A Walk Around West Lakes

14 Mar

Dear Reader: Once upon a time when I was several decades younger and people thought less about the environment, there was a mangrove swamp behind the dunes near Tennyson Beach. The government of the day and even the general public cared little for mangroves and even less for anything described as a swamp. Consequently, they allowed developers to ‘liberate’ this area from its unproductive state and create a new suburb in its place. The result was West Lakes. For some, the loss of this unique wetland was an environmental tragedy as such areas are important nurseries for many marine species and significant wild places to be cherished.

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Nearby mangrove swamp demonstrates what the area looked like before development

  History aside, West Lakes remains a worthwhile place to visit and walking around the man-made lake on a fine autumn afternoon still provides many interesting wildlife encounters. Instead of samphire swamp and mangrove forest, the edge of the lake is defined by fine sand and a ruler straight concrete edge which steps down into the water. Despite its artificial nature, marine invertebrates and small fish still feed on the algal growth that clings to this constructed shoreline. And on occasions I have even seen nudibranchs, a kind of sea slug with a prominent flower like gills on their backs, grazing on the concrete surfaces.

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West Lakes today

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A grazing nudibranch species

  Because the lake has a less diverse ecology than the original swampland, there are fewer fish species; although sizeable bream, mullet and even the occasional mulloway make it a popular venue for anglers. In fact, the people who live on its shore often feed the resident bream and have quite large schools living near their private jetties and landings. These fish are generally off limits to the fishers but school children who snorkel off the West Lakes Aquatic Centre get quite a thrill when an instructor lures a school from a nearby pontoon.

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Large bream close to the shoreline

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School student snorkelling near the aquatics centre

  The fish, crabs and sundry other creatures inevitably attracts predators. Because of the intakes that feed water in from the sea, sharks are virtually unheard of in the lake system and the main hunters are seabirds. Pelicans and cormorants are common and the ubiquitous silver gulls carry out their indispensible clean up duties along the shoreline.

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Little pied cormorant drying its wings on a pontoon

  Various paths and roads follow the course of the lake system. Walking or cycling along them in the evening and early morning is best for wildlife encounters. However, even at midday when the sun is up and all is relatively quiet on the wildlife front, the well-tended gardens along the fringe of the lake still attract a wide variety of common urban birds as well as insects and the occasional lizard.

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Bottle brush in lakeside gardens

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Gaura in lakeside gardens

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New Holland honeyeater feeding in garden

  Finally, a couple of considerations for those contemplating a walk around the lake. Start at the aquatics centre off Military road as there is a nice little cafe overlooking the water. And take a look at the Tennyson Dunes just across the road from the lake. They separate the urban zone from the seashore and are yet another wonderful South Aussie environment to explore… (see ‘Seaside Dragons’…30th Dec 2012)   Until next time Cheers Baz

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