For my Australian daughter, on her birthday, with love
Saltmarsh is not an ecosystem I’m familiar with, so I welcome the chance for a saltmarsh walk with a group in Bermagui, accompanied by a botanist (Jackie Miles) and the organiser, Bega Valley Council’s natural assets officer (Andrew Morrison).
Quite a large group, as it turns out, and a bit hard to get a handle on new plants, their characteristics and their names, as traffic whooshes past, members of the group chat, and I’m bombarded with new knowledge. I note down the names of books, and determine to fill in gaps with the help of Mr Google.
We explore an area bordered by the golf course and a road. It’s comforting to know that the head greenkeeper is ready to listen to knowledgeable volunteers and support the regeneration of this patch. We’re astonished to learn that it only took a year for saltbush communities to return to an area that had been a dumping ground for truckloads of prunings and other rubbish.
Saltmarsh is visually sparse and quite unexpectedly colourful. It’s bounded by casuarinas and two kinds of mangrove, and the low ground cover is a vivid pink, red and orange, against grey spears of tussocky sea rush (Juncus kraussii). I don’t manage to catch all the names: I have no hooks to hang them on and I often miss half the commentary because I’m busy looking or photographing.
We leave the group, me and my friend Kate, and go for coffee and catch-up by the marina, Gulaga looming as she always does in this neck of the woods; and then for a picnic by the river and more talk. Pelicans glide by, and we finally move on when chainsaws start up, aborting a plan to head further along the northern river bank.
Instead, we walk along a track that skirts an old airfield, the river and more saltmarsh. Here there are information panels for bird and plant life that name names and provide images, filling in the morning’s nomenclature gaps.
All NSW saltmarsh is listed as an endangered ecological community. This matters, because saltmarshes provide a nursery for young mullet, bream and flathead; food and a high-tide refuge for crabs and fish; and, at low tide, a habitat for bats, wallabies, kangaroos and shorebirds (including summer visitors from Alaska and eastern Russia and the Eastern Curlew which is on the critically endangered list),
The South River site has been under repair since 2014, when wetland specialists assessed the damage from vehicles and the waves created by speeding boats. In 2016 erosion control matting was laid down, and since then natural regeneration has taken place on old vehicle tracks.
We walk along the sandy edge of the river, past a flurry of crabs crawling over each other to escape these invaders of their quiet place of grey beauty. Mangroves send up their pneumatophores, and show both their surprising fruits and flowers.
The plants provide a chance to revise names, with the help of the information panel. Here they are again: Austral seablite (Suaeda australis) …
… beaded glasswort or samphire (Sarcocornia quinqueflora)
… a vulnerable species, Narrow leafed Wilsonia (Wilsonia backhousei )
… and native sea lavender (Limonium australe)
If you’d like to enjoy the walk with video commentary and more detail check out the Atlas of life feature