, Black-tailed Water Hen and the Golden Goose

Last year it came to our notice that there is a bird habitat in ‘our backyard’. At the March meeting of the Club Michael Atzeni spoke on the ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ and entitled his talk ‘Saving the Council’s golden goose’.
The ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ has been known for the past 20 years as the sewage treatment area for Wyreema and     Cambooya. With the amalgamation of the shires, this sewage treatment area is to be decommissioned and all waste directed, eventually, to Wetalla. Decommissioning, by law, requires the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) to return the area to what it was before it became a sewage treatment plant. That is, all possible contam-inants must be removed. This includes the sludge at the bottom of the small ponds which could contain biohazardous chemicals. It was pointed out that since the waste was coming from a small population and there are no hospitals or industries in Cambooya, pollutants could be small in number. The argument that the sludge was harmful to bird life was dismissed as birds seem to flock to sewage treatment plants, as many in the audience could testify!
The 320 acres, with its ephemeral ponds, storm-water dam, surrounding grasslands and stands of taller native vegetation, is home to 95 (and growing) species of birds of which 30 are rare and five are ‘firsts’ for the Toowoomba region. It was the sighting of the Pink-eared Duck which first alerted Michael to the importance of this area as a potential wetlands habitat. Currently the small ponds are drying out as no water is entering them. There is water in the large primary pond which is the deepest and this is used by a very large number of ducks. Only the previous week the Eastern Rosella, Boobook Owl and Yellow-throated Miner were seen. The keen eyes of young Blade Preston have been an asset in recording the species.
The area around the ponds is predominantly grassland. The Austral Cornflower (Rhaponticum australe) is growing well there (though classed as ‘vulnerable’) and three other vulnerable species of plants have been documented. It is hoped that the vision of having a sustainable and biodiverse wetlands habitat at Wyreema will be achieved and that a wildlife sanctuary can be created as the centrepiece of a unique local recreational space.
How to achieve this? First, the area has to be secured as a wetland ecosystem. Second, a secure water supply is needed along with secure land tenure. It is hoped that the Department of Parks & Gardens of the TRC would oversee the development of this ecotourism site (similar to the TYTO wetlands near Ingham which receives some 21,000 visitors per year and generates a large income for Ingham).
Michael hopes that a management committee can be put in place, linking up the local Wyreema community, wildlife conservation groups, research institutes, the Queensland Government and local schools. (Wyreema primary school is already involved.) There is a great need for baseline data on water quality and also for wild-life surveys. At this point in time, TRC should not proceed with the filling of the ponds and the water supply needs to be increased. The area needs to be redesigned to optimise stormwater run-off, storage and minim-isation of seepage. Michael has presented his case for the establishment of the ‘Wyreema Wetlands’ to the TRC and has received some support from some Council members. There is still a long journey ahead.

Visit for some wonderful photos of the flying visitors to the Wetlands.
(Report by Linda Mangubhai)

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