Sounds of Murrumbidgee River wetland brought to life on interactive website


Ever imagined what it is like to stand in a wetland as it fills up and comes to life?

Well wonder no more.

Researchers from the Australian National University, Charles Sturt University and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office have collaborated to create an interactive website that allows users to do just that.

A wetland on the Murrumbidgee River in New South Wales, which is the recipient of government-allocated environmental water flows, has been brought to life through the website, thought to be an international first.

“It’s as if you were standing there and listening, for every hour over nine days, to how the wetland changed,” said Associate Professor in Ecology at CSU Skye Wassens, who helped lead the project.

Scientists have been examining the wetland, which sits on privately owned farming land between Hay and Balranald in south-western NSW, for the past 14 years.

It is part of a larger project that monitors 24 sites across south-western NSW examining the impact of environmental flows on the river system.

The Commonwealth requires researchers to monitor the outcomes of environmental water delivery, to identify the positives and negatives that might have occurred.

“We have really good relationships with landholders. Some are irrigation and others are grazing, and we work with them to make sure we’re delivering water at times that is ecologically beneficial, but also making sure that land can still remain productive,” Ms Wassens told AAP.

The Sound of Water website features a number of animal calls, including a range of species of frogs – from the inland banjo and spotted marsh frogs, to the endangered southern bell frogs.

Using remote audio devices, scientists have recorded hundreds of thousands of hours of audio from the mostly privately owned land.

The devices recorded five minutes every hour every day for the past eight years as CSU scientists monitored 24 sites across the Murrumbidgee and Yanco Billabong areas as part of the Commonwealth’s requirements.

And now the scientific data has been made available to others through the website.

“We started looking at the audio data and trying to find ways to present that data in a way that it would be valued and useful for a much broader audience,” Ms Wassens said.

Professor of Design at ANU Mitchell Whitelaw, who designed the website, “wanted to find a way of really bringing it to life and to show people what’s actually happening in the wetlands”.

Professor Whitelaw told AAP the site attempts to engage the user, to show them what it is like when an environmental flow reaches the wetland “and explodes with life”.

“It’s a first in that we’re using this audio to offer to people in a way that’s interactive. We’re really handing it over to the audience to explore,” he told AAP.

“This is the first project to turn them into an interactive interface that people can explore, and we’re also then turning it into a digital story.

“By creating visualisations of the audio – called false-colour spectrograms – it becomes explorable in a new way.

“I don’t think anyone has ever done interactive spectrograms like this and particularly not for a wetland environment.”

We’ve Already Come Too Far To End This Now.

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