Murray-Darling Basin's water birds in dramatic decline, study shows

New research has found a dramatic decline in water birds in the Murray-Darling Basin, with numbers down about 70 per cent in the past three decades. A University of New South Wales team found the alarming drop after crunching 32 years of data. The study has been published today in the Global Change Biology journal. Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, Richard Kingsford, who surveys up to 2,000 wetlands around Australia annually, headed up the research. "We survey all water birds from pelicans to swans to sharp tail sandpipers — which are migratory shore birds — egrets and ibis," he said.

"We found that more than 70 per cent decline in water bird numbers, and there is a big issue here as we compared one river basin with no dams and the other with dams — the Murray-Darling Basin — and most of that decline was in the Murray-Darling Basin wetlands." The Murray-Darling Basin has 240 dams and stores 30,000 gigalitres of water. The similarly sized Lake Eyre in South Australia has only one dam. The scientists found between 1983 and 2014 there were no significant changes in water bird numbers in the Lake Eyre Basin.

Their analysis of the Murray-Darling however found an alarming reduction in dozens of water bird species. "The birds have either died or they haven't bred as much as they did in the past, what we expected in the past," Professor Kingsford said. "We separated that group into all of the birds that eat fish, all of the birds that eat invertebrates and vegetation, and what we're seeing is that all of those groups are also declining, which tells you the whole of the ecosystem is in decline."

Source: ABC News, June 5, 2017…