National Wetlands Update September 2012
Issue No. 21, September 2012
French Island wildlife in drought and deluge
Ilona Fenner, Port Phillip and Western Port Catchment Management Authority
A decade of drought saw a dramatic fall in the number of migratory birds and native animals in the wetlands at the western side of French Island, Victoria. These freshwater wetlands, abutting the protected Western Port Ramsar site, provide a habitat buffer for many of the migratory visitors and wild inhabitants of the Ramsar site. The wetlands are ephemeral and vulnerable to changes in rainfall.
Duchers Swamp at French Island. (Michael Douglas)
Scott Coutts, Team Leader, Western Port with Parks Victoria, has witnessed changes at the wetlands. "During the years of drought these wetlands simply didn't fill with water and the land changed character completely", says Scott. The numbers of water-dependent native species like water rats, frogs, and many waterbird species visiting and inhabiting the region, diminished. Much of the native wildlife that had traditionally been a feature of French Island seemed to have disappeared.
All that changed unpredictably and quite literally with a change in the weather. Now, in the third year of heavy rainfall the landscape has changed entirely. A once dry landscape has returned to freshwater wetlands and is welcoming back the many waterbirds and native species that deserted the area for so long.
Over the last two years, whilst the weather wrought its massive changes, Parks Victoria worked with the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority on a Ramsar Protection Program, in partnership with other land managers to reduce threats to the ecological character of the Western Port Ramsar Site. According to Scott Coutts, "A six week program of cat control on French Island in 2011 reduced the number of wild cats in the region by 120." This reduction of threat to native wildlife has made the environment far more welcoming to native species and in combination with the changed weather conditions, has created a landscape where native wildlife and migratory birds can flourish.
Visitors to the region's national park can now see a rich diversity of native animals like koalas, migratory shore birds and other resident waterbirds such as the red-necked avocet, black swan, Australian pelican and the critically endangered orange bellied parrot.
The Ramsar Protection Program is supported by the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government's Caring for our Country.