Identifying the water quality and ecosystem health threats to the high diversity Torres Strait and Far Northern GBR from runoff from the Fly River
Led by: Jane Waterhouse, JCU
Runoff from the Fly River in Papua New Guinea influences water quality conditions in the Torres Strait (TS) region however the extent and frequency of this influence, and the potential ecological impacts, are not well understood. Further investigation is required to understand the prevalence and frequency of the extension of the Fly River plume into TS, and the characteristics of plume constituents, particularly metals. This project will build on previous efforts to determine the spatial extent, temporal patterns and constituent pollutants of Fly River discharge, and to a lesser extent, assess the vulnerability of ecosystems in the TS exposed to the discharge.
Torres Strait Islanders depend on their marine resources for food, livelihoods and cultural activities, and river flood plumes have been observed entering northern TS waters. Regular Fly River plumes and the contaminants they carry threaten the quality of marine resources, however the extent and scale of this threat is unknown, particularly as future climate projections are for more rainfall extremes.
To enhance prediction of the Fly River plume and its impacts on TS ecosystems and dependent communities, the project will build on previous work to determine the: (i) spatial extent, temporal patterns and constituent pollutants of Fly River discharge in the TS region and (ii) presence of ecosystems in the TS exposed to Fly River discharge (through existing data). Results will be spatially and temporally delivered via the TS eAtlas to inform decisionmaking.
Under certain conditions Fly River plume waters have been detected across the northern TS, east of the Warrior Reefs, as far west as Saibai and south to Masig (Wolanski, 2013; Martins and Wolanski, 2015). These areas contain complex and important seagrass and reef communities potentially threatened by changes in water quality (Carter et al. 2014). Exploration of model and remote sensing scenarios will identify which environmental and ocean conditions are drivers of Fly River plumes reaching the TS.
How Research Addresses Problem
The project will deliver further understandings of plume flows via modelling driven by real time marine observations, identification of areas of potential exposure, and analysis of metals in sediment and the water column at selected northern TS locations to document current system status. Understanding the extent of flood plume exposure and preliminary desktop assessment of the potential impacts on northern marine ecosystems is important for ensuring the protection of these ‘pristine’ regions of the Reef given their importance to TS communities and turtle and dugong populations.
In collaboration with CSIRO, we will deliver improved understanding of plume flows via modelling driven by real time marine observations, identification of areas of potential exposure, and analysis of metals in sediment and the water column at selected northern TS locations to document current system status. Understanding the extent of flood plume exposure and preliminary desktop assessment of the potential exposure of northern marine ecosystems is important for ensuring the protection of these ‘pristine’ regions of the Reef given their importance to TS communities and turtle and dugong populations, and their connectivity with the GBR Marine Park.
Alignment with NESP Research Priorities
6. Protection of identified Reef systems of high biodiversity value: Identifying and evaluating emerging water quality and ecosystem health threats to the Far Northern GBR (particularly the Torres Strait region) by runoff from the Fly River.
7. Supporting traditional co-management: Building capacity of Indigenous rangers by linking with scientists/managers for estuarine/wetland repair, key species management, comanagement/ planning, identifying key heritage sites.
Torres Strait; Fly River discharge; Water quality; Ecosystem health; Metal contamination.
This project is jointly funded through JCU, AIMS, UNSW, University of Algarve and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme.
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