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Destroyed by Fire, Drought, and Dust Storms, These Australian Marshes Needed Only Two Years to Completely Recover

In 2019, drought choked off the Macquarie River in Australia, and fires swept through the marshes which it fed and left firefighters helpless to intervene.

Unbelievably though, just two years later and the land looks as if nothing happened. Plentiful rains mean the river is back to lazily meandering through the internationally protected Macquarie Marshes, and the reservoir behind the dam is more than 100% full.

A reminder to us all of nature’s resilience, and welcome news for those in the U.S. who hear of the devastating fire seasons in Australia, the recovery of the Macquarie Marshes is important not only for the country, but to the world, as they are listed under the RAMSAR Convention for wetlands of international importance.

An aerial survey following the drought, the fires, and then the dust storms, found two black geese across the nearly 60,000 acre reserve, a mere 12% of the total acreage of the marshes, tens of thousands of which had been completely scorched.

It was the first time the Burrendong Dam reservoir had ever run dry since the dam was built on the Macquarie river in the 1960s. Now officials say they have made major infrastructure improvements to ensure this kind of double-whammy can’t paralyze fire response ever again.

The 2021 waterbird survey by the University of New South Wales in Sydney found that most of the bird life was returning, including magpie geese, green teal, straw-necked ibis, intermediate egret, rufous night heron, royal spoonbill, and other ducks and waterfowl.

“It’s just so great to be able to fly over the marshes because you see this water everywhere and biodiversity and lots of water birds,” Professor Richard Kingsford said.

Kingsford, who had been doing the survey for 30 years, said 2019 was the single worst year he can remember.

Another part of the Macquarie Marshes’ rise from the ashes is the completion of a multi-million dollar boardwalk project that allows visitors to access far more of the wetlands, much of which is set on privately-owned land, which Milton Quigley, the mayor of the nearby town of Warren, says will be a big boost to those coming out of COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It’s so much more accessible to everyone in our community and outside,” he said. “There’s people wanting to come and look from a long way away.”