Eco Tourism in the Maroochy Mangroves
As we left the civilised world behind among the pleasant, pastel holiday homes on the riverfront at Maroochydore, a quiet Queensland coastal town, we thought a Cruise Maroochy Eco-Tour sounded like a lovely, lazy way to spend a day - cruising the river, letting the greenery slide by, perhaps spotting a bird or two, but soon found ourselves on an eye-opening odyssey up the river.
The comfortable catamaran hull glided along the river rather like a fat water fowl. The Maroochy river is named after a bird, the black swan, which, unfortunately, we won't see around here any more, as they were driven out by population pressure many years ago. But the creature lives on in name and legend.
As we chugged along the river we were surrounded by thick mangrove, shiny leaves glinting in the sun. Squadrons of pelicans sunned themselves on a muddy bank, a flock of white spoonbills seem to be gathering for a conference.
We had morning tea whilst enjoying the company of the birds and insects which were in such abundance.
This area was once opened up by timber-getters, which meant people busy on the river in increasing numbers. Only 30 years ago, there were still as many as 60 jetties in the 30km of the river up to Yandina.
On board the boat are a series of scrapbooks, carefully compiled and constantly updated, full of photographs from the past history of the river, a full compendium of plants you'll see here with careful drawings, plus bird books and other references, to make sure you don't go home wondering if you've seen a pied oystercatcher or not.
The tour makes a good school trip or special interest groups outing and can be tailored to the needs of participants.
A highlight of the Eco-Tour is a stop for lunch at the Wetlands Sanctuary where a boardwalk winds through thick vegetation, five different types of mangrove and a patch of thick rainforest. Our guide explained the extraordinary methods employed by various mangrove types to survive in salty estuarine water. She managed to lure crabs from their muddy lairs by simply tossing a handful of golden leaves on a chocolate-coloured patch of ground. Within seconds they appeared, bright red and purple and blue creatures, dancing across the mud, deftly grasping the leaves and making a meal of them. Their digging activities, we were told, keep the thick mud aerated, and they feed on the leaves dropped by the plants so there is no build-up of rotting vegetation.
The beautiful mistletoe bird lands near our heads and we heard about its less-than-attractive habit of eating seeds, then wiping its bottom on branches, thereby planting the seeds and creating new plants; another of Mother Nature's amazing mechanisms happening before our very eyes.
We were impressed by our guide's passion for the planet as she explained that this environment and its delicate balance of suvival mechanisms is vital not only to our ecosystem, but to our economy, as 75% of the seafood we eat breeds in the mangrove (fish, prawns and crabs). The water is stained a dark coffee colour by tannin from the mangrove roots and this makes it harder for predators to spot young fish and crustaceans.
But they don't entirely escape being eaten. The young creatures are often deceived by an ingenious natural adaptation whereby the periodic vibration of the mangrove roots, caused by tidal movement, is imitated by the heron shaking his long legs as he stands in the shallows, and he is able to make a quick lunch of baby seafood.
Back on the boat after our lunch, we spotted a crew of kangaroos having a kip in a grove of trees on the far bank, and then further on we saw a darter, which the Aborigines called a snake bird because of its very long neck, ideal for diving deep into the river and catching fish. A real treat was seeing a kingfisher, of which there are actually three different species on this river, darting through the mangrove branches, and countless egrets and herons, stalking majestically in the shallows or perching in the mangrove and flashing white in the sun.
The mangroves themselves were just coming into flower and we saw red and white blossoms among the thick dark green leaves.
Far from having lazed away a day, we returned to civilisation that afternoon, refreshed and reawakened to the extraordinary rhythm of life we encountered in just a few hours on the Maroochy River.
By Suzy Young
For more information
Cruise Maroochy Eco Tours
Tel +61 7 5476 5745