Just one hour by sealed road from Darwin off the Arnhem Highway, Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is a Territory jewel, internationally regarded for its diverse habitats, flora and fauna. It’s a paradise for birdwatchers, photographers, storm chasers and astrophotography. The best time to visit Fogg Dam is early in the day, ideally for sunrise and the dawn chorus of birds, or late afternoon for magnificent sunsets. Friends of Fogg Dam Inc works with the Reserve’s management “to put Fogg Dam on the Map and in the Hearts and Minds of People”, helping to maintain habitat and facilities for visitor appreciation, promotion through this website, Facebook and events.
Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve, covering 1854 hectares, lies within the Adelaide River floodplain between Darwin and Kakadu. Its dam was built in 1956 to collect water to irrigate seedling rice for the Humpty Doo Rice Project during low rainfall periods. The rice project failed gifting Fogg Dam for the community. What makes Fogg Dam so special is the diversity of habitat and wildlife within easy walking distance. The monsoon and eucalypt forest, open scrubland, melaleuca woodland, floodplain and open water attract significant numbers and species of birds, reptiles, mammals and marsupials. It is said to have the greatest known predator-prey biomass in the world. Sedges, grasses and waterlilies can be seen seasonally in the dam and floodplain. Lotus lilies and grass islands feature in the water.
Wulna people are the Traditional Owners of the area and jointly manage the Reserve with the Northern Territory Parks & Wildlife Commission. The landscape includes their sacred sites and stories of their ancestors.
Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve is a valued freshwater wetland accessible throughout the year, attracting many thousands of visitors. It’s approximately 70km south east of Darwin via the Arnhem Highway and Anzac Parade, Middle Point.
Its six different habitats in a small area sustain diverse flora and fauna.
Visitors can enjoy the Woodland to Waterlily Walk through the forest fringe to dam lookouts and the Monsoon Forest Walk which winds through lush monsoonal forest to the edge of the floodplain. The dam wall and lookouts provide great viewing across the dam and the floodplain.
Fogg Dam was built in 1956 on the Adelaide River floodplain, the traditional lands of Wulna people, as part of the ambitious Australian-American Humpty Doo Rice Project. Failure of the grand-scale project in 1960 caused the collapse of Australia’s first Merchant Bank. However, rice production continued under four Australian farmers until it was finally abandoned in 1964.
Despite the project’s failure, the dam wall is maintained to this day, providing freshwater wetland habitat for a large array of bird, turtle, snake, plant, fish species and crocodiles.
Fogg Dam was declared a Bird Protection district in 1959 and a Conservation Reserve in 1982. It was listed as a Heritage Site in 2009 in recognition of the historical significance of the Humpty Doo Rice Project.
With six different habitats (monsoon and eucalypt forests, melaleuca woodland, open scrubland, floodplain and open water) in a small area, Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve has an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna. This makes it fascinating for biologists.
Fogg Dam has the “highest known biomass of predators and prey of any ecosystem on earth – higher even than the fabled Serengeti Plain of Africa.” Dr Thomas Madsen, Woolongong University.
Fogg Dam also has the highest number of water pythons, Liasis fuscus, recorded in the world. Australian Geographic, April-June 2004.
The mutual relationship between water pythons, Liasis fuscus, and dusky rats, Rattus colletti, at Fogg Dam is the only known seasonal migration of its kind in the world. Dusky rats live and breed in cracks in the floodplain in the dry season. Migration starts when rain flushes them out to move to higher ground. Feeding almost exclusively on the rats, pythons follow their food source. As the creatures are nocturnal, the migration is not readily observed.
The water python, important in Aboriginal mythology and known as the Rainbow Serpent, is associated with wetlands, symbolising reproduction and regeneration.
Visitors can enjoy the Woodland to Waterlily Walk through the forest fringe to viewing lookouts. The Monsoon Forest Walk winds through lush forest to the edge of the floodplain. The dam wall has lookouts providing great viewing across the dam and the floodplain.
Fogg Dam is one of the best birdwatching locations in Australia. Reference: Sue Taylor, Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia, 2013. Birdlife Australia (March 2014) and Australian Geographic (August 2011) both included Fogg Dam in the top 10 birding locations in Australia. The Adelaide River wetlands, where Fogg Dam is located, was classified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) for Australia, giving international recognition as special bird areas. In 2018 IBA’s were reclassified as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA).
233 bird species at Fogg Dam are recorded by the Australian Bird Atlas. Workshop Jungle at Fogg Dam has the largest known breeding population of Rainbow Pittas, Pitta iris. Richard Freeman, Conserving Top End Wetlands for Tourism, 1991.
With aquatic vegetation in the dam steadily increasing, a 2010 study by Charles Darwin University (CDU) concluded there may be no open water in the dam by 2021 or even sooner without “active management in the form of an on-going disturbance regime that will reduce vegetation biomass and change its structure.”
Options for disturbance included flushing, deepening, grazing, mechanical harvesting and burning. Parks & Wildlife (P&W) adopted the recommendations, cleared a strip of weed along the dam wall in 2012 and with Friends of Fogg Dam Inc. in 2014 purchased a weed harvester to progressively clear the floating weed mat. Working together with an airboat, land-based equipment and occasional burning, clearing of the weed mat continues.
 Alice CM Leppitt, Donald C Franklin. Possible ecosystem engineering to regulate depth by a clonal sedge encroaching on a tropical freshwater wetland. Wetlands Ecology & Management, Vol.20; 4; 2012, p 341-352.
Significant weeds in the Reserve include Olive hymenachne and Mimosa pigra, both weeds of national significance to be eradicated, Snakeweed (Stachytarpheta spp), Sida acuta and Calopo mucunoides.
Fogg Dam is vulnerable to fire. When FOFD began in 2006, its first priority was to lobby the NT Government to rebuild the Monsoon Forest Walk which had been damaged by fire several years earlier. The closed walk had a sign initially stating it would re-open next year, changed later to 2007. Following lobbying by FOFD, it was re-built, re-opening in 2009.
Fire continues to be a problem, both boardwalks having been badly damaged by arson with several fires lit through the bush and around lookouts.
Buffalo and pigs are an ongoing problem in the reserve. Cane toads are responsible for a decline in small marsupial numbers, eg the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), goannas and some snakes. Siamese fighting fish have been found, illegally released, in the dam. Cats and dogs are a constant threat to wildlife.
Wulna people have been the Traditional Owners of Fogg Dam for thousands of generations. As custodians of knowledge and wisdom passed down by their ancestors, Wulna people have rights, responsibilities and obligations to look after their land through ceremony and sustainable use of resources. Sacred sites are located at Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve and the area is a place of Long-necked turtle dreaming. Traditional Aboriginal culture is a living cultural landscape with dreaming stories that give meaning to all aspects of life. Wulna people and P&W form the Joint Management Committee of the Reserve.
In 1985 Professor Ric Shine, then Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Sydney, became aware of the prevalence of water pythons (Liasis fuscus) at Fogg Dam and commenced biological research there. Professor Shine’s team, now with Macquarie University, NSW, continues this. The Tropical Ecology Research Centre at Fogg Dam that Professor Shine established has provided a valuable ecological database of the area. When cane toads (Rhinella marina) arrived in the area in 2005, the database provided the baseline information for studying the impact of the toads on native wildlife. Professor Shine’s team has contributed much to those studies and to understanding the physiology and evolution of the toads. Professor Shine reputation, as one of few to have three Eureka Science awards and significant research published on work undertaken at Fogg Dam, has made Fogg Dam well known internationally to biologists.