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ARC Linkage Project, Key to Estuary Protection

Dr Alan Cottingham and Dr Chris Hallett from Murdoch University and PHCC’s Dr Steve Fisher

2 January 2018…Have you heard about the latest progress in the ARC-Linkage Project? Peel-Harvey Catchment Council is a partner on an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project titled, Balancing estuarine and societal health in a changing environment; a project led by internationally recognised experts, right here in our backyard. The project team involves more than twenty people from four universities, two State Government departments, two local governments and PHCC.

Much of the 4000 km of our local waterways on the Swan Coastal Plain is degraded due to past and present management practices in our catchment. These practices including inappropriate land uses, alteration of natural watercourses and construction of artificial drains have created sediment and reduced water quality in the catchment which, in turn, can lead to algal blooms or fish kills in the lower reaches of the rivers (such as those that occurred in the Murray River in the autumn of 2017) and in the estuary itself.

The ARC Linkage project investigates the links between catchment management and downstream effects and will use this information to predict changes in estuary health in response to changes in catchment land uses and estuary management. The research will also produce a report card of the current condition of the Peel-Harvey estuary.

Information gathering and water quality monitoring is underway across the estuary and wider catchment. This research will guide decision-making across our catchment, including the internationally recognised Peel-Yalgorup System Ramsar wetlands site.

The Peel Estuary ARC-Linkage Project commenced in 2016 and will conclude in 2019.

Research Team and Partners

The research team is led by Fiona Valesini and Chris Hallett of Murdoch University and Matt Hipsey from University of WA along with scientists from Southern Cross University (NSW), University of Hull (UK) and the WA Department of Water and Environmental Regulation. Partner Organisations are PHCC, WA Department of Premier and Cabinet, the City of Mandurah and the Shire of Murray.

The Partners and Research Team contributed $640,000 in cash and $1.9M in-kind to the project which was used to lever a $541,000 contribution from the Australian Research Council.

Producing a report card for the Peel-Harvey estuary system, and models to predict the future condition of the estuary, are important to all the partner organisations. The report cards will allow waterways managers and the community to assess the condition of our rivers and estuaries.

The PHCC’s Science Advisor, Steve Fisher represents the PHCC. His main role is to link related regional activities and facilitate scientific discussions between the Research Team and the Partner Organisations.

Marina Development at Point Grey

The proposed Point Grey Marina development is a timely example of the need to assess the current condition of a site prior to development.  The marina proposal, which includes dredging and maintaining a navigation channel across the northern end of the Harvey estuary, was approved in 2012, conditional to works commencing by 1 August 2017. This 5-year “time limit for authorisation” has lapsed.

On 26 September 2017, PHCC made a submission to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) opposing an extension to the time limit. PHCC contend that the estuarine water quality, the threatened ecological community of samphire marshes, seagrass coverage and shorebird habitat will all be adversely affected by the development. The PHCC submission is based on a better understanding of the consequences of disturbing sediments through dredging and operation of the marina. This better understanding was gained since the proposal was initially authorised by the EPA in 2012.

The effects of the proposed Point Grey Marina on the health of the estuary have been difficult to predict in the past due to a lack of baseline data.  The ARC-Linkage project has been invaluable in targeting knowledge gaps that currently hinder evidence-based decision making.  When complete, the estuary report card and models will help to assess the impact of potential developments on the health of the estuary.

PHCC SHARE Event

Considerable community concern over the adverse environmental impacts of the proposed marina, and the focus of the ARC-Linkage project on measuring the condition of the estuary, prompted PHCC to host a SHARE event (Social Help, Action and Resources for Environment) in September to inform and involve our community. About 40 members of the community attended this event where members of the research team, Fiona Valesini, Matt Hipsey and Karl Hennig (Department of Water and Environmental Regulation), presented an overview of the project, their research findings so far and a history of development and landuses and environmental issues, including fish kills, since the 1800s.

PHCC organises four SHARE events per year, in March, May, July and September, at their offices in Mandurah.  The SHARE in May 2018 will focus on the causes and response to fish kills in Peel-Harvey waterways.

Team effort

The combined effort of the scientists and partners achieves more than individual organisations working on separate projects. This team effort enables managers of the Peel-Harvey estuary to make more informed decisions based on scientific evidence.

It is hoped that high profile projects such as this will attract other leading scientists and environmental experts to the Peel Region. Future growth in scientific research will enhance current efforts, helping to minimise the impacts of urban and other developments on the valuable and unique environmental assets of the Peel-Harvey estuary and catchment.

This research was partially funded by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council.

ENDS

Media Contact:  Jane O’Malley, Chief Executive Officer, Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, Jane.Omalley@peel-harvey.org.au, (08) 6369 8800

 

We acknowledge the Noongar people as Traditional Custodians of this land and pay our respects to all Elders past and present

 

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