Cattai Wetlands has withstood the effects of drought, bushfires and floods in recent years and while it has seen better days, it remains open to the public to enjoy the unique landscape and wildlife.
Home to various species of birds, kangaroos, wallabies and goannas, the wetlands, south of Port Macquarie off Springhill Road, was first dried up by drought before it was severely burnt in late 2019 by bushfires.
It was closed for more than one year and with scorch marks and scars still visible on tree limbs and vegetation, the area was then inundated with flood water in March this year.
WATCH: Bob McDonell gives a guided tour of the wetlands
Despite the damage and ongoing rebuild, MidCoast Council environmental officer Bob McDonell is still happy to call the wetlands his 'office'.
Bob spends four days a week at the wetlands and looks after other acid sulphate areas east of Taree.
The wetlands suffered through the crippling effects of drought so the bushfire disaster only made the situation worse.
Bob explained how burnt peat caused hundreds of trees to collapse in the wetland area, weeks after the fire was extinguished.
"Hundreds of trees have come down because the peat burnt and the trees were left standing on nothing and (there was) nothing for the roots to hang on to," Bob said.
"Because it's acid country the roots don't go down very far. When you take the little bit of support they have away, down they come."
The trees, some still bearing scorch marks, remain strewn across the wetlands.
"Consequently we've got quite a mess, there's a lot of revegetation, a lot of young melaleuca and stuff coming back but it's probably going to be a few years before it looks good again," Bob said.
It's nature's way of trying to recuperate the damage that was done- Bob McDonell
"There was lovely coverage from the branches and leaves and a large number of mature trees, mostly swamp mahoganies and melaleucas, blackbutts and flooded gums," he said.
Large portions of peat were also burned in the lagoon. Some portions burned for weeks while others caused a change to the vegetation.
"It's nature's way of trying to recuperate the damage that was done," Bob explained.
On a positive note, trees have resprouted while council crews have replanted several species in a bid to recreate coverage.
"The regeneration is going to be slow but it's coming back," Bob said.
"If you walk around the site now, there's a lot of melaleuca up to one metre high.
"What we have in another 10 years will be interesting to see. It doesn't look crash hot now but it will look a lot better and back to its original state."
About 250 metres of boardwalk was damaged in the fire but was replaced.
During the floods poles were lifted out of the ground, which caused the boardwalk to be closed again. Repairs haven't been completed.
Cattai Wetlands is globally recognised as a birdwatching hot-spot, with up to 170 species of water and woodland birds calling it home.
It's also considered an important habitat link between Crowdy Bay National Park and Lansdowne escarpment.
A bird hide, which was created in 2017, reaches out across the lagoon to give visitors a close-up experience of the unique birdlife.
"A number of them say it's one of the best bird hides they've been in which is pleasing for us to hear," Bob said.
Signs were erected inside the hide to detail the variety of birds at the wetlands.
At the height of the drought, the lagoon was 'bone dry' according to Bob.
"You could have driven a vehicle there," he said.
All water birds, such as ducks and swans, moved on but the woodland birds stayed.
What we have in another 10 years will be interesting to see.- Bob McDonell
During the flood the bird hide had more than a metre of water through it, with the marks still visible today.
"We were lucky there was no silt so it was only reeds and things that came inside," Bob said.
With nature taking its course to heal from the disasters, some of the water birds have returned.
"Not all them are back but we're getting them back," Bob said.
"They know more about what's happening with the weather than we do."
Earlier this year, an endangered species was found at the wetlands for the first time.
Bob said it will be an 'interesting' year for swans. Signets were spotted in the wetlands in early March, about five months earlier than usual.
"Apparently that's been the case all around the State," Bob added.
Jacanas haven't flocked to the area since the drought, but experts believe they'll be back.
Jabirus have also sporadically landed at the wetlands. Bob suggested the water level of the lagoon could be a reason for this.
"They tend to hang in the shallow at Coopernook Creek than in the lagoon," Bob explained.
"They're magnificent birds to see flying, they remind me of the Concorde Jet."
Meanwhile, the influx of "global tourists" to the wetlands has Bob bewildered.
The variety of birds that call Cattai home has attracted a steady flow of visitors from across Europe, United States and Canada.
"There's more variety of birds in Cattai Wetlands than in the whole of England," Bob exclaimed.
"It does surprise me how many people look at birds."
Visitor numbers have increased significantly in the wake of the global pandemic, according to Bob.
A steady flow of cars enter the wetlands daily with locals and tourists looking for an escape to nature.
"It's only about a kilometre and a half from the highway and yet it's so quiet you could be anywhere," Bob said.
Several universities have also spent time at the wetlands to complete unique research tasks.
University of NSW had loggers (researchers) in the nearby river to monitor the acidity, salinity and oxygen levels in acid sulphate while Southern Cross University completed various studies about methane in the swampland and tree trunks.
While it's certainly no secret to international travellers, the Mid North Coast community is yet to fully discover what makes the wetlands so special.
Nevertheless, Bob said the community has become more aware of the necessity of wetlands.
"They're nature's filter - whatever pollution has come from upstream is held in the wetlands and not allowed into the streams and rivers," Bob explained.
The wetlands are open to the public between 8am and 3pm Monday to Friday and 7am to 5pm on weekends.
There's plenty of information available on site which explains the trees, plants and birdlife.
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