Freshwater coastal wetlands and mangrove habitats provide a variety of ecosystem services include flood protection, erosion control, wildlife food and habitat, commercial fisheries, water quality, recreation and carbon sequestration1. An ecosystem service may be defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”2.

Unfortunately these areas are under threat World-wide, from rural development and agriculture as well as erosion and inundation from sea level rise and increasing storm frequency3.

Dr Damien Burrows of TropWATER4 (JCU) gave an overview of the issues facing GBR and Torres Strait wetlands and mangroves, particularly as a result of anthropogenic changes. Pesticides, excess nutrients and sediments flow into these areas, altering the habitat and ecology and, within wetlands, road and bund development creates barriers to water flow and fish passage. Loss of native riparian vegetation and the rise of introduced floating and emergent aquatic weeds were discussed, as was damage caused by feral animals (fish and mammals).

The Burdekin coastal wetlands were used as an example with one of the main threats the coverage of lagoons by floating weeds such as water hyacinth. This Class 2 Pest Plant was originally introduced to Australia as an aquatic ornamental but has since become a major pest of rivers and dams5. Mats of the weed destroy native habitat, decreasing biodiversity, seriously depleting water of oxygen, increasing water loss and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes6. Dr Burrows suggested that removal was the only effective means of control; killing the weed and leaving it to decay only exacerbates the problem.

The conversion of grazing land to agriculture was also seen as a threat allowing weeds such as paragrass and Hymenachne to dominate adjacent wetlands. Here Dr Burrows suggested that wetlands could be restored through grazing and fire management and displayed examples showing the effectiveness of grazing as a weed management tool.

Dr Burrow’s and his team have also been working in Torres Strait, in collaboration with Torres Strait Regional Authority Land and Sea Management Unit (TSRA LMSU) Rangers. Surveys (NERP TE Hub project 2.2) have been undertaken and knowledge exchanged with Island communities. The research shows that shoreline mangroves have been badly affected by human and other impacts. The main human-related drivers of change were seen to be clearing and cutting, the burial of roots with dredge spoilage, pollutants and fire, the latter particularly in freshwater wetlands. Other factors included shoreline erosion, mangrove upland migration, storm damage (wind, lightning and sediment deposition) and damage by feral animals (pigs and deer) and weeds (pond apple6).

As part of the NERP TE Hub program, Dr Burrows and his team have refined their method for rapidly assessing the condition of mangrove habitats over large spatial scales (tens to hundreds of kms in days). This is achieved using boats and/or helicopters and is often conducted with the help of local community members or indigenous rangers. Dr Burrows concluded with a recent example of this, assessing the shorelines of the Burnett River in response to the recent floods where mangrove habitats have suffered extensive damage.


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Science World Report

24 October 2013

Amphibians are declining across the globe. The increase of pollution and changing climate are drastically impacting these animal populations. Now, scientists have discovered something else about this amphibian decline. It turns out that the combination of the herbicide atrazine and a fungal disease is particularly deadly to frogs. The findings could help inform future decisions about where and when to use this particular chemical.

"Understanding how stressors cause enduring health effects is important because these stressors might then be avoided or mitigated during formative developmental stages to prevent lasting increases in disease susceptibility," said Jason Rohr, one of the researchers, in a news releases. Read more




ABC News

04 September 2013

The Australian Rainforest Foundation says new federal funding will allow it to crack down on weeds and pests near the world heritage-listed wet tropics area in far north Queensland.

It will receive $775,000 over three years for its project in the Mission Beach Cassowary Corridor.

Executive director Roger Phillips says the group will also help farmers in the region deal with pests and train up to 25 Indigenous rangers. Read more



ABC News

16 January 2014

Tour boat operators, with the help of a $1.1 million government grant, are at the forefront of the fight to manage the impact of the crown of thorns starfish on the Great Barrier Reef. This gallery explores how they do it.

Col McKenzie says teams of around 10 divers stay at sea for 10-day trips, diving four times each day and ultimately destroying around 5,000 starfish each trip. But the teams are having little impact. Read more




Dredging Today

21 October 2013

Environment group Save the Reef says the new federal Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, should reconvene the Independent Review of the Port of Gladstone given the latest revelations about water quality in the harbour.

A Gladstone Ports Corporation report from September-October 2011 has confirmed that high turbidity in Gladstone Harbour was caused by a leaking bund wall being constructed as part of the Western Basin Dredging & Disposal Project. The report acknowledged that the high sediment load caused harmful algae which is known to produce disease in marine life. Read more




It is often a challenge to make science accessible and useful to regional planners; for both sides of the researcher/research user divide. What are the information needs; how and when do regional groups use the science and in what form, and are research programs meeting planning and delivery needs?

These questions were amongst those discussed at a combined NERP TE Hub/Stream 2 Climate Change workshop run by James Cook University’s Cairns Institute on the 4th of June. The meeting, led by Professor Allan Dale and organised by Gay Crowley, was very well attended by an enthusiastic and engaged group of NRMs and RDA research users, and researchers from across the State. Attendees came from Natural Resource Management bodies, including Cape York, Northern and Southern Gulf, North Queensland Dry Tropics and Terrain. Regional Development Australia was also represented, as was Charles Darwin University, CSIRO, James Cook University and RRRC Ltd, representatives of the NERP TE Hub, the NERP Northern Australia Hub, and Stream 2 Climate Change Wet Tropics and Monsoon North Research Programs.

The day was a culmination of two years of work under NERP TE Hub project CF2, completed at the end of June, and focused on integrating NERP TE Hub science into North Queensland regional planning undertaken by RDA and the NRMs.

Initially Professor Dale addressed the key objective, emphasising the need to develop a clear understanding of NRM plans and how climate change science might feed into them.

The regional bodies then described their planning, governance and engagement processes, underway to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Although each group's processes were region-specific, many similarities were identified, as were areas where efforts could be aligned.

The potential for research to support regional planning efforts was then identified in six areas: governance and engagement; knowledge synthesis, storage and access systems; scenario development; planning and prioritisation tools; and monitoring and evaluation systems.

Subsequent identification of substantial existing contributions by NERP and Stream 2 research projects was then followed by "breakout" sessions which discussed where these efforts could be strengthened and extended to other initiatives. The key messages here surrounded the need to build communications and keep strengthening relationships between researchers and research users.

One of the major outputs of the project describes the climate change (CC) relevance of the NERP TE Hub projects to North Queensland Natural Resource Management groups from Torres Strait to Mary Burnett and west to include Northern Gulf. These summaries (link below) were discussed at the Workshop, and will be used to identify options for project findings to be incorporated into NRM planning and management.

The Workshop was counted as a success by all attending, and the work continues, to improve the long-term resilience of the landscape, communities and agricultural economies, funded by the Federal Government's Carbon Farming Initiative, and the Biodiversity Fund.

The Conversation

17 December 2013

The latest climate talk in Warsaw may have achieved little in the way of action on climate change, but they were even worse for biodiversity. In fact, since early climate talks in the 1990s, biodiversity has vanished from international and Australian climate policy. So, why has biodiversity become decoupled from climate change? Read more

09 January 2014

Scientists have gained new insight into the damage done to coral in the Southern Great Barrier Reef by river run-off caused by intense weather events like the 2011 floods.

Core samples obtained from corals around the Keppel Islands reveals the way flood plumes from Queensland's Fitzroy River catchment have impacted reefs as far as 50km from the mouth of the river. Read more



Australian Canegrower

18 March 2013

This is the third in a series of articles on the National Environmental Research Program Tropical Ecosystems hub (NERP TE). [Editor’s note: see 12 November 2012 Australian Canegrower for the first article in this series.]

Annual surveys of reefs by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) have shown that average coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) fell to half its initial level during the 27 years prior to 2012.



20 November 2014

Despite increasing pressures from fishing and greater stresses on the Great Barrier Reef, coral trout fish numbers have increased by 50% since the 1980s. So what’s the secret? Anja Taylor takes a dive to investigate how marine parks, take and no take zones are helping to replenish fish stocks. Watch and read more