June 2

Hello family, friends, and Spartan fans! Today we departed from the Blue Galah hostel bright and early heading south towards the Murray River for a day of service at the Paiwalla wetlands. After a scenic drive through the outskirts of Adelaide, we arrived at the town of Murray Bridge and picked up our leader for the day, Kathryn Rothe. Kathryn is project manager of the Mannum to Wellington Local Action Planning Association, a group working to restore the Paiwalla wetlands into a healthy, sustainable environment. It was clear that Kathryn loves her role restoring the beautiful environment, as she was full of energy and fervor to share her knowledge about the wetlands and environmental sustainability to our group.

A scenic view of the beautiful Paiwalla wetlands, including several of the man-made islands.

The Paiwalla wetlands is a man-made wetland area feeding from the Murray River in South Australia. The area was originally used as a dairy farm for over 30 years until 1960, when a levy bank was constructed and the fields were developed for irrigation. The area was first flooded in 2003 and has been flooded annually since. Now, the area thrives as a wetland habitat for hundreds of native species. Thanks to government funding, grassy islands have been manually created in the wetland, providing a variation of water depth as well as a range of habitats for birds and  other species.

The wetlands  are home to over 170 bird species, 10 frog species, 6 bat species, 6 species of native fish, and 3 turtle species, including the endangered Broad-shelled Snake-necked Turtle. Thousands of red gum trees have been planted, and weed and feral animal control have been successfully achieved.

One of the restoration team’s emphasis points is monitoring the bats that reside in the wetland area. In order to gain funding to continue the restoration process, the restoration team must demonstrate achievement. One of the ways to do so is by proving that the wetlands is home to such a large variety of bat species. Several bat-monitoring boxes have been placed throughout the facilities and wetlands to record bat calls at night, giving definite proof that all 6 species do exist at Paiwalla. The impressive variety of bat species at Paiwalla is important to the overall sustainability of the wetland’s ecosystem. They are a key component of ecological health by helping to control insect levels within the wetlands.

After a brief introduction of Paiwalla, Kathryn informed us that we would be working on a variety of projects throughout the day to contribute to the wetland restoration. Each of the projects were of high importance to the Mannum to Wellington LAP team to reach their goals for the wetland’s progress. Garden gloves in hand, we broke into three teams for each of the assignments. One team was assigned to plant, another team to hang bird houses, and the last team to create a rock wall in the water. Everyone was extremely excited to spend a day in the sun giving back to the fragile  Australian environment.

The first group assisted in the hanging of wooden bird houses on the high branches of red gum trees. The bird houses are needed to provide an alternative habitat for certain bird species at Paiwalla. The group added a bit of Spartan love to their project, writing “Michigan State” on the wooden houses before leaving them for the birds.

Katie and Anna show off their stylish waders before getting into the water to build the fish habitat.

The second group was responsible for creating a small rock wall in the water near the bank of the wetland. Half of the group loaded the rocks from a higher, hilly area of Paiwalla, and the other half unloaded them into the water. The rock wall is needed to provide shelter for  certain fish species if the water levels reach low levels. This habitat is especially important for a small native fish that was thought to be extinct, but has recently been discovered in Paiwalla.

The boys working hard to load the boulders that were used as fish habitat in the wetlands

The last group set off to the bank of the Murray River, where water is pumped into the wetlands. John, a volunteer and friend of Kathryn, showed us how to plant King William perennial reeds and lignums in the moist soil on the bank of the river. The purpose of these plants is to stablize the banks from erosion and provide ample habitat for bird and fox species along the river. We used sharp tools to insert the small plants in the clay soil within 6 feet of the river, where they will soon grow into large bushes.

Brendan diligently plants his King William reed along the bank of the wetland.

John also informed the group about the current issue with willow trees in the wetlands. Willow trees are not native to Australia and cause more harm than good to the environment in Paiwalla. The willows drink three times as much water as the gum trees, causing the native tree species to often times be deprived. Also, the basking willow loses its leaves much quicker than other tree species, taking oxygen from the water and causing numerous fish in the wetlands to die. John told us that the wetland management commitee is confronting this issue by periodically removing the willows and replacing them with native gum trees. The two methods of removal are drill-and-fill poisoning and simply chopping them down. While it is crucial to remove a number of willows to maintain a sustainable wetland environment, it is important that the volunteers remove them at a controlled pace because of the animals that call the willows home. John expressed that having a certain level of control over the wetland environment is important, but it is even more important to refrain from causing more harm than good to the existing species and environment.

One group was lucky enough to come within inches of an echidna during a walk through the wetlands!

By spending the day with Kathryn in the Paiwalla Wetlands, we were able to participate firsthand in improving Australia’s fragile environment. Providing a home for birds, building a refuge for endangered fish, and planting native plants along the river bank taught us that creating a more sustainable environment is something that can be done on an individual level. Visiting the wetlands gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how average Australians are working to restore their land for future generations. As we ended our day, Kathryn sent us off with an inspirational quote, effectively summing the entire purpose of our service: “The environment needs our help not tomorrow or the next day, but today.”

We returned to the Blue Galah at 5 pm, just in time for a casual pizza dinner at the hostel. After a long day of hard work, we were ready to rest up and prepare to tour some of South Australia’s finest wineries the following day.




  1. Jenna,
    Enjoy your day at the vineyards, maybe you can pick me up a bottle of Australian wine!!

  2. I have done a lot of conservation and community service work throughout high school and college. I have to say that this was perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had. At the end of the day, Kathryn and her fellow conservationists said we were the best volunteer group they ever had and that was “No bull sh*t!” It truly showed how hard we had all worked together to give back to the environment that we have learned so much about. It was hard to believe that this beautiful wetland was restored so vibrantly in the last ten years after being a dairy farm since the 1970s. It shows that even a small group of people can make a really big difference!

  3. You all should be proud of Kathryn’s high praise of your hard and diligent service work! Good job. Alexa, I especially like your storyboard approach to detailing the day’s events. Nice work. Love, Dad.

  4. I surely enjoyed reading your blog, Alexa. It was informative and yet so interesting. It sounds like you guys proved yourselves by working hard and long. We are proud of each of you!
    Keep up the interesting reports!
    Katie Wick

  5. Exceptionally well written, Alexa! Your family and your school are proud of you for your outstanding work in improving the wetlands environment! You and your fellow MSU students have contributed to the long term health & sustainability of this area. You have made a difference! Love, Papa & Nana

  6. The Paiwalla wetland web site for any one that may be interested.
    I would also like to thank you all far the tremendous work you did at Paiwalla.
    I am sure the Purple Headed Gudgeons appreciate their new rock groin /playground.
    Paiwalla Wetland

    • Thanks Steve!

      It was a our pleasure to help out and we definitely had a great time. It’s the little steps that we can take to keep our earth running properly. We all really appreciate efforts such as yours. We hope our rock throwing and plant growing will help to restore the wetland. It was a beautiful environment that we hope can continue to prosper.

  7. The Paiwalla wetland web site for any one that may be interested.www.airspeed.com.au/paiwalla
    I would also like to thank you all far the tremendous work you did at Paiwalla.
    I am sure the Purple Headed Gudgeons appreciate their new rock groin /playground.
    Paiwalla Wetland

  8. That is so sweet that you guys got to do a service project down there! I don’t know how much you are following the gulf oil spill while you guys are over there but unfortunately coastal wetland restoration is going to be a huge project in Louisiana and other gulf states in the coming years.

    I was recently reading an article in National Geographic issue “water” on some of the water distribution issues in California. A lot of the water issues in Southern California are very similar to those in the Murray Darling Basin. This specific story talked about the San Joaquin Delta which is a huge source for the Bay Area. Recently a species of smelt was found to be near extinction. Based on Endangered Species Act regulations it was ordered that less water was to be pumped out of the delta. This left farmers high and dry and unemployment rose 10% and outrage that precedent was being given to what they claimed a worthless fish. What do you guys think the correct approach is to this situation? How does it compare to what you saw in the Murray Darling?

  9. Hey Alexa– sounds like a really fun day!!!This is Anna’s family! While you were there, we were actually here in Michigan planting 168 vines to start our own vineyard!!! WOW. Maybe all of you could help us– or none the least “salute with us” someday!!

  10. I was really impressed with everybody’s work ethic during our service project. For the second half of the day I worked with about 6 of the girls loading big rocks into the water to create a habitat for the fish. Several of the volunteers commented on how hard they were all working and were shocked to see the girls getting wet and dirty in order to build a realistic habitat for the fish. I can definitly say the day we spent at the Paiwalla wetland will have a real impact on the ecosystem there. Good work everybody!

  11. I was really glad that there was a scheduling miscommunication and we ended up doing the service project the whole day. We all did a great job, and I’m glad that the Spartans delivered a job well done. It was good to know that the little things that we did for them that day, like throwing rocks in the water was making a big difference for the ecosystem. The little Purple Headed Gudgeons thrive in a habitat containing many rocks, so thats what we did. By just adding the large boulders and rocks to the waters edge, we were ensuring that the fish population would be more sustainable and healthier.

    • Is this where you had your accident?

  12. There were also a few of us that had to pull tree guards off of 2 year old trees. The tree guards had been protecting the trees from large animals, weeds, and harmful weather, giving them a chance to grow. These trees are native to the area, helping with soil and erosion issues. It was hard work but we got it all done! We were also lucky enough to see a blue-tounge lizard!

  13. We all had a great time at the wetlands. I was surprised at how much fun doing a service project could be and how much you could learn by helping out in your community. We also helped to cut back lignums, which another group worked at planting along with the reeds. When we were chopping away at the plant we were surprised when they told us they were taking our choppings to be planted. Apparently lignums work kind of like bamboo and it can grow from the nodes on the branches if your plant them. I thought it was cool that nothing really went to waste. what was taken out of one part of the habitat was taken and put back into another part of the habitat.

  14. we all had a great time doing the service project. I was surprised how much fun it ended up being and it was nice kniowing we were helping the community. I was also surprised at how much we learned. There was also another group where we atually were cutting back the lignums in areas where it was growing into the paths. We werer surprised and confused when they told us they were taking out clippings to be planted. Apparently lignums are kind of like bamboo and can growout of the nodes on the braches if you plant them. It was cool knowing nothing was going to waste. Something that was being taken our of one part of the habitat was being replanted to another part. It was cool how that worked.

  15. I think getting to do a service project while studying abroad in Australia was a really rewarding experience. It was obvious how much the workers really appreciated our help. It was also cool to learn that birds were already reinhabiting the Paiwalla wetlands as a result of the restoration efforts. My favorite part of the day was getting to put up the bird houses and writing MSU all over them.

  16. Like Andrew, I have participated in many community service projects through high school and college. Working to better the Paiwalla wetlands, however, was by far one of the most worthwhile projects I have done. Doing a variety of projects made me feel like I was doing something to benefit all areas of the wetland. From planting lignum reeds, to removing tree-supports, to planting two new eucalyptus trees on the Murray River, working with Kathryn and her team was rewarding and educational. When I return to Michigan, I will definitely look for environmental groups or service projects in order to continue what we started.

  17. Just to add my thanks to Steves for your fantastic work at the wetland and to let you all know that we worked out from the number of frontend loader buckets and the weight capacity of the loader that you placed into the wetland – wait for it – 12.5 tonnes of rock!!! The returned from the brink of extinction purple spotted gudgeons send their love and thanks!! We seldom get such hard working, willing and committed workers. Well done and be proud of your achievement! Oh – another number, what you achieved in one day would have taken me a month by myself so thanks again!

    Martin, Director, Wetland Habitats Trust.

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