Forty-thousand plants and counting… That is how many native weeds it is taking to finish the lake restoration project.
Since planting started two years ago, the environmental gurus tasked with the project have had a rough time keeping up with the local birds, which are proving a bit too smart for their own good.
“They are very smart, just coming behind us and eating the roots, which are the tender, tasty bits, and then they discard the rest of the plant,” Toolijooa Environmental Restoration scientist Tom Rayner said.
As for the biggest culprit in all this, he said no other bird comes close to beating the stubbornness and resolve of the swamphens.
“They’re the big noisy ones, and the big issue is that people feed them as well, so they associate us – as humans – with food,” he said. “So as we’re planting, they are following behind us looking for the food we are dropping.”
Netting draped over the latest crop of plants is the last line of defence for the crew in charge of restoring the lake to its healthy best.
“I think it would take at least six months for the plants to get properly established so the birds can’t pull them out,” Mr Rayner said.
All that depends on the soil type. A base layer consumed by clay could mean the plants take longer to grow.
Long term, the benefits will make it worthwhile.
“We’re trying to get it to a stage where these plants can outcompete the floating ones, which are causing the problems,” he said. “Not only are they unsightly, they aren’t native either, and as the new plants grow they will improve the water quality, soak up the nutrients that create the blue green algae, and help with getting more oxygen in the water.”
The planting done prior to February and March was washed away by the heavy rain.
Forest Lake ward Cr Charles Strunk said the lake’s water level is down to accommodate the planting.
“If nature cooperates and we get some water around Spring and Summer, the level will come back up and the plants will take hold,” he said.
“Hopefully then the nutrient load of the lake will be absorbed by those new plantings and we’ll not see that blue green algae resurrect itself in the lake.
“The water quality level is quite good – we’ll never say swim in it, but if someone falls in they’re not going to get sick.”