Ripped Off

By Shelley Scoullar

Having recently attended a presentation from an international palaeoecologist (study of plant and animal fossils), and then reading an article by other leading Australian ecologists I really can’t help but feel that as a nation we have been ripped off.

I learnt that internationally, even at RAMSAR level, there is an understanding that all wetlands change characteristics over time and that the description of a wetland can be adjusted over time as new information becomes available. Interestingly, it is not up to RAMSAR to change the character description of a wetland, it is up to the country where the wetland resides.

Core sampling taken over 2000 sites along the Coorong dating back 7000 years clearly shows that the ecology changed when the barrages were installed. Evidence also tells us that the Murray River never connected to the Coorong and that the Lower Lakes was once a productive estuarine system, which has collapsed with thanks to the barrages.

We are implementing a plan at a cost of $13 billion to taxpayers within the space of 12 years. The Everglades Restoration Plan in Florida, USA, is expected to cost $10 billion and be implemented over about 50 years. It has been designed to preserve and protect the South Florida ecosystem, while providing for other water-related needs of the region including water supply and food protection.

Given that our population is increasing and we are most likely facing a future with reduced rainfall, is sending vast amounts of water to evaporate in the Lower Lakes or run out to sea the answer?

We all want a healthy system, and environmental flows play an important part in that; no one would deny it. However, it is up to our nation and those living in Canberra making the decisions on behalf of the people and its environment to decide. Could we live with returning the RAMSAR description of the Coorong from freshwater back to an estuarine  system that had sustained a healthy Mulloway population for 1000's of years, but now only has carp?

For myself, it’s a no brainer. If we continue with the “just add water” approach we will be putting our food and fibre producers at risk, as well as the clean green Aussie food which we all love. Let’s put the future security of our nation first and take a lead from international programs.