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Richard Kingsford -

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NARRATION

We have these incredible concentrations of pelicans on the large lakes. Huge numbers,
twenty-thousand plus. And they're capitalising on the fish boom. I've been really interested in
water birds, I mean, they give me a wonderful opportunity to move and follow them across large
parts of Australia.

Prof Richard Kingsford

Twenty pink ears, fifty pink ears, fifty pink ears, fifty grey-tail, ten avocets, five yellow-bill
spoonbills, ten pink-ears...

NARRATION

It's flat-out, a little bit like a race-caller.

Prof Richard Kingsford

Fifty pelicans, five oversets, fifty pink-ears, twenty avocets...

NARRATION

I've been counting birds for a very long time. I remember getting in my first aeroplane to count
birds in 1986. Being able to do that over more than a quarter of a century has meant a real
perspective, a real understanding about how our continent responds, what's the rhythm, if you like,
of the rivers. And it's pretty arrhythmic because we have these boom and bust periods. Floods are
absolutely critical. If we didn't have these floods, then you wouldn't have this incredible pulse
of productivity. And it's almost as if there are waves of productivity that go through the wetland.

You know, you add this water, and I love the way they just absolutely take off. You know, you just
get this incredible vibrancy, and it's so challenging, because as an environmental scientist, you
don't know where to look. And of course the water birds are coming in from all sorts of different
places.

Prof Richard Kingsford

Their parents are coming in off the flood plain over there and feeding them, with frogs and
grasshoppers. That vast floodplain there's just got so much food in it, that it can support this
massive great colony here. And it's that productivity, that these colonies have that's just so
fantastic.

NARRATION

What we've seen over the period between the early 1980s through, through the 1990s and 2000 is
almost an eighty per cent decline in waterbird numbers. Now obviously they're still going up and
down with the floods when they come along, but those bounces back, if you like, aren't nearly as
high as they used to be.

Prof Richard Kingsford

And I guess the analogy that I like to use, it's a bit like a bouncing tennis ball. Your bounces
are getting lower and lower.

NARRATION

Australia's got huge challenges. We live on the driest inhabited continent. We don't really have
very much water going down our river systems, we've really over-regulated, over-controlled the
river systems. They're no longer able to go through their natural cycles. It's just this view that
we could go out there and develop these river systems sustainably has been shown to be really not
happening.

Prof Richard Kingsford

I think this is a big challenge for humanity. We've actually got to work out how we can have less
of a footprint, less of a water footprint. In Australia, a lot of what we get out of our water is
exported, and so making sure the rest of the world raises their standard of living on the backs of,
or using the water from our rivers, I think is worrying. Ultimately it comes down to what sort of
impact are we having on the environment, and what sort of environment do we want to leave for you
know, our future generations?

Topics: Nature, Others

Producer: Geraldine McKenna

Researcher: Geraldine McKenna

Camera: Peter Sinclair

Sound: Gavin Marsh

Editor: Stephen Rogan