Floods rejuvenate Australia’s surroundings, yet have ‘sting in the tail’ for many species & More Trending News

 

As 2022 has unfolded, repeated flood occasions have proved devastating for scores of communities in the jap states — destroying lives and livelihoods. 

But for nature, floods are factor, a vital life-giving power. Right?

It’s a comforting silver lining in the face of a devastating pure catastrophe.

But like floodwaters themselves, the actuality is much extra murky.

Warning: this story incorporates data some readers might discover distressing.

Scientists say back-to-back excessive occasions are complicating and compounding the environmental outcomes of floods.

So whereas many species are surviving and thriving due to the floods, others are actually struggling because of hunger and displacement.

A tiny baby turtle being held up on a hand.

While some turtle species do properly in floods, ecologists are frightened about endangered endemic species such as the Mary River turtle, which is prone to have misplaced many nests of eggs throughout the breeding season. Supplied: Marilyn Connell

a dugong calf and mother swimming

Silt washed out of inland rivers has settled onto huge seagrass beds alongside Queensland’s Fraser Coast, killing off the important meals supply for dugongs. Supplied: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

A green sea turtle floating in the ocean

Marine ecologists say there’s been a rise in inexperienced sea turtles with delicate shell illness and so they’re investigating if it is associated to flood occasions. ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler

A brownish grey coloured Murray crayfish with white claws, sitting on bright green moss.

When blackwater occasions sucked the oxygen from the water in some components of flooded rivers, freshwater crayfish had been seen crawling up timber and out of the water to breathe. Supplied: Nick Whiterod

A family of black and white ibis birds and their chicks in grassland

Straw-necked ibises are amongst the waterbirds that growth throughout floods. Ecologists say the birds love to eat locusts and so the environmental advantages unfold past river methods. Supplied: Heather McGuinness, CSIRO

Playtpus at a creek

Scientists suppose platypuses can escape the power of floods by sheltering alongside the edges of rivers. But their nests might be ruined when floods occur throughout the breeding season. Supplied

Two baby wombats wrapped up in a blanket and held by a woman

Wildlife carers say floods can inundate burrows and displace wombats. Carers have acquired call-outs to assist native animals equivalent to wombats throughout the floods. ABC Open

A female eastern grey kangaroo with a joey peeking out from her pouch, standing in green grass.

Wildlife rescue volunteers say jap gray kangaroos can swim if caught in floodwaters, however some drown. After the floods, the growth in plant development may benefit the roo inhabitants, ecologists say. Unsplash: John Torcasio

A possum on a narrow tree branch staring at the camera.

Possums depend on huge, previous timber for locations to make their nests. Many species of essential habitat timber get the water they should survive throughout floods. Supplied: Brisbane City Council

Red gum in floodwaters in the Bulloo River in early morning light

Red gums, coolibah and blackbox are all eucalyptus timber that depend on floods for a periodic inflow of water. Supplied: Richard Kingsford 

Flourishing in the floods

When rivers flood, the torrent of vitamins units off a growth in the meals chain, from algae and vegetation to bugs and different invertebrates, frogs, fish, turtles and birds.

Waterbirds in specific flourish in floods.They flock, they feast and so they breed.

River ecologist Richard Kingsford says it is a great addition to their declining numbers.

“It’s in times like this that we get these phenomenal colonies of waterbirds, which are the flagship for what’s happening,” Professor Kingsford says.

A flock of ducks over water.
Plumed whistling geese on Eyre Creek in the Lake Eyre Basin after rain.(Supplied: Richard Kingsford)

“It’s that vast expanse, that smorgasbord of food that’s out there which really caters for every different species.

“It’s unimaginable, significantly in the Murray Darling at the second, as a result of all of the rivers just about are in flood.”

Trees like river red gums get the drink they need and underground aquifers are recharged in preparation for dry times.

“[It] retains the well being of the complete river system going for most likely years, perhaps even many years afterwards,” Professor Kingsford says.

A big old tree in dawn light in floodwaters
Flood dependent timber like river pink gums get the water they want throughout floods.(Supplied: Richard Kingsford)

Dugong inhabitants devastated

For dugongs inhabiting the waters off some parts of Queensland’s south-east coast, it’s a devastatingly different story.

These huge marine mammals have been washing up sick or dead along the Fraser Coast because silt washed downstream through the flooded inland river system and out to sea has killed most of the seagrass they rely on for food. 

A dead dugong lies belly up in shallow water
Sick, ravenous and lifeless dugongs have been washing up on the Fraser Coast in Queensland.(Supplied: Ali Hammond)

“We’ve seen a large improve in the variety of strandings,” says animal ecologist Kathy Townsend.

Animal ecologist Kathy Townsend holding a green sea turtle with a satellite tag on it in shallow water off Heron Island
Kathy Townsend says a link between floods and soft shell disease in turtles is being investigated.(Supplied: Kathy Townsend)

“We’ve seen 10 instances the numbers than we had been seeing in say, 2019, so principally hunger is a matter.”

It isn’t just dugongs that need the seagrass, but a whole array of species.

Scientists are also investigating whether the number of green sea turtles washing up unwell with soft shell disease is also linked to flooding.

“Australia is a land of booms and busts, that is how Australia has been for centuries,” Associate Professor Townsend says.

“But once you stress it to the level the place it goes over the different facet of that tipping level … that is what we’re seeing for seagrasses in these flood occasions.”

Good floods and unhealthy floods

A man wearing khaki clothes and a cap stands near a waterway.
Burra McHughes says the well being of the river is tied with the well being of the neighborhood. (ABC News: Nathan Morris)

Burra McHughes is a Ngemba and Muruwarri man from Brewarrina in north-west New South Wales, an area that has been inundated by floodwaters.

He says this year’s floods have been too big.

“You want the proper floods … that the surroundings wants, the vegetation, the animals, us as individuals, you realize, to outlive once more.”

Mr McHughes works with hearth companies and is enthusiastic about bringing First Nations knowledge again to land administration.

Sunrise over the Diamantina River near Birdsville.
Sunrise over the Diamantina River close to Birdsville.(Supplied: Richard Kingsford)

He says the cycle of life needs to follow a pattern of good fire, good rain and good flood.

“We cannot have the unhealthy floods like we have now,” he says.

“Just like good hearth and unhealthy hearth, there is a huge distinction.”

Many ecologists agree.

Senior researcher with CSIRO Simon Linke says floods are critical for the life cycle of many native fish species.

They sweep material from land into water and turn it into fish food, allowing fish to move between habitats, to shelter from predators, and breed and mature.

But, he says, these benefits are at their best in moderate floods.

“These giant floods can deliver an excessive amount of vitality right into a river,” Dr Linke says.

A dead fish washed up.
There have been a number of fish kills in flooded rivers this yr(Supplied: Wildlife Victoria)

“It’s a bit like having a veggie patch. Some water and a few fertiliser is superior. Too a lot water and an excessive amount of fertiliser can kill issues.”

And that is exactly what has happened in some parts of the Murray Darling river systems during this year’s floods.

So much organic matter has been washed into the water, the decomposition process has sucked up all the oxygen.

This has created “blackwater”, which has killed large numbers of native fish, including iconic species such as the Murray cod.

Too a lot, too typically

Ecologist Dana Bergstrom kneels among rocks by the sea
Dana Bergstrom is leading a study on multiple extreme events spanning Australia to Antarctica.(Supplied: Patti Virtue)

Ecologists say blackwater events can be within the realm of normal natural processes.

But they start to worry when it happens off the back of similar fish kills during the recent drought.

Integrative ecologist Dana Bergstrom is leading a study on multiple extreme events from Australia to Antarctica.

“We anticipate blackwater occasions in floods, however should you hold having drought, flood, drought, flood, then finally your ecosystems get degraded if there’s not sufficient time in between these occasions to restore,” Professor Bergstrom says.

“Floods are rejuvenating, however they will have a sting in the tail.”

Aerial of floodwaters making patterns over the landscape
Floodwaters close to Quilpie in Queensland.(Supplied: Richard Kingsford)

Professor Bergstrom says the environmental effects of floods can’t be looked at in isolation; they must be examined in the context of back-to-back extremes such as fire, drought and heat waves.

“The local weather scientists name them compound occasions, which implies one occasion after one other,” she says.

“If you retain having speedy or a number of occasions, it is principally chipping away at the backbones of your ecosystem.”

Professor Bergstrom says this leads to weaknesses in the system and, ultimately, tipping points.

“And chances are you’ll not discover them … individuals might not see the technique of collapse as a result of there’s just a bit bit right here and somewhat bit there after which rapidly, bang, how did that occur.”

Above the waterline

kangaroo joey in cat basket
Wildlife rescue organisations have fielded a big influx of flood-affected animals needing help.(Supplied: Kylie Hibberd)

Many of the native animals that work hard to survive big floods are land dwelling.

Everything from kangaroos and wombats to lizards, bandicoots and dunnarts will flee, seeking higher ground, with varying degrees of success.

Wildlife rescue groups have fielded big increases in call-outs for animals in distress.

Tania Begg, an ecologist who runs a wildlife shelter near Rushworth, in north-central Victoria, says many wild animals have not survived this year’s flood events.

wildlife carer Tania Begg in a high visibility yellow jacket cradling a big kangaroo joey
Tania Begg from Terra Mater Wildlife Shelter with a rescued jap gray kangaroo joey(Supplied: Wildlife Victoria)

She says animals such as kangaroos can hit strife when they are washed up against fences or are stranded on islands where they suffer from exposure and a lack of food.

“A whole lot of the children will have drowned, significantly in mums that have been swimming in water … they have drowned in pouches.”

Ms Begg says animals are also displaced. Habitats, burrows and shelters are inundated and destroyed, leaving animals competing for resources, out of their normal environment, and vulnerable.

“They’re ending up in bizarre locations and so they’re additionally being hit by automobiles on roads,” she says

Ms Begg says those that endure will often be stressed and prone to parasites and disease.

“Once the water begins to recede, any that have survived are going to be extremely confused.”

High and dry

While some kangaroos and wombats will die in floods, the waters will also result in great surges of plant growth that may help fuel their populations when the disaster is over.

Wildlife ecologist Euan Ritchie says it’s very difficult to balance the loss of individual animals with how the overall populations will cope in the longer term.

“Some animals might be winners and a few animals might be losers,” Professor Ritchie says.

“As unhappy as it’s dropping some kangaroos, it is most likely not going to have an enormous impact on their inhabitants.”

A little dunnart up close being held by wildlife ecologist Euan Ritchie
Euan Ritchie says there’s a dearth of data and research on how big floods affect wildlife.(Supplied: Euan Ritchie)

But, he says, no-one can be entirely sure because too little is known about how large-scale flooding affects Australia’s wildlife.

“We needs to be what might or might not have occurred to vegetation and animals and different species because of these floods,” Professor Ritchie says.

“We went trying for data on how species is likely to be affected by flooding and there is little or no.”

Fires and floods

After the unprecedented Black Summer fires of 2019-2020, it was estimated that more than 3 billion native animals had died.

Ecologists expressed concern for the future of vulnerable plant and animal species.

“There appears to be far much less protection of the impression on animals because of floods than there was with fires,” Professor Ritchie says.

While each hearth and flood are vital for development and regeneration, he believes that an excessive amount of of both has the potential to tip the steadiness.

Aerial view of a flock of pelicans over brown floodwaters
Pelicans are amongst the birds that flock to floodwaters.(Supplied: Richard Kingsford)

“Floods occur, fires occur. They’ve been taking place since day dot.

“So they are normal, but when you have these frequent events stacked on top of each other, that is not normal. And that’s what we’re seeing more and more of.”

This frequency, Professor Ritchie says, has been predicted by local weather scientists for many years.

“As troubling as this is, it’s not too late. We have the ability to turn things around,” he says.

“And we have an obligation to protect and sustain communities and the environment.

“A serious method of attaining that might be individuals placing stress on governments to scale back greenhouse fuel emissions.”

Turtling forwards

While scientists strive to catch up with how climate change is impacting on the way floods affect the natural environment, animals that we still know little about are quietly doing their thing.

Conservation biologist Deborah Bower says turtle species come in to clean up the mess during floods.

“They are the rubbish collectors,” Associate Professor Bower says.

“When you have a system with a lot of lifeless carrion, turtles can come alongside and clear that up.”

Conservation biologist Deborah Bower in a wetland holding up a large freshwater turtle
Deborah Bower says 40 per cent of Australia’s freshwater turtles are threatened with extinction, but many of them do quite well in floods.(Supplied: Deborah Bower)

But in huge flooding events turtles can also get knocked around.

It’s currently turtle breeding season, and nests can be inundated and washed away.

But Associate Professor Bower’s hope is that overall, they are making the best of things.

“I believe that there are overwhelming advantages to turtles when floods occur as a result of they will reply to actually productive environments.”

Floods rejuvenate Australia’s environment, yet have ‘sting in the tail’ for many species

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