Basin-scale evaluation of 2019–20 Commonwealth environmental water: Species diversity

Skye Wassens, Craig Poynter, Shane Brooks, Heather McGinness

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report (public)

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Strategic management of Commonwealth water for the environment by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) is key to achieving the Commonwealth’s (Murray–Darling) Basin Plan 2012 environmental objectives. The 3-year Basin-scale Flow-MER Program aims to demonstrate Basin-scale outcomes of Commonwealth environmental water, support adaptive management; and fulfil CEWH legislative requirements under the Basin Plan.
The Species Diversity evaluation focuses on Section 8.05 of the Basin Plan 2012 – Protection and restoration of water-dependent ecosystems. Section 8.05 sets out the objectives relating to the protection and restoration of water-dependent ecosystems in the context of species and populations, threatened taxa, communities and ecosystems listed under state and national legislation, and international agreements – Bonn Convention, China–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (CAMBA), Japan–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (JAMBA) or Republic of Korea–Australia Migratory Bird Agreement (ROKAMBA) – and declared Ramsar wetlands.
In this report, we focus on evaluating species diversity outcomes not covered in the evaluations of Fish, Vegetation and Ecosystem Diversity. We focus on waterbirds, frogs and turtles along with other water-dependent aquatic vertebrates including reptiles, platypus and rakali with reference to listed threatened species as defined under the Commonwealth Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) (EPBC Act) and relevant state legislation. We also summarise Commonwealth environmental watering actions that influence the hydrology, and thus the species diversity, of Ramsar wetlands within the Murray–Darling Basin.
The evaluation addresses the overarching question:
What did Commonwealth environmental water contribute to species diversity?
This question is addressed through the following 4 sub-components:
• What was the contribution of Commonwealth environmental water to the diversity and abundance of waterbirds, frogs, turtles, and other water-dependent vertebrates?
• What was the contribution of Commonwealth environmental water to threatened species and ecological communities?
• What was the contribution of Commonwealth environmental to water migratory species listed under international agreements (Bonn Convention, CAMBA, JAMBA or ROKAMBA?
• What was the contribution of Commonwealth environmental water to Ramsar wetlands In the Murray–Darling Basin?
Water year 2019–20
• 296,244 ML of Commonwealth environmental water was delivered as part of 61 individual watering actions with objectives related to species diversity.
• While very dry climatic conditions in 2019–20 reduced the available habitat and abundance of focal species, Commonwealth environmental water was delivered to support :
– high ecological productivity, particularly for waterbirds in the Lower Murray and Murrumbidgee with 30,097 individuals reported, representing 65 waterbird and 5 raptor species
– 18 frog and 3 turtle species across 3 valleys
– the life cycles of national and state-listed threatened species, including regent parrot, Australasian bittern, Latham’s snipe, broad-shelled turtle, platypus and southern bell frog
– 36 waterbird species of conservation significance. Of these, 34 are listed as threatened under state or national legislation and 21 are listed in the EPBC Act migratory waterbird list and/or international treaties
– successful recruitment by southern bell frogs across Murrumbidgee River System, Central and Lower Murray rivers; Australasian bitterns in the Murrumbidgee River System and the Central Murray River; and regent parrots in the Lower Murray River
– partial inundation of 8 declared Ramsar sites.
Water years 2014–20
• There have been 378 watering actions with objectives related to waterbirds, frogs, turtles and other vertebrates. Watering actions targeting species diversity outcomes occurred more often in valleys that contained high value wetland and floodplain habitats
• 103 waterbird species from 17 families were likely to have benefited from Commonwealth environmental water delivery across the Basin
• Since 2014, 41 species of conservation significance, including waterbirds, frogs and turtles have potentially benefited from Commonwealth environmental water delivery
• Environmental water has successfully maintained and, in some areas, increased the abundance of southern bell frogs (listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act)
• Broad-shelled turtles (listed as endangered in South Australia) were more frequently associated with areas inundated by Commonwealth environmental water across their range in the Southern Basin.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCanberra, ACT
PublisherDepartment of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
Commissioning bodyCommonwealth Environmental Water Office
Number of pages104
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021

Grant Number

  • 102897


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