When Jan Kreibich first read about a multidisciplinary PhD project bringing environmental and cultural values together on the Gayini (Nimmie-Caira) Wetlands, he knew that it would be the perfect fit.
It was 2019 and he had just recently completed an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master of Science in Groundwater and Global Change, delivered by UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, Delft, Netherlands; Instituto Superior Técnico, Lisbon, Portugal; and TU Dresden, Germany. He already had an interest in stream restoration from his degree in Science (Ecosystem Management), after which he spent time working in the USA investigating nutrient release from floodplains and the impacts of the drought on local ecosystems.
Jan said, “The Gayini project caught my attention as it combined my previous studies and research experiences in ecology, hydrology and climate change with yet another important but far too often neglected aspect – people!”
The Gayini Wetlands is a large freshwater ecosystem on the Lower Murrumbidgee River Floodplain in the Murray-Darling Basin in south-eastern Australia. It is recognised as a nationally important wetland (ANCA, 1996), however, at least 76 % of the floodplain has been destroyed or degraded due to extensive river regulation and water diversions for irrigation agriculture over more than 150 years (Kingsford and Thomas, 2004). This has not only impacted ecosystems in the system, but also the Traditional Custodians of the land, the Nari Nari People.
Jan is a UNSW Sydney Scientia PhD Candidate in Environmental Management with specialisation in large-scale river and wetlands restoration. He is part of a research team that investigates the changes in river flow and inundation patterns—including impacts on wetland ecology—in relation to river regulation and predicted climate change. His research also focuses on the significance of freshwater ecosystems to the Nari Nari People, integrating traditional knowledge and cultural values into land and water management.
“We aim to bring environmental and cultural values together, developing a holistic Strategic Adaptive Management Plan for restoring the Gayini Wetlands and creating a healthy habitat for vegetation, wildlife – and people,” says Jan.
Jan’s research is supervised by Professor Richard Kingsford (Centre for Ecosystem Science - CES) and Associate Professor William Glamore (Water Research Laboratory). His secondary supervisor is Dr Margaret Raven (Social Policy Research Centre); and co-supervisors are Dr Gilad Bino (CES), Dr Kate Brandis (CES) and Dr James Fitzsimons (The Nature Conservancy Australia).
Jan and his colleagues collaborate closely with the Gayini Project consortium members, including the Nari Nari Tribal Council, The Nature Conservancy and the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group. Together they have an important goal: to reverse the damage that the Gayini Wetlands has suffered over many decades due to unsustainable water diversions from the Murrumbidgee River.
“To reach this goal, we aim to determine how the natural flooding patterns can be restored by delivering the right amount of environmental water to the wetlands during the right time of the year,” says Jan.