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Championing Environmental Flows with Tony Sharley

The Murray-Darling Basin spans an area of one million square kilometres, and for owner and founder of Murray River Trails, Tony Sharley, its protection is crucial. “Having a basin like this is significant,” he explains. “It is one-seventh the size of Australia, or four times the size of New Zealand, and if we protect it and ensure we get the flow regimes right, we have a resource that will attract people from all over to see it.”

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One of the many ephemeral wetlands around the Murray-Darling Basin. Image: Murray River Trails

Overbank flows (small floods that feed forests and fill shallow lakes) trigger the regeneration of phytoplankton and zooplankton, which in turn initiates the breeding cycle in insects, frogs, fish and water birds and recharges groundwater systems. “It’s a natural and vitally important cycle,” Tony explains.

“But since the introduction of water storage systems and the growth of the irrigation industry, the overbank flows have dramatically decreased.” Tony and his guides discuss the concept of river health throughout all tours, engaging guests with fascinating stories that capture the importance of preserving the environment.

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Yellow-billed Spoonbill. Image: Murray River Trails

“Most of the people who book with us love to learn and crave a greater depth of understanding,” Tony explains. “The challenge is to help people understand why balanced water sharing is the key to the future of the basin, and why more water must return to its environment.”

Up until the 1920s, the rivers flowing in the Murray-Darling Basin were unregulated, so 90 percent of the water flowed out to sea covering floodplains and filling wetlands and creeks along the 2,500km plus journey. “This is an ephemeral river system that naturally flooded and dried almost every year, but today we have reversed the way the system works by keeping floodplains dry most of the time and allowing only 10 percent of the water to flow out to the sea,” Tony explains.

Watch - Murray River Trails: Our Story

“The other 90 percent is held up in dams and released slowly for irrigation and for small environmental purposes, and that’s not enough to spill out onto the floodplains. Consequently, we don’t get those triggering events as frequently – the flooding of dry ground that produces that smorgasbord of food that results in a natural breeding event.”

Related Experience - Murray River Safari

Experience the diverse wildlife offerings where Australia's river oasis meets the outback. This multi-activity wildlife safari along Australia's greatest river includes guided walks, canoeing, an outback drive and open back cruising, combined with luxurious houseboat accommodation and superb dining including local wines.

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