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SSC Newspaper : February 2014
14 Strathfield Scene FEBRUARY 2014 LIFE Inside our own Amazonian jungle By Bernadette Chua I t’s only a hop, skip and jump from the doorsteps of Strathfield and Homebush residents – an oasis of flora, fauna, birds and reptiles. It is an undiscovered part of the Strathfield area. The wetlands at Mason Park and Bicentennial Park are pockets of natural habitats, left untouched in a growing and expanding urban area. But what people don’t realise is that the wetlands and mangroves play a vital role to all the waterways in Sydney. From Parramatta River to Sydney Harbour, they are an undervalued and almost uncharted natural resource. All of this – just a few kilometres away from the bustling hub of the Homebush Business District, the DFO Shopping Centre, Sydney Olympic Park, the M4 freeway and housing estates like Liberty Grove and Newington – is a deep jungle that resembles an Amazonian adventure. There are hectares of swamplands for park goers to explore and discover. Sydney Olympic Park wetlands manager Dr Swapan Paul is the gatekeeper, the protector and watcher over the wetlands – and has held this important position for the past 17 years. A normal, albeit busy day for Dr Paul includes testing the water in the swamps to make sure nothing is out of balance, monitoring the birds, insects, reptiles and animals, and creating plans to make the park a better place. Equipped in his ranger van with binoculars, water-testing equipment, maps and sample kit, every day has new discoveries for Dr Paul. “The park is like my second wife,” he says. “It is my second home and it has been my project and I have watched it change so much in my time that I have been here. “There were two major stages to the park. The first was the rejuvenation of the area right before the Sydney Olympic Games, and the transformation of the site, and after, was improving and rehabilitating the wetlands.” After years of management programs to clean up the park, now thousands of picnic goers, cyclists, runners and school groups visit the site. Dr Paul says it has taken years to get the wetlands to its prime condition. And now, he says, it has become a flourishing and blooming ecosystem, a place the residents and local community can be proud of. The wetlands now have their own state-of-the- art laboratory, education centres for school children and ecologists, and rangers who monitor the wetlands and mangroves. “In such urban areas like Strathfield, Rhodes, Newington and Homebush, this is a natural resource which has been untouched,” says Dr Paul. “And we have spent close to two decades rehabilitating the area to make it what it is today. “ We use it as a place to educate people about the importance of preserving wetlands. And just how much they are a vital resource to Sydney. “Every year, we have around 25,000 schoolchildren who come to visit the wetlands to learn about how the mangroves clean Sydney’s waterways and to discover the different species that inhabit the park.” Dr Paul says many local people still don’t know that these wonderful wetlands are so close. “Though we have lots of people who do use the wetlands, still many residents have no idea this area exists,” he says. “I have overheard people, who come here for the first time and explore, be amazed by how diverse and beautiful the park is.” Sydney Olympic Park has around 32 hectares of wetlands and Mason Park has around seven hectares and is the home to a plethora of reptiles, insects, birds and animals – this also includes the endangered green and golden bell frog. “ We’ve encouraged many species of animals to return to this area,” says Dr Paul. “Prior to the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, the site used to be contaminated land and was a dumping ground for different waste materials. “For example, the team and I came up with a management plan that would clean up one of the lakes which was infested with algae. It was not just unpleasant for us, but also for the birds which use to roost and nest in this area. “Just by building drainage and creating floating artificial platforms for the birds, it has attracted back some of the local species like the bar-tailed godwit and even migratory birds that have travelled more than 9000 kilometres in search for warmer weather conditions. They come from as far away as Alaska.” Dr Paul says there are many events and spaces for environmentalists, greenies and twitchers. “It is a truly hidden gem in the middle of Sydney. And hopefully, by educating more people on the importance of the wetlands or just to encourage people to come here, the greater public will realise what an asset this area is.” It has attracted back even migratory birds that have travelled more than 9000 kilometres, from as far away as Alaska. Dr Swapan Paul is protecting one of the last major area’s of untouched Sydney, which supports an ecosystem throughout the Inner West. Dr Swapan Paul goes on patrol deep into the wetlands of Sydney Olympic Park