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Program 7 - Halting and Reversing the Decline of Water Quality

Program Leaders:
Dr Katharina Fabricius, Australian Institute of Marine Science
Professor Richard Pearson, James Cook University
Dr Iain Gordon, CSIRO

The quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon has been declining and is negatively affecting the condition of its ecosystems.  There is an urgent need to elevate our certainty about the effectiveness of actions taken under the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Reef Plan), and for improved scientific understanding of how the condition of freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems are linked to terrestrial processes. 

Program 7 consists of three main areas:

  • Marine and estuarine water quality;

  • Freshwater water quality; and

  • Ecosystem and social frameworks for water quality.

The main outcome of this Program is to identify robust indicators for water quality in freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems which will enable the development of tools to improve water quality specific monitoring and determine pollutant thresholds of potential concern for exposure of selected bioindicators.  This information will be integrated with economic and social drivers of land-use management that influence water quality to produce an Integrated Report Card framework for water quality.  The Program will collaborate with the relevant managing agencies of the Reef Plan and user groups to assimilate data from multiple sources into a simplified report card for Great Barrier Reef catchments.  This information will form a significant part of the water quality reporting under the Reef Plan.

Program 7 will also develop catchment-specific tracers for improved understanding of the links between terrestrial and marine water quality, and for identification of Great Barrier Reef lagoon areas at greatest risk of exposure to land-based pollutants.  The tracer project will characterise and obtain a distinct isotopic, elemental, physical, and mineralogical 'fingerprint' of the fine sediments (mud fraction) delivered to the Great Barrier Reef within selected wet tropics and dry tropics catchments.

In addition, the Program 7 will develop predictive tools to assess the impacts of changes in land use, management and climate on the flow, water quality regimes and ecological dynamics of the wetlands and floodplains of catchments adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. There is a considerable gap in our current understanding of ecological connectivity between coastal wetlands and reef and the impact declining water quality has on this important linkage.

Two projects conducted as independent processes in Year 1 of the MTSRF Program was brought together in Year 2 to strengthen the delivery and outcomes for end user needs regarding social and economic considerations for improving water quality in the GBR.  The amalgamation of these critical research components has resulted in greater benefit from work conducted by enabling stronger linkages between catchment based activities, water quality and climate to be established. Year 3 of the program explored sustainable environmental targets and associated land use and land management patterns in linked terrestrial and marine ecosystems in the Dry Tropics. This included the assessment of instruments promoting the adoption of land use and land management patterns.

The e-Atlas will provide a mechanism by which data collated through this program can be assimilated with other data sources and interpreted for relevant management and reporting needs for water quality in the Great Barrier Reef.

Further Information

Ms Sheriden Morris
Water Quality Program Research Manager
Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited
Tel: (07) 4050 7400


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Halting the Decline of Water Quality

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