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Published September 10th 2016
Keep your feet dry in a swamp environment
In the midst of exploring South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula, located on the back doorstep of Adelaide, you never know what is literally around the next corner to discover, as I found out recently on a jaunt around the Mount Compass area, some 59 kms south of Adelaide.
Just off the main Victor Harbor Road, on the corner of Arthur Road and Victor Harbor Road, is an area known as the Mount Compass School Swamp, looked after by the Department of Education. It provides a great environment for school children of the area in particular to learn about our eco-systems and the associated importance of swamps.
The parcel of land encompassing the swamp covers a total area of 24 hectares, and the swamp itself allows students and members of the public to wander through on a relatively new boardwalk opened in 2014.
The boardwalk itself is around 730 metres long, allowing you to gain enough of an experience of the wetlands and the habitats of both flora and fauna, all part of the overall Fleurieu swamp system, scattered not only around the Mount Compass area, but also further down the peninsula towards Deep Creek Conservation Park.
Sadly, a lot of the swamp areas have been destroyed or decimated through land clearing, pollution, and draining, leaving only around less than 4% of swamps remaining. The good news is that the Fleurieu Peninsula Swamps have been declared a critically endangered eco-system by the Australian Government and are therefore now protected by legislation.
Who would have thought, but swamps play a vital role in our eco-system, in that they provide vital habitats for many of our unique native plants and animals such as the rare Southern Emu Wren, the Great Egret, ibises and herons. These wetlands are a great source of food, water and shelter for both fauna and flora, and are also breeding grounds for many varieties of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
With water quality always being a high priority particularly in the driest state in the driest continent on earth, wetlands function well as water filters, removing pollutants from stormwater, allowing the water flowing out of the swamps to be much purer than the water originally flowing in.
Flooding is also minimised as wetlands act like natural sponges, absorbing large volumes of water during heavy rains and later releasing it during drier periods.
Meandering along the boardwalk allows you to really appreciate not only the extent of the swamp, but also the great work that is being done to help preserve these precious parts of our eco-system. The boardwalk snakes through dense shrub vegetation and ends at the school's water monitoring pond, where students from the local area school regularly test the water for quality including ph levels, salinity, turbidity (or how murky the water is), and nutrients, as well as for macroinvertebrates such as various types of bugs and insects.
These tests all determine the health of the water and how sustainable life is threatened with adverse changes that have taken place. Most of the regular student testing can reveal what human impact, if any, is occurring and reports are then produced which are used to address these issues and help prevent further damage.
At certain points along the route of the boardwalk there are some interesting interpretations of the site, highlighting some of the diverse birdlife and plant life, as well as the importance of the swamp and wetlands in general. I was staggered to read that of the approximate 170 native plant species growing in the Fleurieu swamps, almost half are classified under threat. That is another reason why is it so vital to preserve these precious environments to ensure these rare species do not die out completely.
Several other threatened species include the Yellow-Footed Antechinus (a small mouse-like marsupial), the Yellow-Bellied Water Skink and the endangered Mount Lofty Ranges Southern Emu-Wren. The wren in particular relies on the swamp vegetation for foraging and nesting.
Southern Emu Wren - courtesy Wikimedia Commons
A combined effort by the school, conservation groups and land managers has been necessary to help control weeds and pest animals such as foxes. These groups also help build fences to help keep out sheep and cattle as well as revegetating with native plants.
Although the walk through the swamp area is fairly close to the main Victor Harbor Road, you are far enough away to appreciate the quietness, which allows you to immerse yourself in such a fragile environment.