TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

Science and knowledge that governments, communities, industries for sustainable use of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries

The needs of Kimberley’s tropical rivers differ to southern rivers

The needs of Kimberley’s tropical rivers differ to southern rivers

TRaCK reports back to water managers on three years of research on Australia’s tropical rivers.

Tropical rivers flowing through the Kimberley region of north Western Australia, like the Fitzroy River, are fundamentally different to those in southern Australia and therefore must be managed differently.

The Aboriginal communities of northern Australia rely heavily on tropical rivers for the food and cultural values they provide. The survival of barramundi, turtles, crocodiles, freshwater prawns and other animals living in tropical rivers depends on the rains from the wet season connecting isolated waterholes back with the main river channels and the floodplains.

These are some of the findings from three years of Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) research carried out in northern Australia, and discussed with representatives of the WA Department of Water recently in Kununurra.

“One of our most important findings has been the need to better understand Indigenous cultural values of tropical rivers and to include them in water planning right from the start,” says TRaCK researcher, Professor Peter Davies from the University of Western Australia.

Dave Munday, regional manager Kimberley with the WA Department of Water agrees: “there has always been a leaning towards the thought of ‘cultural water’ for Indigenous people as being the along the same lines as ‘environmental water’, but TRaCK’s research shows that these can be quite different.

“For example, there can be good overall river flows and a generally healthy environment, but turtles which may be an important part of the diet of local Aboriginal communities are in short supply. This means the river is not sustaining important turtle populations.”

One of the most exciting things to happen in the one day meeting between TRaCK researchers and the Department of Water was the match between the knowledge TRaCK had gained through its research and the questions that those involved in water planning, allocation and information needed answering

“This is the first time we have had a workshop like this where we could articulate what we were looking for to assist water management and we could see how many of the research outcomes matched up with our needs,” says Mr Munday.

“The digital atlas of knowledge that TRaCK is producing is awesome and as water planners we are looking forward to accessing that information to see what animals and plants live in what reaches of the river, as well as key issues for those reaches. We can put this into our planning models and come up with more accurate answers to our questions. This information will also be available for communities to us.”

Professor Davies says TRaCK research emphasises the importance of natural river flows, both in the wet and dry season, for maintaining animal and plant biodiversity in these rivers.
“Water flows that connect the floodplains to the main river channel are particularly important for maintaining biodiversity by allowing fish to move throughout the river system for breeding, growth and feeding,” he says.

“For example, groundwater flows into the Fitzroy River are critical for maintaining waterholes and flows during the dry season, which are important for sustaining populations of fish, turtles and other animals.”

Dave Munday says when the Department of Water are looking at water allocation they often focus on what is the minimum amount of water needed to maintain the environment of a particular reach of river.

“But TRaCK research reinforces the need to consider the whole river in water planning and all the animals that depend on it,” he says.

TRaCK receives major funding for its research through the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities initiative; the Australian Government’s Raising National Water Standards Program; Land and Water Australia; the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation and the Queensland Government’s Smart State Innovation Fund.

For more information, see the website

For interview:
Professor Peter Davies, Director of the Centre of Excellence in Natural Resource Management, University of Western Australia, phone: 0418 913 584

Dave Munday, Regional Manager Kimberley Department of Water, phone: 0429 118 585

For media assistance and photos of TRaCK researchers working in the Kimberley:
Jenni Metcalfe, phone 0408 551 866;