Stepping back from 

Many people don’t realise it, but WA’s black swans were once in such dire straits we had to import some from over east.  Ms Matasssa says after all the efforts to bring them back, it’d be a tragedy to see it undeone. Photo by Margaret Matassa

MARGARET MATASSA is the secretary of the Swan Estuary Reserves Action Group, which has been working tirelessly for years along the Melville foreshore to try and return it – and it’s iconic black swans – to their former glory.

ARE the wishes of Melville residents with regard to vital strategies to manage the river foreshore about to be thwarted?

In the recent past, Melville has seen commendable efforts made in the rescue of our Swan River Estuary and these efforts in restoring and maintaining the health of the river have perhaps not been as well appreciated as they deserve.

Melville residents’ acceptance of the low fence that was erected along the Attadale and Alfred Cove foreshore has allowed foreshore vegetation to recover and has protected the adjacent river flats from roaming dogs and the trampling effects of water sports and human activity in this most critical part of the Swan River Estuary. 

Then recently during a consultation process held by the City of Melville, its residents signalled a desire to continue this good work and indicated a wish to see the widening of the foreshore buffer of native vegetation along their river foreshores which are so critical to the river’s health.

Foreshore

Currently though, there are some people who intend to challenge these wishes and to put a stop to the vital work of re-vegetating the foreshore. 

These people wish to retain the hard pathway immediately alongside the river, bordered by the sterile grasses that offer insufficient protection for wildlife and which do nothing to remediate the polluted run-off and groundwater before it reaches the river. 

Furthermore, it will not provide an adequate response to the effects of rising water levels. 

Such views belong in the 1960s when we had a narrow understanding of river management and did not appreciate the complex interaction of all the parts of the environment so necessary to avoid destroying the health of the river.

Residents should be wary of these backward-looking approaches.

The proposed expanded buffer will counteract the erosive effects of the slowly rising water levels by allowing fall-back along a naturally vegetated shoreline, hence ensuring the continued protection of the health of the seagrass and mudflats. 

Hard erosion control such as rocks or walls would cause scouring and deepening of the inner shore waters and thereby the loss of the seagrass flats, which would once again see the disappearance of the Swans and other water birds that feed on the seagrasses as well as those wading birds that can only feed at shallow depths.

Hence, moving the pathways back and widening the vegetation will be helping reverse the slow loss of our river creatures and birds that we so love, and should even protect Melville residents from the misery of smelly algal-bloom filled summers. 

Those people who are trying to stop this relatively small change to the width of the river set-back haven’t understood what is required to maintain a healthy river. 

Furthermore there are already properly managed points along the river where people can gain access to the river, with plans for more viewing points along these foreshores, yet some people fail to accept the need for managed access that limits damage to the river and they seem reluctant to walk a short distance out of their way.

We must all be vigilant in maintaining the river as an asset that any Perth dweller, and even any Perth visitor, will tell you is what they love most about ourcity – it is central to our sense of place.

Who doesn’t smile when they reach Canning Bridge and see the pelicans sitting atop the light fixtures, or glimpse a pair of dolphins hunting fish in Alfred Cove or cruising along beside the freeway?  Yet it hasn’t always been so these past years!

Indeed, our beautiful Swan River Estuary has only recently been able to justify its name again, since the swans have begun returning in numbers since the early 2000s. 

Restoration

And the Melville community can take a lot of credit for this as they have allowed the development and restoration of the vegetated foreshore that maintains the health of the river and feeding grounds of the swans. 

On the adjoining river mudflats grows the amazing paddle weed – seagrass. 

Unseen to us, it is capturing CO2 from the atmosphere, converting it to oxygen, and pumping it into the waters of the Swan, into the air above us and into the mudflats below, at 30 – 40 times greater efficiency than rainforest, literally breathing life back into our river estuary! 

Melville waters have the largest remaining seagrass meadows of the whole 66 kilometres of the Swan River Estuary, and it is these seagrasses that also nurture the swans and ducks, provide a nursery for the fish and crustaceans, and at the top of the chain, ensure enough fish for the dolphins, pelicans, cormorants – and of course the ospreys.

Then at low tide in summer, the river flats are a welcome sight for the incredible migratory birds that arrive here after their 12,000-kilometre migration from the lower Arctic every year. 

How vital it is that they find enough food in the mud and are undisturbed as they feed by day or night on the low tides, and rest in safe roosts among the samphire and sedges.

For all these reasons, the Perth community legislated in the 80s that these shallows be recognised as the Swan Estuary Marine Park and their adjacent foreshores as A-Class nature reserves.

The vegetation along the foreshore is a key part to the health of the Marine Park and it needs to be strengthened to meet the future environmental challenges

So to protect the river we all love, let us all get behind these moves to widen, strengthen and re-vegetate the river foreshore of our Swan Estuary Marine Park.

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