South Australia's Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant is proving to be a critical refuge site for thousands of migratory shorebirds and Australian ducks, according to research undertaken by Birds SA in collaboration with SA Water.
Conservation studies since 2018 have discovered thousands of ducks and up to 16 different species of shorebirds - including 10 summer migrant species from the Russian Arctic - use the plant's private 500-hectare treated water polishing lagoons as a source of habitat and food.
Northern shorebird species recorded at the site have included at least 2000 Sharp-Tailed Sandpipers feeding over the area, with pelicans and several species of cormorants, grebes and ducks diving for the fish below.
SA Water's Senior Manager of Wastewater and Environmental Expertise James Crocker said with the ponds teeming with fish, yabbies, insects and plants, they form a perfect refuge for these birds.
"Bolivar plays an extremely important role in safely removing and treating wastewater for thousands of our customers around Adelaide, but many may not be aware of how beneficial the site is for the natural environment too," James said.
"It's exciting to see the positive environmental impact the site's treated water ponds are having on the natural world, and we want to ensure that Bolivar can remain an important conservation refuge site well into the future."
One of the final stages of the sewage treatment process, Bolivar's large water lagoons store millions of litres of treated wastewater for approximately two weeks allowing it to be naturally 'polished' before it's used for irrigation or returned to the environment.
Birds SA Conservation Subcommittee Member and University of Adelaide Emeritus Professor Bill Breed said the continued growth of land development and reduction of natural wetlands has made wastewater treatment plants a vitally important habitat for these migratory birds.
"Unfortunately, we are continuing to see shorebird numbers decline, which makes Bolivar critically important in offering a healthy and safe place for many species to thrive," Professor Breed said.
"Our results so far have been impressive, with over 10,000 ducks sighted at the plant on several occasions along with larger fish-eating species like terns, as well as raptors with sightings of the rare White-Breasted Sea Eagle on two separate visits; a species which is listed as a vulnerable in South Australia.
"Nearly half of the shorebird species that we have observed at Bolivar breed in the northern hemisphere and return to South Australia after the end of their breeding season, so we're hoping to see more species as our summer approaches.
"Our observations change depending on the time of year, with ducks seemingly more abundant when the treatment ponds are full, while shorebirds come in larger numbers when the water levels drop.
"We will continue to record and photograph these beautiful birds and use our data to compare Bolivar with other wastewater treatment plants across the country."
The Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant is South Australia's largest sewage treatment facility, processing around 150 million litres of wastewater every day or the equivalent to 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The private facility is available for community and school tours, with more Information available at sawater.com.au.
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