The Conversation 

10 May 2013

“How many are there?” and “how are they doing?” are the first questions people usually ask about species of conservation concern. These seemingly straightforward questions are tough to answer when it comes to the dugong.

What we do know is that dugongs are generally safer in remote areas, where traditional hunting is the major pressure, than they are around coastal urban areas where they are affected by habitat loss, gill netting, and vessel-strikes, rather than hunting. Read more




Google have recently released an amazing new product that the E-Atlas team thought you would find interesting and useful. Google have brought together all the Landsat imagery (approx. 2,000,000 scene images and 980 TB of data) and created a time animation over the last 28 years of the entire world. You can zoom and pan to any location and see the progression of change in the landscape.

The imagery is most useful for studying land changes and not the marine environment. Each yearly image uses the clearest part of the year (i.e. when there are no clouds) and as a result it does not show flood events.

Examples include:

1. Townsville’s expansion over the last 28 years. Note how dry the dam was in the mid 1980’s.,146.77732,9.901,latLng&t=0.02

2. Moving sand dunes in off of Brisbane and possibly sand mining.,153.41441,10.356,latLng&t=2.84

3. Expansion of agriculture around the mouth of the Burdekin River.,147.31793,9.348,latLng&t=1.56

4. Creation of Lake Proserpine in 1991.,148.44875,9.14,latLng&t=1.62

5. Gladstone Harbour Expansion.,151.21819,10.052,latLng&t=2.21

6. Atherton Tablelands. Some riparian strips have improved; more forest areas have been cleared.,145.47608,10.812,latLng&t=2.87

The e-Atlas team will be represented at the upcoming 2014 Winds of Zenadth Torres Strait cultural festival on Thursday Island from 9-12 September. This event is run every two years and brings together thousands of people from the region. The e-Atlas team will showcase the newly developed Torres Strait e-Atlas.

The Torres Strait e-Atlas is a valuable tool designed to enhance community access to information about their environments. Using a new website ( and interactive mapping system for presenting environmental research and reference data, the e-Atlas promotes greater use and application of this information by local communities and management staff.

As Dr Eric Lawrey, the project leader for the e-Atlas, explains "The cultural festival is a great opportunity for us to engage with the broader Torres Strait community and to see what they find most useful and interesting about the e-Atlas. We have previously run a range of workshops with government stakeholders and the local Tagai State College but nothing on this scale."

At the stall, people will be encouraged to do an activity using the Torres Strait e-Atlas, in return for a specially created e-Atlas cap. There will be a large touch screen interactive display and a number of "physical" atlases to help explain some of the key concepts of the e-Atlas including base maps, map layers, and the catalogue of layers. Participants will be given a plastic slate, onto which they can choose a printed base map of the region. They will then pick from a catalogue of printed transparent map layers that they can layer together to investigate spatial relationships. Once they have made a map with the physical e-Atlas, they will then be guided through how to achieve the same result more efficiently using the online Torres Strait e-Atlas.

In addition to the cultural festival, the e-Atlas team will have one-on-one sessions with government stakeholders and will again run a classroom session at Tagai State College. The physical e-Atlas is something that should work well in a classroom setting and so it will be interesting to see how the young people and wider community interact with both the physical and online version of the Torres Strait e-Atlas.

Prototype of the physical e-Atlas with a number of layers for Torres Strait.
This teaching aid covers key e-Atlas concepts such as basemaps and map layering.

For more information, contact Dr Eric Lawrey from AIMS at




The Bright Earth e-Atlas Basemap is an improved basemap that focuses on Queensland, highlighting the natural environment and the areas of human influence rather than the traditional roadmap available from Google Maps. With this basemap we wanted to show off the Great Barrier Reef, its river catchments, the wet tropics rainforests and the Torres Strait.

The e-Atlas developed a popular basemap several years ago, however its low resolution made it unsuitable for use with many of the new high resolution datasets now available on the e-Atlas and elsewhere. The eReefs Water Quality Dashboard team are using this old basemap and requested a new higher resolution version be created. This new basemap will also become the starting point for an even higher resolution version for the Torres Strait, it will be one of the key features of the Torres Strait e-Atlas.

The new Bright Earth basemap is most detailed along the Queensland coastline at scale of 1:250k nestled seamlessly within a global map at a scale of 1:2M. This allows the e-Atlas users to zoom in and out without ever noticing the boundary of the high resolution map.

The new Bright Earth basemap was compiled mainly from open access datasets which will allow the basemap and its components to be made freely available to others. The following datasets were used: Natural Earth Data, Blue Marble Next Generation (NASA), VMap0, gbr100 (JCU), GBR Features (GBRMPA), QLUMP Landuse (DSITIA), OpenStreetMap (CloudMap), Coast100k (GA), Gulf of Papua Bathymetry (GA), STRM30 Plus (UCSD).

The new basemap will be available on the e-Atlas website,, from the 22nd Aug 2013.

For further information contact:

Project: 13.1 e-Atlas



Spear fishers have known it all along: water on inshore reefs can be pretty murky - especially early in the year, and especially after big floods. But the time scales and processes leading to changes in water clarity have not been scientifically documented to date.

Maintaining water clarity is very important for the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Corals, seagrasses and algae all depend on light, which diminishes if the water gets cloudy. High water clarity is a prerequisite for low seaweed cover, high inshore coral diversity, and high numbers of young corals to settle and replenish coral populations. Water clarity is therefore an important measure that is being used in the GBRMPA Water Quality Guidelines.

NERP researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science investigated how GBR water clarity is affected by river runoff. Tropical Ecosystems Hub Project 4.1 is a study based on two independent types of data.

The first study was a collaboration with the Reef Rescue co-funded AIMS Marine Monitoring Program, who maintain turbidity loggers on inshore reefs up and down the whole GBR. The researchers found that water clarity was up to 10-fold higher on inshore reefs away compared to those close to river mouths. They also showed that inshore water clarity was significantly affected by river flow and rainfall, once resuspension by waves and tides were accounted for. On the more river-exposed reefs, water clarity was high towards the end of the dry season but was reduced by over 40% on average at the end of the wet season.

The second study is a collaboration with UQ and JCU, using a 10-year time series (2002-2012) of daily satellite data of water clarity in the Burdekin Region. The researchers found a very strong relationship between annual Burdekin River loads of particulate phosphorus, and mean annual water clarity in the central GBR, an area of about 25,000 km2. Water clarity of the inshore, lagoon and midshelf, i.e. about 12 to 80 km from the coast, rapidly declined with the onset of the river floods (data were again standardised for waves and tides). For the coastal zone that is chronically turbid this relationship was weaker, because sediment on the seafloor is readily available for resuspension all year round. River floods did not affect water clarity in the offshore zone. Throughout the study region, mean annual water clarity was 20% lower in wet compared to dry years. After floods started, water clarity remained reduced by over 30% for about six to eight months, until gradually returning to clearer baseline values.

So, both studies showed that river loads affected GBR water clarity for significant periods of time every year, and especially after big wet seasons. Importantly however, the studies also showed the capacity for GBR water clarity to recover to clear levels within six to eight months after river floods. The research therefore documented that reductions in river loads of nutrients and sediments should measurably improve the GBR water clarity, in particular in inshore, lagoon and midshelf areas. This would provide significant ecosystem benefits, such as increasing coral diversity and less seaweed - and better spear fishing conditions!

Dr. Katharina Fabricius, AIMS

For more information, contact Katharina Fabricius at:

Project 4.1: Tracking coastal turbidity over time and demonstrating the effects of river discharge events on regional turbidity in the Great Barrier Reef



Conservation planning is an important pathway from environmental data to achievable conservation outcomes. But what happens when limited published data or grey literature data exists? This is the challenge facing the team from Project 9.3 ‘Prioritizing Management Actions on Great Barrier Reef Islands’.

To address this challenge, Tropical Ecosystems Hub researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University have called upon the environmental managers at Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to tap into their inherent knowledge and understanding of the island systems that they manage.

A three-day workshop was held in Rockhampton to fill in crucial knowledge gaps in the data. All questions to the managers were asked using expert elicitation techniques that have been rigorously tested to ensure their efficacy. Over the course of the workshop, managers were asked a series of questions on population estimates, habitat association, life history traits, and ecological niches of birds present on the islands.

Managers were then asked about which threats, including, but not limited to, rats, introduced grazers, invasive ant species, and several weed species were present on the islands. Finally, managers were asked to link the threats to the species of concern. By the end of the three-day workshop, the project team had compiled the most comprehensive dataset to date for the study islands on the bird species and threats present on the islands.

The project team has been able to use the collected data to determine which species on which islands are vulnerable given the threats that exist on the islands. The team is currently undertaking a comprehensive meta-analysis on invasive species ecology that will allow them to explicitly model the relationship between the threats and the species they affect. Given that the team now has population data on all of the species of concern, they can begin to predict population declines if actions are not taken to address the threats that exist on the islands.

The project focused on an initial subset of 13 islands in the southern Great Barrier Reef that represent a wide range of size, regional ecosystems, species presence, and use. Following the elicitation workshop, the team can begin the process of expanding the subset to 100-200 islands. This research will provide a decision support tool for use by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for prioritizing management actions.

Contact Professor Bob Pressey ( or Amelia Wenger ( for more information.




ABC News

11 November 2013

Experts in moths, ants, birds, beetles, snails and plants have converged on Eungella National Park in north Queensland to find out how climate impacts biodiversity.

Together they'll search through tens of thousands of insect species to find a few climate sensitive creepy crawlies to be used as litmus tests in future climate change studies. Read more




Falco-Mammone, F. (2013) Evaluation of NERP TE HUB Generated Knowledge Uptake by Research Users. Baseline Survey Report.


Carmody, J. (2015) Evaluation of NERP TE Hub Generated Knowledge Uptake by Research Users. Final Survey Report.


The Conversation

18 June 2013

Pesticide levels considered environmentally friendly in Europe and Australia are, in fact, having a devastating effect on invertebrate insect biodiversity in nearby creeks and streams, a new study has found, showing the need for an urgent overhaul of the way pesticide risk is assessed.

Water-dwelling invertebrates like worms, snails, crustaceans, mites and insects play a crucial role in regional ecosystems because they provide food for fish, birds and platypuses. Read more