project review

A week in the wetlands

Review submitted by Tony
Review date 13 Aug 2018


I’ve joined a team of Australian and international volunteers on this project and headed straight to the Cattai Wetlands. It’s one of Australia’s most important wetlands, and the region hosts 14 threatened species, nine migratory species and nine listed marine species. Cattai is next to Crowdy Bay National Park, and it’s likely that this area will attract increasing environmental interest in the future as an outstanding example of a regenerated wetland area. It takes about 50 minutes to travel there from the volunteer house in Port Macquarie, and there’s time to get to know the other volunteers and enjoy the scenery. This part of Australia is very popular with holiday makers as it has beautiful beaches and wonderful forests of tall trees. Everything seems very green and lush. We travel through areas of eucalypt forests along the main road, and frequently see cattle in fertile farms along small creeks. When we arrive at the wetlands, our Team Leader introduces us to the Environment Officer for the Greater Taree City Council who gives us a great introduction to the wetlands, including the history and the reasons why the site is so environmentally important. We learn about the wildlife that lives there, and we’re excited to know that we will be able to be a part of the Cattai Wetlands story through our volunteer efforts. We are also given a full safety briefing, and told exactly what activities we’ll be doing during the week. We start each day at about 8am, after a big breakfast – spending all day outdoors makes me very hungry! We stop mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a break, and lunchtimes are great – we have our sandwiches as part of a picnic, and it’s the perfect setting with views of mountains to the west, and all the way to the coast, about 10km away, to the east.

We are quickly trained in the skills we need – very soon, we all understand how to work as a team, to put up a post and wire fence to protect sensitive areas of the wetlands from farm livestock, and how to plant trees. These have been specially grown for the project from seed collected in the wetlands, including eucalyptus, paperbark and casuarinas. The trees will improve habitat for the native birds and animals of the wetlands. We also have a very important task – we need to remove invasive weeds from the remnant forest areas around the wetlands. Many of these weeds, like lantana, privet and camphor laurel have been brought to Australia as decorative garden plants and have 'escaped' into the bush where they smother the native species.

One day, we are lucky enough to see a rare and endangered migratory wetland bird, the jabiru, or black-necked stork. The wetlands are a haven for so many birds - small grebes and ducks right up to black swans, herons and egrets. Occasionally we see a white-breasted sea eagle hovering overhead, searching for fish in the wetlands or nearby creeks. We also see plenty of wallabies, particularly early in the mornings when we first get to the wetlands.

All good things come to an end, but I've had a fabulous time in a place that not too many tourists would ever get to see. Our Team Leader hands out some really nice certificates, and we even have a thank-you barbecue for our last lunch! Our efforts have really been appreciated and – most importantly – we have made a big contribution to preserving this beautiful wetland area for the birds and animals that call it home.