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Lama Lama wetlands get a health check-up

In June 2013, I-Tracker Officer Christy Davies and South Cape York Catchments Manager Jason Carroll joined the Lama Lama Rangers at Lilyvale Station to check on the health of wetlands in Lama Lama National Park (CYPAL) and Running Creek Nature Refuge.

The main aim of this trip was to repeat the condition assessments carried out in 2009 and 2010 using the Cape York Freshwater Wetland Assessment (CYFWA) methodology developed by Cape York Marine Advisory Group Environmental Inc.

Condition assessments yield data that are essential to the land management planning and activities of the Lama Lama Rangers. Pigs, for instance, are one of the most significant threats to wetlands on Lama Lama country. They dig up the damp soil around the edges of the swamp, looking for roots, tubers and bulbs of plants, freshwater mussels, turtles and their eggs, and even frogs. As the water recedes over the dry season, the pigs move inward with the shrinking wetland edge, leaving stretches of damage through the entire area. Thirsty cattle and horses often make matters worse: when they wade into the deeper water, they make the water muddy and increase evaporation and infiltration rates so that the waterholes dry up faster than they would in the absence of these introduced animals.

The Lama Lama Rangers are making significant efforts to reduce these impacts, and the assessments help them prioritise and target those efforts. Land managers have been working to reduce pig numbers on Lama Lama country by baiting and aerial shooting, and the rangers have been working hard over the last few years to offer key wetlands an extra level of protection by fencing out the pigs and other introduced animals. Bassani Swamp, for example, was fenced in the dry season of 2010 after the CYFWA found it to be in poor condition, with a score 41/100.

For this trip, Goose Swamp was first on the list of sites to visit, and a high priority because the rangers are planning to fence it. The group split into teams that worked on different monitoring and assessment tasks. The first team located the four monitoring points used previously, marked them with star pickets and collected information as part of an existing photopoint monitoring project. The second group undertook the survey work, which considered several different aspects of aquatic ecosystems that are important to understanding how healthy a wetland is, including random sampling of feral animal impacts and bank stability.

The teams assessed several other wetlands in the same way, including Bassani, Scrubby, Beach and Bull Swamps. Naturalist Keith McDonald was also present, working with the rangers to carry out a baseline botanical survey of the terrestrial plant life of the region.

This trip was part of a larger collaborative research project involving the Lama Lama Rangers, NAILSMA, South Cape York Catchments and Griffith University, with funding support from the northern hub of the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program.

The team is also working to develop a rapid assessment tool from the existing CYFWA methodology, and NAILSMA will create a customised I-Tracker application to capture and manage the data. The full methodology is quite complex and is intended to be applied once every 5 to 10 years. The rapid assessment will complement the CYFWA methodology, giving rangers a tool that is simple enough to be conducted once or twice a year. This will allow the rangers to keep a close eye on the progress of any changes to wetland condition, particularly in response to on-ground management actions.