Canning notes that this project goes beyond simple restoration. He is also investigating how restoring wetlands can fit in with the agricultural landscape, where there are benefits for both farmers and the environment.
“Planting melaleuca plantations on flood-prone farms has dual benefits,” he says. “They are powerful carbon sinks and can help improve water quality. But if agricultural land is restored, it could be at a loss to farmers so, we need to think about how restoration can have co-benefits for farmers.”
The restoration project examines how farmers could generate income while offering farmland to be converted into wetlands, specifically when the paddocks back onto key waterways.
“It’s restoration that fits within the farming landscape, which can potentially add to profitability rather retract.”
Scientists working on the project use techniques to measure the carbon and nutrients in the soil, how they move, and the microbial powerhouses behind them, allowing them to fully understand how effectively melaleuca trees can store carbon. The aim is to use this data to inform potential income from carbon credit schemes and water quality improvement schemes.
Cane farmer John Cardillo, who has been involved in various revegetation projects, says the low-lying paddocks were wasted on sugar cane because they were flood prone.
“These paddocks never produced much sugar,” he says. “They are continually flooded, and a wasted paddock.”
Canning and Cardillo met at the restoration site in 2022, shortly after a rain event. Together, they walked the flooded paddocks, where water had inundated both the melaleuca plantation and the unrestored cane paddock, talking about the project.
“Revegetating these paddocks is a good way to use this land,” Cardillo says. “These paddocks are so close to the coast, the water runs straight into a main creek. The planted trees are great for holding back sediment and it helps with erosion during floods like this.
"It might seem like a drop in the ocean, but this all adds up."