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Water Quality Monitoring to Save the Reef

Story by Sandra Lloyd | Photo by Kerry Trapnell

Reduction in soil erosion on mitigated sites makes a substantial difference to water quality on the Reef
 

When we turn on the tap, go for a swim in the creek or cook a freshly caught fish, most of us take it for granted that these are all safe actions. The reality is that behind the scenes, community groups, rangers, Traditional Owners, and scientists work tirelessly to ensure that the quality of the world’s most valuable resource is as high as possible. From rivers and creeks to coastal waters, estuaries, wetlands, and paddocks, Water Quality Monitoring is a critical practice carried out to ensure that quality. In Eastern Cape York Water Quality Monitoring has a number of important roles, among them: to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Aquatic ecosystems are valuable resources and none more so than the Reef, precious to all who recognise its scale, beauty and biodiversity. For Australia’s Traditional Owners, it is an integral part of their culture and identity. The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, including more than 2900 separate coral reefs, 2000 square kilometres of mangroves, 6000 square kilometres of seagrass beds and 1050 islands. There are 1625 fish species, 450 species of coral, six of the world’s seven sea turtle species, and one of the world’s most important dugong populations.

Over two thirds of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lies off the coast of the Cape York Natural Resource Management area. When nutrient, pesticide and sediment - laden runoff enters the reef through flood events is can have a major impact on coral and seagrass habitats, blocking sunlight for photosynthesis, interfering with fish gills, and making the Reef less able to withstand, or recover from, events like the coral bleaching and cyclone and storm events.

So how are we ensuring the water that flows from land to sea has a low sediment load? Much has already been achieved by Natural Resource Management bodies, Traditional Owners, landholders and community but there is more work to do. Reducing erosion, remediating gullies, improving land management practices, and controlling weeds and feral animals all play their part.

Cape York Natural Resource Management’s Cape York Water Quality Improvement Plan has targets to ultimately bring the region’s water bodies to a High Conservation/Ecological Value (HEV). To realistically achieve HEV requires regular monitoring to understand the effects of land-based activities on the Great Barrier Reef.

This project is supported by Cape York NRM and has been funded by the Queensland Government Reef Water Quality Program.

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