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ENVS 303
OCT 11th, 2021
Lesson and self-examination on the drought of Murray Darlin Basin
Throughout the long steam of human history, human had gone through various
patterns of subsistence from foraging to pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture. Human
acquires their needed resources from nature and shapes the environment involuntarily or
intentionally while the environment also shapes human society in its own way. Even
though it seems that the modern society has less reliance on the nature as we don’t need
to worry too much about the access to food, we must not ignore how related we are to
nature still and always carry our reverence and appreciation for this environment; as we
all know water can carry a boat, but it can also overturn it.
Part I
Brief description of the case study
In this essay, I will be focusing on a national geographic case study of drought of the
Murray Darlin Basin, where we will find out how it became a sputtering, surgically
disfigured version from a flourishing ecosystem. The Murray Darlin basin——a vast
semiarid plain about the size of Spain and France combined has its lifeline, which is the
Murray River laid on. In Australians good old times, the Murray River has its network of
billabongs, river red gums, Murray cod, and black swans, which are as affixed to the
Australian ethos as the outback. (Draper, R. 2009) Yet the good times didn’t last long, as
the Europeans descended the basin with their ambitions and machinery. People were
immersed in the flourishment of city and didn’t realize how fragile they had turned the
ecosystems into until they were awakened by the devastating drought.
Two principles of SES
legacy effects: “impacts of prior human-nature couplings on later conditions”(Liu et
al, 2017)
The audacity of farming in such an arid area was not readily apparent to Punturiero's
grandfather, who had no education other than in how to grow an exquisite grape.
But when the hell did his dad or granddad ever have to deal with a bloody seven-year
(what the early new Australians had done to the ecosystems has a legacy effect that it
didn’t become observable until several generations)
And more examples…
Feedback loops
1.The ocean would rush in when the river ran low and then be pushed out by fresh water
as the first hard rains drained down the Murray to the sea. Today the overallocation of
irrigation water, coupled with the drought, has brought the river to a virtual standstill. So
that the belea guered Murray can meet the sea, its mouth must be dredged around the
clock. Without dredging, the mouth would silt up, cutting off fresh water to the lagoon
ecosystem called The Coorong and to nearby Lake Alexandrina. (over allocation +
drought make the water level run low and couldn’t flow to the sea, which will cut off
water supply to other ecosystems, however, to prevent the silt, people need to allocate
more water which intensify over allocation)
2. over allocation lowered the water level which causes the fields to salt up, so people
used salt interceptors, which is achieved by pump more water
(More examples)
Human activity
(over allocation)
nature feedback (soil degradation, fields salt up,
decreased water resources)
Relationships between the environmental conditions and two other aspects of their
social/cultural system
Subsistence strategy & the type, and quantity of material possessions
“Edging up to the northern Coorong lagoon, Jones reaches into the water to collect his
gill nets. Among his catch there is not a single silver perch or Murray cod or bony bream.
The salty water has done them in. Only carp survive. Dozens of carp, which did not even
exist in the lower lakes a quarter century ago, and whose presence signals the demise of
the freshwater environment” (Draper, R 2009). Under the effect of over allocation and
drought, the Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong couldn’t receive enough fresh from the
Murray River, which make them turned into salt lakes. Many species who rely their
livings on the fresh water were extinctive, but carps. While some fishermen can adapt
themselves to the changes by selling carps, for the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal people, the
disappearance of black swan eggs, freshwater mussels, and other sacred totems deprived
themselves from the spiritual and physical nourishment (Draper, R 2009).
subsistence strategy & people’s belief
Since when our human benefit from the natural resources blinded by the benefits from
over allocation and lost their appreciation to the nature? When Mick Punturiero tried to
warn the local officials that they are poorly managing the natural resources, he got the
response that “Mick, you can't control progress" (Draper, R 2009). Human society might
seem to be progressing, but mentally, we are backsliding as those precious characteristics
we have seen on the aboriginals are diminishing. “In the cosmology of the
Kwakwaka’wakwand other indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast, clams have been
regarded as having families and societies equivalent to those of humans, and with their
own abilities and needs… Thus, humans maintained and enhanced the habitats of
culturally-preferred species, influenced not only by general knowledge of the species and
ecosystems, but guided by notions of reciprocity and responsibility to the species on
which they depended.” (Deur et al, 2015). The indigenous people introduced their
historic clam gardens to the world, which had kept its productive for thousands of years
and still flourish. The nature is more than a place for them to gathering resources, rather it
is their “contracts, [their] deed to the land like the middens, the shells, the black soils, and
the closely modified trees” (Andrew, 2013). It is because of their respect and
indispensable connections to nature; they know better than us that human don’t own the
natural resources exclusively and there are other species who depend their livings on it.
As a result of well maintenance and sustainably management by the clan or lineage, the
clam gardens were never over harvest, and the reciprocal relationship built between
human society and the nature benefit every specie in the ecosystem.
External environmental factor
Besides the human depletion of the water resources, the human-induced climate change
plays an external environmental factor and put its pressure on the drainage of the Murray
Darling basin. Under the effect of global warming, the lands tended to receive less
precipitation during summertime and more precipitation during wintertime, which is
disturbing for people to sow their crops. It is also indisputable that “‘[there has been] a
three-quarters of a degree [Celsius] increase in temperature over the past 15 years, and
that's driving a lot more evaporation from our water.’” (Draper, R 2009). As human
brought more changes to the nature, the climate change became more influential. Though
the drought is unpredictable, the optimistic Australians were actually indicated by the
erratic precipitation that the climate is changing, and they could’ve prepared themselves
better for devastating drought.
“The hard lesson of Australia's dry run is that the country's jaunty boosterism no longer
suffices as the way forward” (Draper, R 2009). As the human civilization is progressing,
we shall never forget it is all based on the harmony with this nature. We shall never think
the human society can be independent from the nature and we should always keep that
modesty with us, just like the aboriginals did. The tragic story of the Murray Darling
basin might not be the last one we hear but it’s not too late for us to change our attitude
towards the environment under this swiftly changing climate.
Part II
Paragraph 1: Intro and thesis statement.
Paragraph 2-3: Describe the case study group and two traits of human-nature coupled
systems principles exhibited by your case study, using evidence from Liu et al, the
National Geographic case study, and other class reading/films.
Paragraph 4-5: Describe relationships between the environmental conditions and two
other aspects of their social/cultural system, again drawing on reading/film. Use specific
examples from readings/film.
Paragraph 6-7: Describe one or more external environmental or social factors that are
putting pressure on your case study group and how the dynamic socio-ecological system
is changing over time as a result. Use specific examples from readings/film.
Conclusion: Reiterating your thesis statement and wrap up the essay.
Works Cited
Andrew Elizaga. (18 Aug 2013). Mysteries of Ancient Clam Gardens [Video]. Youtube.
Deur, D., Dick, A., Recalma-Clutesi, K., Turner, N. (2015). Kwakwaka'wakw "Clam
Gardens": motive and agency in traditional northwest coast mariculture, Human Ecology.
DOI 10.1007/s10745-015-9743-3
Draper, R. (2009, April). Australia's dry run: Murray-Darling basin. National
Geographic. (Article text only .pdf on file). (Links to
an external site.). (industrial agriculture)
Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S., Alberti, M., Folke, C., Moran, E., Pell, A., Deadman, P.,
Kratz, T., Lubchenco, J., Ostrom, E., Ouyang, Z., Prvencher, W., Redman, C., Schneider,
S., Taylor, W. (2007). Complexity of coupled human and natural systems. Science, 317,