Wetland resilience - Bottle Bend

Bottle Bend in New South Wales has become an "icon site" but is famous for all the wrong reasons. Bottle Bend Lagoon was a bright orange, muddy depression surrounded by ghost white trees with no leaves and pervaded by the smell of rotten egg gas.

Anybody standing nearby would have wondered if they had stepped into a science fiction movie. But the science of this wetland was no fiction. Acid sulfate soils buried beneath the wetland became exposed to the air during the prolonged drought, resulting in acidic water and the death of fish, trees and plants.

Bottle Bend was featured in the national press as a symptom of the prolonged drought and as an example of what the future might hold for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Bottle Bend affected by acid sulfate soils (2007)

Together with The Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre, the NSW Murray Wetlands Working Group (now Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group) were successful in gaining funds from the National Water Commission to better understand the science behind acid sulfate soils in inland floodplain wetlands and what can be done to prevent the problem occurring at other wetlands (see Action Support Tool for managing sulfidic sediments in inland waterways).

Water has now returned to Bottle Bend thanks to high flows in the Murray River-the transformation is remarkable. Aquatic and riparian plants are returning and ducks and pelicans are a common sight. While still on its way to recovery, the Bottle Bend wetland has shown a resilience that provides some hope for other wetlands affected by acid sulfate soils.

Bottle Bend looking healthier (May 2012)

Through funding and a partnership with the Lower Murray Darling Catchment Management Authority, the Working Group is now investigating future options for Bottle Bend.

A management plan that will build on previous and current work within the region and provide a management framework to implement environmental flows into the lagoon is needed. A management plan will also enable active adaptive management and learning to help understand water management in this type of system throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.