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Floating wetlands have been installed in the Yarra River near Enterprize Park, Melbourne.

Reviving the Yarra River: Melbourne’s Floating Wetlands Initiative

A new initiative is set to improve the urban ecological diversity along the Yarra River.

In the heart of Melbourne, an ecological revival is unfolding. The Yarra River – Birrarung, an integral part of the city landscape, has endured extensive engineering and development over the years, but a new project is working towards being able to support a vibrant, local ecosystem. The City of Melbourne, in collaboration with the Victorian Government, has embarked on a project to reintroduce the lush biodiversity that once lived in and around the Yarra.

Floating wetlands

The project includes five floating wetlands that have been located in three locales along the river: the Turning Basin, Enterprize Park; Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands; and on the river near Webb Bridge. These installations are a visual delight as well as being a practical part of a commitment to restore and preserve Melbourne’s natural habitats.

One of the floating wetlands on the Yarra River, Melbourne.

Made from a series of interlocking modules, each floating wetland is planted with local indigenous species. The Council already had a pre-colonial indigenous plant list that was referred to, while the final plant choices were made with input from Wurundjeri’s Narrap team.

The plants used differ across the three locations as decisions were made so that each floating wetland was populated with species that reflected the conditions in each area. The plants aim to replicate the ecologies that would have historically existed in the lower reach of the river. These include a variety of sedges, grasses, low shrubs and ground covers. 

The floating wetlands have become home to wildlife.

Anchored to the river beds, the floating wetlands are equipped with perching posts, drying banisters, and small ramps, offering sanctuary to myriad river wildlife. The wetlands also incorporate some sunken sections with aquatic species, and some raised areas where they are trialling some shrub and small tree species, including mangroves.  

Despite the small scale of the trial floating wetlands, the additional habitat they provide has the potential to enhance the diversity of the river ecosystem and support the role of the river as an ecological corridor. 

Yarra River – Birrarung

The lower stretch of the Yarra River – Birrarung was once a rich ecosystem of riparian vegetation and seasonal wetlands. This historical landscape has been described as a “temperate Kakadu” and the species diversity it supported made it an important place for the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and the people of the broader Eastern Kulin nation.

“Our floating wetlands trial has already proven a remarkable success – attracting and supporting more diverse flora and fauna species along the Yarra River – Birrarung,” says Lord Mayor Sally Capp. “These wetlands support the natural, native ecosystem of the river, encouraging a healthy environment for plants and wildlife to thrive in the heart of our CBD.” 

Contribute data to the trial

The community is invited to be a part of the Floating Wetlands trials. Observations of wildlife interactions with the wetlands can be recorded and shared online via iNaturalist, contributing to a growing collection of data that will shape the future of the project.

The series of floating wetlands are funded by the Victorian Government and are part of larger plan for the area – the City of Melbourne’s Greenline Project – which will see work across five precincts covering 4km between Birrarung Marr and the Bolte Bridge deliver improved public spaces for events, public art and recreation.

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