TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

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

New monitoring approach to keep our rivers healthy

New monitoring approach to keep our rivers healthy

In a feature session at the 2011 International River symposium, Dr Simon Townsend outlined the findings from a field trial in the Daly River and Fitzroy River catchments, which was part of a national approach to assessing river and wetland health.

“In the past river health monitoring has focused on just one or two elements of river health, but in this trial we aimed to take a more holistic view,” Dr Townsend said.

“The national framework that was applied included catchment pressures, stream-side vegetation, water quality, changes to river flow, river geomorphology, and the health of fish and water bugs as monitoring parameters.

“TRaCK found that frequent and extensive fires are indirectly placing pressure on Northern Territory and Western Australian rivers by reducing catchment vegetation cover. Weed and feral animal invasions are also threats which need to be monitored closely.

“Since we have an understanding of the major threats, and because sparse populations and limited government resources make widespread monitoring programs difficult in northern Australia, it’s often much more effective to design targeted small-scale monitoring programs.

“The tropical rivers of northern Australia are internationally recognised for their high ecological and cultural values, so monitoring programs need to detect any early degradation of river health.  “River managers will avoid costly river restoration programs if they are able to respond in a timely fashion, which is why well-targeted monitoring programs are so important.”

Using this new approach to monitoring, the Daly and Fitzroy rivers scored around 8 out of a possible 10. There was no single reason why a score of 10, which corresponds to near-pristine condition, was not obtained. Instead, a combination of weeds, land clearing, bank erosion, fire, feral animals and low intensity cattle grazing, as well as lower than expected fish and water bug occurrences, produced the overall river health score.

TRaCK’s report, “Field trial of the Framework for the Assessment of River and Wetland Health (FARWH) in the Wet/Dry Tropics: Daly River and Fitzroy River catchments”, informs a national report also released today, which will allow government to better prioritise investments in river and wetland health projects and the delivery of environmental water.

The report is available at

Dr Townsend is a TRaCK researcher. Find out more about his project at

For interviews please contact TRaCK Knowledge & Adoption Coordinator Amy Kimber on (08) 89467619; 0428 853 425 or