Yarrahappinni Wetlands

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Twelve of us enjoyed perfect conditions for our paddle last Sunday in the Yarrahapinni Wetlands which are a part of what is collectively known as the Clybucca Historic Site. In October 2015 a group of eight of us joined over 50 paddlers connected with the Save Our Macleay River organisation on a guided tour by the National Parks & Wildlife of these rehabilitated wetlands. I noticed some real changes on Sunday, particularly with the growth and spread of mangroves and the presence of birdlife.

In an attempt to secure good grazing land, this beautiful, timeless area had was drained in the 1970’s. Instead of good land, acid sulphate soils and ‘black water’ poisoned the land and waters downstream (hence the graveyard of trees). After a long process of negotiation by the Yarrahapini Wetlands Reserve Trust, and later the National Parks & Wildlife Service, tidal re-inundation began in 2008 with the creation of an opening in the levee. The tidal flow of saltwater resulted in an immediate reduction in the acid sulphate soils.

***As many of you are aware, Lake Innes suffered from human intervention also. This lake was originally a separate freshwater system, the largest in NSW. In 1933 a drain was excavated to connect the lake with Cathie Creek. This drain subsequently widened and deepened under flood and tidal flows, causing the lake to convert to an estuarine system. The introduction of saline water and tidal variations resulted in extensive biological changes to the biology of the lake, including loss of most of the fresh water habitat. It is now an established estuarine system (Port Macquarie Hastings Council fact sheet).

The Clybucca Historic Site comprises three separate areas totalling 459 hectares. Adjacent to the wetlands is the Golden Hole, a site of national significance registered on the National Estate. It is also referred to as The Clybucca-Stuarts Point midden complex. (Middens basically consist of domestic refuse such as bone and shells etc). It is the largest estuarine midden in the temperate area of Australia and runs almost continuously for 14 kms. The site was an important meeting and sharing place for the GUMBAYNGGIR and DUNGHUTTI nations, a rich source of food and part of a mythological and spiritual landscape with strong cultural significance to the present day Aboriginal people of the mid north coast (NPWS Plan of Management (Clybucca Historic Site). The natural heritage values of the Clybucca Historic Site include littoral rainforest communities, coastal wetlands and estuarine environments. These are estimated to support 135 species of plants and provide habitat for a diversity of fauna species.
Archaeologists have dated Aboriginal occupation of this site at approx.. 4000 years. Research into sea level changes suggest that at the time the midden was occupied, the entire Macleay floodplain was under water and the sea level was 2m higher. The subsequent fall in sea level created the existing coastline and estuaries.

At least 75% of the midden complex still remains and well over 50%, including most of the largest and best preserved mounds, are within the historic site. These middens were generally not used for limekilns, road base or landfill as were many in Limeburners Creek and the Port Macquarie area. The disturbing of some middens by earthworks, well sinking, road cutting and other damaging actions prompted the NPWS to request an archaeological report which concluded that the site was of archaeological significance; this led to its subsequent reservation. (NPWS Plan of Management).

Stephen led us through the opening in the levee, guarded by a group of pelicans. Care needs to be taken as oyster shell encrusted rocks lie dangerously close to the surface as you go through the levee into the ‘Broad-water’ which is the main area where the regeneration of mangroves and fish habitats is most obvious. The wide bay area is flanked by large trees on the side closest to the Golden Hole and there are lovely views to the distant hills. The most striking features are still the outcrops of dead trees that line the banks and form clusters along the way. It was encouraging to see the growth of the mangroves and I spotted three stag ferns, their green leaves standing out against the dull grey of the dead tree trunks. We saw pelicans, osprey, sea eagles, a brahminy kite, ibis, egrets, white faced heron, ducks and a few species I could not identify. The wetlands were full of life: osprey were ferrying large sticks to refurbish their nest ( see photo with the resident keeping an eye on us), birds were fishing and pelicans were preening. It was so uplifiting to see this beautiful area coming back to life and to share it with club members.

Thanks Greg for leading this trip and Stephen for putting up markers so we did not get lost (which can easily happen in here!!). We meandered around happily for nearly 2 hours being careful to stick together and avoiding dead stumps just below the surface  Bill and Colin enjoyed their longer paddle around Cockle Island and arrived back the same time we did.


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