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Restoring Emigrant Creek to Create a Haven for Native Fish and Wildlife

With 4500 new native trees planted, the installation of 25 reef balls, along with the creation of a connected floodplain wetland, Emigrant Creek in northern NSW has undergone a habitat transformation.

OzFish Unlimited, in partnership with local landholders and North Coast Local Land Services, has achieved success in restoring a 2.65km stretch of Emigrant Creek, creating a thriving habitat for native fish and other wildlife.

The two-year project funded by the Australian Government’s Fisheries Habitat Restoration program also saw an innovative pilot of concrete reef balls placed onto the riverbed.

The area lacked in-stream habitat complexity so the placement of 25 reef balls into the creek will be of critical importance to the creek corridor where freshwater mixes with salt.

It’s the first time OzFish has used a concrete reef ball structure in a freshwater environment and fishers will monitor fish use and algae growth and other organisms on the reef balls.

These actions effectively reconnected a critically important fish habitat corridor, a spawning zone for Aussie bass and linking the creek to an open freshwater wetland, which serves as a native fish nursery when the water is high.

The project also addressed the significant infestation of woody weeds, particularly camphor laurel, in a 4km stretch north of Tintenbar along the western side of Emigrant Creek.

This builds on the community’s concerted effort to restore Emigrant Creek which started five years ago and has resulted in an area that serves as a haven for many native fish, platypus and turtles.

The comprehensive restoration work has seen more than 7km of riparian zone planted and restored has been possible through a series of initiatives funded by Ballina Shire Council’s Healthy Waterways Program and Local Land Services, highlights the dedication of OzFish and its partners in transforming Emigrant Creek.

Cassie Price, OzFish Director of Habitat Programs, commended the consistent efforts, emphasising the positive impact they have had on local fish habitats.

“To have five years’ worth of in-stream and riparian habitat created along one local creek really serves to highlight the difference OzFishers and the local community can make if they look at the whole system,” - Cassie Price

“By working together and aligning our efforts, this stretch of Emigrant Creek was transformed entirely in a few short years – that’s an awesome thing to witness.

“This project really highlights the diversity of restoration needed in our creeks to restore the complexities of habitat required for local fish and wildlife.

“Here we’ve reconnected wetlands to the creek, brought native plants back to the riverbank, added in-stream woody and rocky structures to a bare river bottom, removed invasive weeds and we’re tackling pest species too. All necessary for thriving native fish populations.”

The return of platypus sightings in the area demonstrates the positive impact of the restoration efforts. However, there is a concern about the presence of carp. OzFish encourages the community to report carp sightings in Emigrant Creek, enabling targeted eradication efforts and fostering the recovery of native fish populations.

Work first started in July 2018 when OzFish and DPI Fisheries undertook a significant re-snagging project in the lower part of Emigrant Creek. Five large tree root balls were strategically placed, providing essential habitat and shelter for fish populations, especially estuary perch.

A few months later, OzFish partnered with Ballina Shire Council and secured funding from BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing. The OzFish Richmond River Chapter spearheaded an ambitious initiative to combat a dense weed mass along a first stretch of 800m of Emigrant Creek.

They then planted 1200 trees, which have grown to now provide shade, shelter, clean water, and insects as a vital food source for fish. This project ignited significant momentum, prompting Ballina Council to continue riparian restoration along a further 2km stretch of the northern side of Emigrant Creek through their Healthy Waterways Program.

OzFish continued its efforts in July 2020, collaborating with private landholders on the southern side of Emigrant Creek, installing protective fencing along the creek and planting another 1550 trees, with the support of the NSW Government’s Habitat Action Grants.

These actions effectively reconnected 76km of critically important fish habitat corridor, a spawning zone for Aussie bass and connecting the creek to an open freshwater wetland, which serves as a fish nursery when the water is high.

North Coast Local Land Services and Ballina Shire Council joined forces to continue planting and restoration activities so that the riparian zone on both sides of the creek, from Tamarind Drive to Tintenbar Road, is almost fully intact and continuous.

Moreover, the restoration of the riparian zone appears to have facilitated the return of platypus to the area and increased sightings of schooling Australian bass, herring and mullet.

During their work on Emigrant Creek, OzFish and local landholders and anglers identified a growing carp population, threatening native fish.

OzFish is seeking assistance from residents, visitors and anglers in reporting sightings of carp. This information will help build a comprehensive understanding of carp movements and habits, allowing for targeted eradication efforts where necessary.

Emigrant Creek’s journey is a testament to the power of restoration, over the course of the hours of work some 7250 trees have been replanted along the riparian zones. Reminding us that when we work together, we can restore balance and create environments for aquatic life to thrive once again.

This project was funded by the Australian Government’s Fisheries Habitat Restoration, Ballina Shire Council’s Healthy Waterways Program, the NSW Government’s Local Land Services, OzFish Unlimited and BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.

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