Independence Trail

Kangaroo Island, Australia

“Dull, steady, water reflects the dark and gloomy sky. The path is weaving, winding, scaling the sand bank, rounding scrub and trees. Earth beneath is a hard road, soft dirt, pebbles ping against my frame, and the sand is quick to make me sink. Worming into my ear the songs of bird life, the graceful honk of inky swans, and distant calls of a farmer’s flock. This scene lost. Submerged by ignorance and greed, the wave of human destruction.”

One cloudy spring day I grew bored of playing scrabble in the compact holiday home “Possums Watch”. The threat of rain wasn’t going to keep me cooped up any longer and I set a course on my pedally steed to the Independence Trail. Beginning from the boat ramp in American River the Independence Trail is an easy walking/cycle path that follows the Port of Pelicans foreshore. The American River Progress Association provides maps at each trail head advising that the trail is 3.6km and a return trip takes over an hour.

The dull and steady water reflected the dark and gloomy sky, threatening to rain. I followed the bright blue posts that mark my way, weaving from the road to the foreshore, scaling the sand bank, rounding scrub and trees. The earth beneath is a hard road, then soft dirt, pebbles that ping against my frame, and sand that is quick to make me sink. Worming into my ear were the songs of bird life, the graceful honk of inky swans, and distant calls of a farmer’s flock.

I came upon a wooden, hand painted, sign next to a wooden bench which read “Stop 1 900m”. This was one of five encouraging rest stops that are provided for explorers of the Independence Trail. Appreciating the effort put into making this trail accessible and enjoyable for all, I plonked my bum on the seat, enjoyed the view and pondered the history of this beaten path. Founded in1802 the inlet of the sea was named Pelican Lagoon by Captain Matthew Flinders, due to the number of pelicans in the area. The township of American River was named after a party of American sailors explored the area in 1803. During their 4 month stay they built a 30 ton schooner they named “Independence”. The vessel allowed them to access the shallow waters of what is now the American River/Pelican Lagoon Conservation Park.

Though the path is mostly flat, my slick road tyres were not up to the challenge of the few steep and sandy sections of the path. I tried to power up the tiny slopes but my tyres bogged into the earth and I was forced to walk the last few steps. But it was here that I discovered a beautiful memorial to June Elaine Trice, who passed away in May 2017, at the age of 79. A collage of photos of her with generations of family was secured to a tree above a teddy bear dressed in an Adelaide Crows football shirt. Why this memorial exists here, I can only guess, but it’s clear that someone wanted her long life to be remembered.

The path is an easy yet fun ride, with the twists, bumps, surface changes, and incredible scenery of this nationally important and protected wetland system. A place of transition, fluctuations in salinity, as the sea catches the fresh water from the land. You can find the American River Wetland System in the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. The small stretches of salt-marsh provide shelter for migratory birds as well as food from the crabs and molluscs that venture into mudflats during low tide. 56 protected bird species are supported by the American River Wetland System, more than any other estuary of Kangaroo Island.

As I neared the end of the trail and made my way over the bridge to the hand painted, wooden, sign that read “Finish” I discovered a bright blue information panel. Underneath a picture of a stingray was an explanation of the conservation park and it’s importance to sea life. Beneath the surface of Pelican Lagoon is a 16.6km2 bed of sea grass. This aquatic reserve is a natural nursery for up to 203 fish species, 13 of which are unique to the region. Commercial fisheries depend on this nursery being productive for the spawning of garfish, whiting, mullet, and salmon. Other marine life visitors include sharks, rays, dolphins, seals, and many crustaceans.

The American River/Pelican Lagoon is one of only 2 estuaries of KI that is in a modified condition and under high pressure due to human impacts on the water quality. Livestock grazing, tourism, and fishing is shrinking this diverse domain. 2,700Ha of delicate sea grass has already been lost across the Eastern Cove and American River areas. Another known issue is climate change and it’s projected impact on rising sea levels, water temperature, and CO2 absorption. In my lifetime I will see the sea levels rise and this habitat will retreat, threatening this rich and sensitive ecosystem. The mallee will flood, the nursery will no longer be useful, and the birds will fly ahead of the wave of human destruction. My journey that inspired my curiosity for the environment, the wildlife, and the value of life, submerged by human ignorance. Until there is nothing left, not even Dear June’s memorial.

~ Sam

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