Joint Media Release: Coorong funding approved and partnership formed

21 February 2020

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, The Hon. Keith Pitt MP
South Australian Minister for Environment and Water, The Hon. David Speirs MP

The internationally renowned Coorong will get a much-needed boost with key works to soon begin to help improve long-term environmental outcomes.

The Australian and South Australian governments are announcing the next $22.2 million of funding to help get the Coorong back on track for a healthy future. 

The funding will deliver key works including detailed feasibility assessments and scientific investigations which will lead to longer-term management solutions and more effective delivery of water.

South Australia is also announcing the formation of the Coorong Partnership, which will transform the way it works with the community to manage the Coorong.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the commitment shows both governments recognise the importance of the Coorong that makes it internationally significant.

“We’re investing a further $22.2 million over two-and-a-half years to improve the Coorong’s health,” said Minister Pitt.

“This includes unprecedented research funding to address scientific knowledge gaps and to help us better manage the Coorong with the resources that we have.  

“This will deliver practical environmental benefits for this important site.”

The investment of $22.2 million, which includes $20 million from the Australian Government, is part of the Commonwealth’s contribution of up to $70 million towards the next stage of South Australia’s Project Coorong which supports the long-term health of the Coorong. This is in addition to approximately $160 million which the Commonwealth has already provided to South Australia to support the health of the Coorong and lower lakes under the Basin Plan. 

South Australian Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs said Project Coorong will contribute to managing the Coorong for ecological health, and support the Coorong, Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetland Ramsar site to be a healthy, productive and resilient wetland system.

“The key ecological features of the Coorong that made it a unique and valuable place were still present after the impacts of the Millennium Drought but the system is in a vulnerable state and has little capacity to absorb continued and cumulative environmental stress,” said Minister Speirs.

“This new phase of funding will allow us to conduct the scientific trials and detailed feasibility assessments needed to improve the long-term environmental outcomes for the internationally-recognised Coorong region. We have hit the ground running in 2020; already our research partners are on-ground undertaking scientific research as part of this initiative.

“Today I am also announcing the appointment and establishment of the Coorong Partnership, a community governance model to provide local communities and groups with an unprecedented opportunity to help shape the work to be undertaken.

“Chaired by the Hon Dean Brown AO, the Coorong Partnership includes community membership with expertise in conservation, recreation, science, tourism, fishing, agriculture and heritage, as well as First Nations and local government representation.” 

The new Coorong Partnership will provide South Australians with a chance to closely inform government decision making to successfully restore the health of the Coorong. It will ensure that management actions incorporate local knowledge and contribute to achieving community needs.

The $22.2 million of funding will deliver:

  • The largest individual investment ever for scientific trials and investigations for the Coorong region, in excess of $10 million, to be delivered through an unprecedented partnership with the Goyder Institute for Water Research, to address scientific knowledge gaps and provide the scientific evidence-base to inform what management actions might be required to: 
    • reduce nutrient loads and algae abundance in the Coorong;
    • switch the South Lagoon back to an aquatic plant dominated system rather than an algal dominated system;
    • provide the food resources that are required to support waterbirds and fish populations;
    • increase the abundance and distribution of waterbird populations at local and regional scales within the Coorong;
    • identify the adaptation pathways that are required to ensure that the ecological values of the Coorong are maintained into the future under a changing climate; and
    • incorporate cultural knowledge and values of the First Nations into decision-making.
  • Feasibility assessments and fast-tracked implementation of on-ground works to improve the availability and quality of habitat for vulnerable species while the longer-term rehabilitation options are progressed. 
    • Localised wetland improvement projects will be prioritised, in partnership with the community, to enhance their role as regional refuges for waterbirds. 
    • Aquatic plant restoration and algae management options will be investigated to help restore the balance of the Coorong. 
  • Extensive community consultations and technical feasibility investigations to assess the environmental, social, cultural and economic benefits and impacts of long-term management solutions to improve the health of the Coorong. Implementation of the long-term management options deemed feasible will be delivered in the next phase of funding through to 2024. 
  • A significant expansion to the existing Coorong water quality monitoring network, coupled with an extensive water quality monitoring program and the development of a Coorong automated forecasting system and online data interface, to improve the provision of monitoring information, and the effectiveness, timeliness and efficiency of water operations and environmental water decisions.
  • Extensive community and First Nations partnerships and consultations, including the establishment of a new citizen science program.