July 20, Grace

Calperum Station

The sign driving into Calperum Station.

Following a cold first night at Calperum Station, we rose with the sun and ate a quick breakfast of oatmeal and yogurt before starting our journey back through the bush land.  A bumpy 45km bus ride later, we made it to the station’s main headquarters where we met Peter Cale, a senior ecologist at Calperum.  Peter gave the class an overview of Calperum Station’s history and the management practices that are being carried out across the reserve. Many parts of Australia (including Calperum Station) have a problem with feral animals that are not native to the continent such as foxes, cats, goats, and pigs.  The presence of these animals results in the imbalance of the natural ecosystems and can potentially decrease the population of native organisms. Management practices, such as trapping, aid in the prevention of large non-native populations, which is especially important in habitats such as the endangered ecosystems of mallee bush land and Murray wetlands found in Calperum Station and the surrounding area, where endemic species are found.

Peter Cale, the senior ecologist at Calperum Station, toured us around the wetlands.

Our short lecture was followed by a tour of the Murray wet lands. We first visited Lake Merreti, a freshwater lake that is part of the Murray River system.  Standing on the shore of the beautiful lake, the class learned about the endangered birds, including the malleefowl and the black-eared miner, that make their home in this threatened ecosystem.  The second lake we visited was Lake Woolpolool, which until the 1950’s was also a freshwater lake.  However, in recent years, the land has been used for agriculture and the natural ground water that feeds the lake has become extremely saline.  As a result, the salt concentration in Lake Woolpolool has risen so high that the scientists predict it will never return to normal.

A view of Lake Woolpolool, a body of water that was once fresh but is now saline.

Most of the original river land ecosystems have been destroyed by agriculture, and even in the protected area of the Calperum reserve, the bird population is dependent on highly variable factors.  The lake bed did not hold water for ten years and as a result, terrestrial plants took over the area.  When the water finally did fill the lake again, there were no aquatic plants left.  As a result, there was very little for the water birds to eat and the populations continued to decline. The scientists and volunteers at Calperum Station are working hard to create a healthy, sustainable habitat for the lake’s wildlife.  However, after so many years of mistreatment by people trying to get all they can out of the land, this goal is proving hard to achieve.

After the tour of the lakes, our group headed back to the station to grab a lunch of noodles and rice krispie treats. Our next activity for the day was a service project, which consisted of planting native trees along edges of the wet lands. We split up into pairs and after two hours of digging in the mud, we had planted all of the 187 trees Peter had provided us.  Adam and Steve won the award for the day with a total of 48 saplings planted between them.  By planting the native trees, we were helping to restore the bush land, which years before had been cleared of its woods, to its original state.

As Peter stressed throughout his talks with us, it is imperative the river system remains healthy not just for the wildlife that rely on the vegetation for their home, but also for the continuation of economic success in Australia.  Farmers rely on a steady stream of water to irrigate their fields and families rely on the river to provide fresh drinking water.  Although Calperum Station doing a great job to preserve and maintain the endangered ecosystems and their plants and wildlife, in order for the entire river to remain healthy, there must be a system wide overhaul of the current policy.  Maintaining two or three reserves along the river is just not enough to reverse the damage done by agriculture and other industries. Peter opened our minds to all of the issues facing the River Murray and provided us with the opportunity to think about how it could be maintained sustainably.

The emus running in front of the bus on the way back to the cabins.

It was early afternoon when we drove back down the road to our camp.  After changing out of our muddy clothes, we feasted on lasagna and garlic bread for dinner.  A bonfire and star-gazing ensued before everyone headed to bed, readying themselves for another early morning.

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Pre-departure Blog

After our eventful three days in Adelaide, we move onto Calperum Station were we will be staying for two nights.  There are a few options for accommodations at Calperum Station including campsites and dormitory style cabins. I hope everyone packed sweaters since the climate of this area is highly variable.  There is low amounts of precipitation and it is sporadic.  In the winter, the temperatures can range from -2°C to 16°C, or 28°F to 61°F.

 

Calperum Station is part of the Riverland Biosphere Reserve in South Australia.  The closest town is Renmark, and Adelaide is about 250km south-west by road.  The  242,800 hectares contained in Calperum Station is made up mostly mallee bushland and Murray River floodplain.  Taylorville Station, which is located adjacent to Calperum Station, also contains mallee bushland and adds another 92,600 hectares to the Riverland Biosphere Reserve.

During our day at Calperum Station, we will participate in a tour of the wetlands and have the opportunity to learn about the habitat.  After the tour, we will also have the opportunity to talk with an ecologist who works at the reserve.

The mallee bushland is one of Australia’s most endangered ecosystems.  Over the past 150 years, about 80% of the vegetation has been cleared for the purposes of agriculture. The multi-stemmed mallee tree, which is in the genus Eucalyptus, grows throughout the habitat and is the organism from which the habitat name is derived.  The mallee bushland has a surprisingly diverse array of reptiles, birds, and mammals.  There are several endangered bird species whose survival depends heavily on the maintenance of ecosystems in the Calperum Station, including the black-eared Miner and the malleefowl.

The reserve is managed by the Australian Landscape Trust and much of the maintenance and conservation efforts are carried out by volunteers from the community.  The station is divided into paddocks and a group of volunteers is responsible for the care of a particular paddock.  The Australian Landscape Trust also encourages education and research about the unique habitats contained in Calperum Station.  While in Calperum Station, we will be working on a service project to further the conservation of this valuable habitat and its inhabitants.

After our second night at Calperum Station, we will be heading out of South Australia and into the state of Victoria.  Here we will get a chance to visit rural Australia as we tour a variety of farms.

I am excited to see all that Australia has to offer.  The cities, wildlife reserves, and farms we visit will give us the opportunity to see many aspects of the Australian culture and county.

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5 responses to “July 20, Grace

  1. Calperum station was a great opportunity for the students to get outside and experience the true outdoors. We needed a generator for power and had all of the water from a rain reserve tank. We had a great time learning about land preservation and the need for wetlands to maintain floods in Austrailia. We spent quality time by the fire enjoying the stars and quality conversation to get to know each other. Calprum station was a great experience to get away and see the beauty that Austrailia has to offfer.

  2. In addition, Calperum Station was a great opportunity to see the wildlife that the “Bush” of Australia has to offer (it wasn’t quite the outback, but pretty close to it). As we traveled from the main site to our campsite (a 50 kilometer drive), we saw numerous emu, kangaroos, and foxes — a group of emu even ran in front of our bus for a few kilometers right along the road! Although we didn’t stay at a five star resort, as Jim put it, we were really able to experience the ‘real’ Australia and live in a way that was outside of our comfort zone to see how many Australians have lived in the past. Being out, literally in the middle of nowhere, really helped me see how water and energy conservation are necessary to think about in daily life. We only had a generator to power our campsite, so light was a temporary element that we needed to use sparingly and as Steve mentioned above, water came from rainwater tanks, so we didn’t have unlimited access to it. Our two nights at Calperum really showed me and the entire group that living a sustainable life and appreciating what surrounds us is vital in today’s world. It’s been a great experience so far and I can’t wait to see what else the land down under has to offer!

  3. Our group’s time at Calperum Station was a great time for all of the students to experience the outdoors and some of the “true” Australian outback. We stayed at the Oakbore Station which was an hour away from the main station, so it definitely felt as if we were truly out in the middle of nowhere. Besides having some great views of the Milky Way Galaxy and the Southern Cross, we were able to meet the resident ecologist Peter Cale and plant a variety of plants in wetland areas of the total 242,800 hectares contained in Calperum Station. The planting of 150 plants during the day definitely brought the sustainability aspect of the trip full circle by physically participating in an event that is going to benefit the natives in Australia, the wildlife, and also everyone worldwide in our interconnected global system.

  4. Gee, it seems like you’ve been having a busy and educational time! I have a quick question- is any of the cleared Riverlands area used to grow plants native to Australia? I hope so. This whole let’s-make-it-just-like-Europe wasn’t an ecologically sound plan.

    • Hey Rose! We actually did do a service project on the second day at Calperum. We planted 187 native tree saplings on the banks of the Murray River. It used to be a woodsland averaging about 10 trees per every hectare. However, due to many years of agriculture around the riverland, almost all the trees are gone. Now the ecologists at Calperum Station are trying to return the wetlands to their original state. This could potentially help in the restoration of endangered birds such as the mallee fowl that make this threatened habitat their home.

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