Once a sugar cane farm and sand quarry, Cattana Wetlands is a shining example of what can be done to improve ecosystems, even in urban landscapes. And the good news is, it’s expanding…
Councils 'Green Space Our Place' volunteer program creates 80 hectare nature park
Geoff McClure is pulling up weeds in the forest that surrounds one of Cattana Wetland’s lakes. Over the past 10 years it has become his second home, an oasis just off the bitumen between Yorkey’s Knob and Smithfield in Cairns’s northern suburbs.
This area was once covered in swamps and forests but for more than a century it was cleared, modified and drained to make way for urban and agriculture development. Thirty years ago, the former Mulgrave Shire Council bought the land from Franco Cattana, protecting a patch of feather palm forest. When the sand mining finished in 2009, the land became an 80-hectare nature conservation park.
The sand-mining quarry was the basis for several man-made freshwater and saltwater lakes and Cairns Regional Council, with a band of volunteers and Queensland Government support, has planted more than 100,000 trees, shrubs and grasses over the years, and built boardwalks and pathways.
“It keeps me fit and off the streets.” Geoff McClure says. He’s one of the Jabirus, a group of volunteers who meet at the wetlands each Tuesday for weed control and revegetation work.
Members also keep a catalogue of wildlife spotted in the area, and they’ve created a self-guided tour for walkers.
While the trees tower over the wetlands now, the work hasn’t stopped.
“Weeds are a big thing and we’re still planting – mostly understorey species to encourage biodiversity and increase the number of species in the park,’’ he says.
“As well as all the birdlife, we are seeing sugar gliders and striped possums. So we’re putting nesting boxes out too.”
There’s now plenty of evidence that the park is fostering biodiversity – it’s a hotspot for bird watching with over 230 bird species recorded and the mangroves and wetlands around Cattana are expanding, a good indicator that functionality is improving.
One of the next steps is improving the area’s fish habitat. A recent project by Terrain NRM identified hundreds of barriers in the Lower Barron catchment for fish that need to move between saltwater and freshwater to complete their life cycles. Project Coordinator Lana Hepburn said thirty priority spots have been earmarked for work and three of them are at the Cattana Wetlands.
“This sub-catchment is a good spot for restoration because of the relatively short distance between the coast and ranges, as well as the high biodiversity values,” she says.
Cattana Wetlands includes 30 hectares of feather palm swamp. These swamps used to be a feature of the coastal lowlands around Cairns and south to Tully. They are now classified as endangered.