Streamwatch – Up The Creek?

The future of the long running Citizen science program Streamwatch is in jeopardy.

The local group which includes representatives of the Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society, Friends of Oatley and the Georges River Environmental Alliance. Plans by the Australian Museum to not continue with the community-based Streamwatch program has raised concerns amongst volunteers about the future of Georges River’s water quality.

The Streamwatch program has been going for almost 30 years and is run by 53 volunteer water monitoring groups at 120 sites across Sydney. Streamwatch was established in 1990 by Sydney Water and in 2012 it was transferred to the Australian Museum which runs it under its Citizen Science programs. The groups share free on the Streamwatch website giving a snapshot of the standard of Sydney’s creeks and rivers.

Pollution is extremely common in the creeks on Oatley especially after high rain fall. In addition Sydney Water sewer mains frequently overflow after heavy rain and this ends up in the Georges River and becomes a serious health and environmental issue. It is often volunteers who report these indents. The Sydney sewer system is collapsing under the pressure of growing population. 

The volunteers believe that the Australian Museum should see this volunteer program as part of its core business as it is about the environment, it is about science and has a huge role also in educating the public.

It is believed the Steamwatch program costs around $100,000 a year to run support the entire network of more than 50 Streamwatch groups testing more than 150 waterway sites throughout Sydney. Sydney Water reported a record profit of $447 million in 2016-17. The search is on for a new organisation to host the program from mid-2019.


READ OFF member Sharyn Cullis letter to The Leader (26 September)

St George Community Award to Chris Lloyd

entryChris Lloyd has been a member of Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society since 2007 (and was a family member in the 1960s, when his mother was secretary of the organisation). He has had a life-long concern for the health of the environment and has contributed to a number of programs to monitor and improve wildlife welfare.

award2Since 2013 Chris has co-ordinated the Georges River component of Birdlife Australia’s project on Powerful Owls. Chris has worked with 150 volunteers to monitor 20 or so pairs of Australia’s largest owl as they hunt and breed along the river from Campbelltown to Taren Point. He sees one of the most significant aspects of the project is providing ‘citizen scientists’ with the skills and knowledge to work alongside biologists and contribute to valuable research. Chris has organised numerous workshops for volunteers to learn skills including microscopy and data recording and the application of biological concepts to fieldwork.

powerful-owl-084-webIn the Powerful Owl project Chris has worked closely with Bushcare volunteers. He himself has also undertaken habitat restoration in a separate project – monitoring endangered seabirds and restoring their breeding grounds on islands on the NSW coast. It is tiring and uncomfortable work – at night counting incoming birds, and by day tearing out tangling kikuyu grass and planting native Lomandra as cover for the nesting birds.

Chris has a gift for imparting information on these environmental projects to a general audience. He is an entertaining and persuasive speaker who has addressed groups ranging from small garden clubs along the Georges River to OFF meetings, Bushcare seminars, and service groups including the Men’s Shed of Mortdale. With plans provided by Chris, and encouragement from OFF member and Bushcare staffer Heather Stolle, Mens’ Shed workers have produced a number of nest boxes for birds, enhancing our local habitat for native species.

award4An environmental issue of great concern to OFF is water quality in Georges River and its catchment. Chris is one of our members who has participated for many years in Clean Up Australia Day, removing rubbish that would otherwise pollute our waterways. In recent years he has been joined in that important community work by his partner Nadia and their teenagers.

Black-bellied Swamp Snake at Oatley Park

Black-bellied Swamp Snake or Marsh Snake Hemiaspis signata was found by OFF member Matt Allison on the road near the entrance to Myra Wall garden at Oatley Park on 13 February 2016.  The snake appeared to have been run over. Report was made by Liz Cameron our Secretary and past Australian Museum educator.

Black Belly Swamp Snake 13022016

This is believed to be a rare sighting for Oatley park  Matt Mo’s paper (on the OFF website) didn’t record the species in his surveys in Lime Kiln Bay between 2006 and 2014 but noted that a specimen was collected in Oatley in 1996; according to Glenn Shea (2010) that was the last record in the Australian Museum’s database, for the species in the St George area (Shea, G M 2010.  The suburban terrestrial reptile fauna of Sydney – winners and losers.  pp. 154-197 in The Natural History of Sydney; edited by Dan Lunney, Pat Hutchings and Dieter Hochuli for Royal Zoological Society of NSW).  Glenn listed the Swamp Snake as one of the ‘Suburban Battlers’ in regard to persisting in the Sydney region.
Black Belly Swamp Snake and Liz
The Atlas of Living Australia records that the 1996 specimen from Oatley was donated to the Australian Museum by Oatley resident and staff member at the Museum and donated another swamp snake in 1986. 

Average total length is reported at 60 cm; today’s specimen was 45 cm long, so it wouldn’t be fully grown.

Species occurs in coastal and near-coastal areas of eastern Australia from far northern Qld to the south coast of NSW. Usually found in low-lying marshy areas but also found on dry rocky ridges and wooded beach dunes.  Normally active during the day and at dusk, but may be active at night in hot weather.  It gives birth to live young (from 4 to 20 in a litter).

The snakes feed largely on skink lizards and frogs.  A bite from a large specimen may be very painful but not generally regarded as dangerous. (This information from Cogger 2014.  Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia; 7th edition; CSIRO Publishing).

Report By Liz Cameron


Perils of Plastic- Prof Banati visits Myles Dunphy Reserve

IMG_1674Our Stream Watch group were fortunate to have a on site visit from Professor Banati Leader of the ANSTO Plastics project.
The increased presence of certain degradable plastics, including biodegradable plastics, is a challenge for the recycling of plastics more generally since the various plastics can be difficult to sort. Contamination of the waste stream with similar appearing but non-recyclable material by many seen as the Achilles heel of recycling.  A significant portion of plastic waste ends up in our oceans.
Professor Banati said the team’s observations were changing perceptions about how the increased degradability of a material, such as plastic, may help to reduce the litter problem but, if not properly managed, might cause a contamination problem in the future.
Recent research shows that this is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment. For more see Guardian Dec 2014


 ANSTO contributes to this collaborative research effort by using nuclear technologies to measure minute quantities of material such as the contaminants potentially leaching or being absorbed by degrading plastic material. ANSTO has national and international collaborations current work is being undertaken with Monash University, UTAS and CSIRO.

IMG_1676Other Research

In a new study, published Dec 2014 by the journal Royal Society Open Science, a British scientist reports the riddle of the “missing” plastic as solved: It sits in deep waters, broken down into tiny fibers and embedded in the sediment of the most remote places on Earth.

The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.

Read more on the National Geographic article – Where has all the (Sea Trash) Plastic Gone

Powerful Owl Study on Oatley Owlets

Powerful owlet OatleyMatt Mo and David Waterhouse OFF members have just published  their observations on a pair of Oatley Owlets in a paper in Australian Field Ornithology.
This paper extends previous observations of behavioural development in Powerful Owl Ninox strenua fledglings. The study combines a near-daily visual monitoring program on a pair of owlets in Oatley, suburban Sydney, New South Wales, with corresponding pellet analysis.
The fledglings were initially fed on possums, fruit-bats, birds and insects, and first demonstrated independence by disassembling carcasses by themselves. By October, they apparently mimicked the adults’ strategy for capturing insects, and began to chase birds and bats. Behaviours thought to be part of honing their hunting skills—including tearing and ferrying strips of bark, foliage-snatching, and swooping at animals on the ground—were recorded. Such actions intensified during a period when the adults were mostly absent in November and December.

Herpetofauna of Lime Kiln Bay

A5. Lime Kiln Bay wetlandsMatt Mo’s latest publication on The Lime Kiln Bay Wetland provides the first comprehensive description of the amphibians and reptiles at the site from observations made between 2006 and 2014. Twenty-three species were detected: six frogs (Hylidae, Limnodynastidae, Myobatrachidae), one freshwater turtle (Cheluidae), 12 lizards (Agamidae, Carphodactylidae, Scincidae, Varanidae) and four snakes (Colubridae, Elapidae, Pythonidae).

Published in the The Victorian Naturalist 132 (3) 2015, 64–72)


Dr Cameron Webb on Mozzie Menace

cameronwebb_mosquitoes_theleaderMosquitoes been bugging you this summer ? Stop those sleepless summer nights! Come hear Dr Cameron Webb, Medical Entomologist with the University of Sydney and Pathology Westmead Hospital, speaking on mozzies and mosquito-borne disease at the next  Oatley Flora and Fauna Society meeting Feb 23rd (Mon) 7.45pm  at Uniting Church Hall Fredrick St,  Oatley. For more information on Dr Cameron Webb see his blog at  

Georges River Studies Helps River Conservation

Ecosystem Guidelines for the Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Georges River Catchment: A Method Applicable to the Sydney Basin Click here for pdf of study

For waterway managers the conservation of freshwater streams in Australia is commonly
underpinned by comparing water quality data with default ANZECC water quality guidelines.
However distinctive conditions found within many streams of the Sydney basin render a number of the
default guidelines not suitableand prone to misinterpretation. In this study we draw on a three year
monitoring program and follow the framework recommended by the ANZECC guideline to develop
a catchment specific approach for the conservation of aquatic ecosystems for the Georges River
catchment. In addition to the ‘common’ set of water quality guidelines we include values for a
selection of ionic parameters and guideline values for aquatic macroinvertebrate communities, riparian
vegetation condition and catchment imperviousness. The study revealed three distinct
patterns of ecosystem disturbance and water quality characteristics that corresponded to the level of development across the catchment from reference forested areas through to highly urbanised centres.When compared to non-urban reference sites streams with greater than 5% impervious surfaces showed
emergent signs of ecosystem degradation while those with >19% imperviousness had highly degraded
water quality, macroinvertebrate communities and riparian vegetation.Based on the results of this
study, we recommend two sets of regionally relevant ecosystem and water quality guidelines, one for
the conservation of streams with high ecological value that would apply to waterways with minimally
disturbed catchments and the other to apply to urban streams and stream restoration projects.
Although the focus of this paper is the Georges River catchment, the approach developed in this study
can be easily applied to other urban catchments within the Sydney Basin

Is Catchment Imperviousness a Keystone Factor Degrading Urban Waterways? A Case Study from a Partly Urbanised Catchment (Georges River, South-Eastern Australia


The extent of catchment impervious surface is recognised to be an important factor associated with the condition of urban freshwater streams. We tested the hypothesis that the degree of catchment imperviousness predicted the relative ecological condition of freshwater reaches within the network of streams and rivers in the partly urbanised Georges River catchment in temperate south-eastern Australia. The 2-year study involved two spring and two autumn assessments of water quality (chemical and physical) and ecological condition, using benthic macroinvertebrates, riparian vegetation and calculation of catchment imperviousness. The study revealed that highly urbanised streams had strongly degraded water quality and macroinvertebrate communities, compared to clean non-urban reference streams. We found three clear groups of sites with varying degrees of ecological condition, being categorised according to the level of catchment effective imperviousness (low <5.0 %, moderate = 5.0–18.0 % and high >18.0 %). Water pollution also varied according to these categories. A combination of two water chemistry attributes (total nitrogen and calcium), along with catchment imperviousness and riparian vegetation condition, were identified as being the factors most strongly associated with variation of macroinvertebrate communities. Based on our results, we recommend that protection of the ecological condition of streams should focus on not only water quality but also include catchment imperviousness and riparian vegetation condition.

The influence of concrete on the geochemical qualities of urban streams


The geochemical signature of freshwater streams can be used to determine the extent and nature of modification to stream water geochemistry due to urban development. This approach used the Gibbs (1970) diagram as a model for evaluation of changes to ionic composition linked to urban development. In this multi-year study, the geochemistry of 21 waterways in the Georges River catchment, Sydney, were monitored and compared with the level of urban development as measured by sub-catchment imperviousness and directly connected imperviousness. The results reflect a strong relationship between the intensity of sub-catchment urban development and stream geochemistry. All major geochemical attributes increased with escalating levels of urban development. The largest increase was for bicarbonate, which increased 18 times from a mean of 6.4 mg L–1 at non-urban streams to a mean of 118 mg L–1 at urban streams. Similarly, mean concentrations of calcium increased by 14 times (from 2 to 27.9 mg L–1). Mean salinity was enriched in the most urban streams, compared with non-urban streams, by more than 6 times. We attribute this, in part, to the influence of urban geology, notably concrete stormwater infrastructure. Changes in stream geochemistry due to urban development are an important element of the urban stream syndrome.

Oatley Owls the First to Fledge Chicks

Matt_Bev_Peter_owlphotoUnderstanding the habitat requirements of breeding Powerful Owls (Ninox strenua) in Sydney is an important step in improving species management in urban areas. A Birdlife Australia project focusing on the population dynamics, breeding success and requirements of owls in the Greater Sydney Area is in its third year. In addition, the owls of the lower Georges River are under surveillance for a study led by Chris Lloyd, who is speaking to the Society in September this year.

For reasons that are still unknown, the breeding season in 2014 has been later than previous years, with many breeding pairs commencing nesting in July. Two breeding pairs in Oatley and surrounds are leading the charge, having laid eggs in June. In an achievement for the St George area, chicks from these owls have been heard at both sites, and seen in one. According to David Bain of Birdlife Australia, these are the first of the season.

The photograph is of the juvenile owl at one of the Oatley sites on the day after fledging.

Matt Mo, Bev Pedder and Peter Hayler 18 August 2014

REMINDER – Chris Lloyd will speak on the Changing ecology of the Georges River and Powerful Owls at next Oatley Flora and FAuna Soc. meeting on Monday 22 September.


Urban Bushland a Refuge for Geckos

leaf-tail gecko 3A scientific paper by Matthew Mo has been published in the prestigious journal Australian Zoologist. Matthew spoke to the Oatley Flora and Fauna Society in April 2011 and led a spotlighting walk for geckos in Mortdale Heights Park on 27 April 2012. The group observed 10 geckos on the rock walls and in crevices.

The Broad-tailed Gecko Phyllurus platurus is a saxicolous lizard occurring in the Sydney Basin including the Sydney Metropolitan Area. A search of desktop records confirms that populations remain across the region, including in the central business district and in long-established suburbs. This paper reports on habitat selection derived from a population study carried out in a reserve of remnant bushland in the St George district. Open walls and the underside of overhangs were the most frequently exploited structures used by P. platurus. Geckos were found typically no higher than 2.5 m from the ground. The mean density of P. platurus had a negative relationship with available rock surface area. Geckos retaining original tails dominated the sample size, which is in contrast to previous work on museum specimens. Diurnal surveying was trialled, during which some P. platurus were detected on the outer edges of crevices. Survey results expand baseline information and inform future decisions aimed at promoting biodiversity in remnant bushland. Click here to see full  article