News from the Field

Kimberley floods: counting the cost at Mornington

23 Jan. 2023

It has been three weeks now since record floods swamped the central Kimberley, including Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary. We now have a better idea of the damage, which was substantial. The flooding has been a significant setback, but nonetheless Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is already working on a plan to restore affected infrastructure and get back to work.

The safari tents along Annie Creek at Mornington were covered in flood debris. AWC
The safari tents along Annie Creek at Mornington were covered in flood debris.


Damage assessment
Over the past week, a team of AWC staff was able to fly in to Charnley River and Mornington by helicopter from Derby to conduct a damage assessment. Thankfully, Charnley River has sustained minimal damage to buildings and infrastructure. At Mornington where floodwaters reached much higher, there has been significant loss and damage to assets. Many of the buildings were inundated up to 1-2 metres, leaving the contents of the research offices and staff accommodation muddy and jumbled. In the steamy conditions, mould is adding to the destruction. The loss of the AWC Kimberley Herbarium – a reference collection of carefully preserved plant specimens compiled over two decades by passionate ecologists, botanists and volunteers – is a particularly sad one.

Next steps
While structurally sound for the most part, many of the buildings that make up the research centre will need to be gutted and renovated, while major components of the power system will require replacing before electricity can be restored. Some of this work may rely on road access being re-established, which is unlikely until after the wet season subsides (still  months away). Heavy demand for helicopters in the region and limited stocks of aviation fuel on-site is another constraint to contend with. 

Our Kimberley team
AWC is providing ongoing support to the people who live and work at our Kimberley sanctuaries. Many are staying in Broome until access to the sanctuaries can occur safely, with alternative accommodation being provided in town. This has been a harrowing time for the team and we are doing what we can to support them.  

Following the assessment of damage to Mornington Wilderness Camp, we can confirm that the sanctuary will be closed to visitors for the 2023 season.  

AWC has conducted some of its most important research in the Kimberley. W Lawler/AWC
AWC has conducted some of its most important research in the Kimberley.


Getting back to work

Despite this big disruption, AWC is determined to continue our important conservation work in the Kimberley, to the extent that we can. Camera traps which are currently deployed as part of a survey in Artesian Range will be retrieved by helicopter in the next few weeks. Preparations are already underway for the massive prescribed burning program which we deliver at the start of every dry season, alongside our partners from Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation and Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation. 

 The land management and science programs that we have developed over the past two decades at Mornington have brought about significant improvements in ecological health. It will take some time to get back to normal, but we remain determined to continue this critical work, alongside our partners. 

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Wayne Lawler/AWC
Wayne Lawler/AWC
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