March 12, 2007 / 5:35 AM / 13 years ago

Giant Australian salt lake springs to life

Lake Eyre is seen at sunset in an undated photo courtesy of the Government of South Australia. Floodwaters flowed into the world's largest ephemeral lake in outback Australia on Monday, triggering a once-in-a-decade explosion of bird and fish life in place of arid salt flats. REUTERS/Handout

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Floodwaters flowed into the world’s largest ephemeral lake in outback Australia on Monday, triggering a once-in-a-decade explosion of bird and fish life in place of arid salt flats.

Rivers overflowing due to northern monsoon rains emptied into the lake which covers about 1.2 million sq km (463,400 sq mile) in South Australia state.

Birds swarmed on the area. “The birds are like a big black blanket,” William Creek charter flight operator Trevor Wright told Reuters.

The waters pouring through the lake’s northern Warburton Groove inlet had started a mass hatching of salt shrimp from eggs laying dormant in the searing flats, he said.

“It’s a high-protein feast for all the wading birds. They are just sitting there, scavenging round,” Wright said after flying over the remote area at the country’s heart.

Lake Eyre sits in the middle of one of the world’s largest internal river systems and covers large parts of South Australia state, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Lake Eyre basin itself covers an area bigger than France, Germany and Italy.

When the lake floods the outback springs to life with large numbers of waterbirds — pelicans, black cormorants, silver gulls, avocets and banded stilts — gathering to feast on shrimp, as well as fish.

A South Australia state parks spokeswoman said it was still unclear whether weeks of heavy northern rains would be enough to fill the basin or whether the lake would only partly fill. The basin last topped its maximum five meter depth in 1974.

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