TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

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

TRaCK features in Stories of Australian Science 2010

TRaCK features in Stories of Australian Science 2010

Three articles about TRaCK projects  have been featured in this magazine which was distributed to 500 delegates at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, held in Melbourne, 1-4 December 2009.

  •       Erosion and dams threaten barramundi and prawn fisheries

Kilometre-wide erosion gullies eating their way across Australia’s northern landscape are proving likely culprits as the main source of the sediments that are flushed into the Gulf of Carpentaria each year, possibly smothering prawn and barramundi breeding and rearing habitats.

Researchers involved in the Tropical Rivers & Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) program are trying to find out more about northern Australia’s rivers in the face of demands to develop them as southern water supplies run dry.

Other TRaCK research is looking at how floods into the Gulf affect the catch of prawns as freshwater flooding into the estuaries lowers the salinity and pushes the prawns out to sea where they are harvested.

The natural river flows connecting the tiny headwaters, waterholes, massive floodplains and estuaries are important for maintaining the reproductive and feeding habitats for fish like barramundi that move upstream during the wet season.

If the northern rivers are dammed, or if water is taken out for irrigation, this is likely to upset the natural movements of barramundi and it will mean less freshwater flowing into estuaries, with a probable reduced catch for prawn fishers.

Follow the link to access the article:
For more information: TRaCK, Ruth O’Connor, Tel: +61 (7) 3735 5094,,

  •       Understanding how Indigenous people value rivers

Indigenous people value rivers in many ways. Rivers provide bush foods and medicines, they are part of a culturally significant landscape, and have the potential to sustain future water-related businesses and employment.

So it’s important to know what impact changing river flow patterns and water allocations could have on Indigenous communities.

As part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) program in northern Australia, CSIRO is recording Indigenous knowledge relating to water and quantifying the economic benefit to Indigenous people from water-dependent resources.

Results from one region indicate that northern long-necked turtles surpass the more iconic barramundi and magpie geese as the most commonly taken bush tucker food.

The researchers also realised that long necked turtles were an important food for some communities.

Northern long-necked turtles lay their eggs under water along the edge of billabongs, which need to dry and then flood for the eggs to hatch. According to CSIRO’s Dr Marcus Finn, turtles had not been not on the radar of most other interest groups. “If billabongs don’t fill any more because of water diversions or other land use changes, turtles won’t be able to breed and this will affect the food supply of Indigenous communities,” he says.

Follow the link to access the article:
For more information: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Marcus Finn, Tel: +61 (8) 8944 8436,,

  •       Representing traditional ecological knowledge in northern Australia

Traditional knowledge can tell us much about the ecology of northern Australia.

The Nauiyu community from Daly River in the Northern Territory have worked with CSIRO’s Emma Woodward to create a seasonal calendar.

The seasonal cycle recorded on the calendar closely follows the cycle of annual speargrass (Sarga spp.), with many of the 13 seasons identified named according to speargrass life stages. For example, the season known as ‘Wurr wirribem dudutyamu’ occurs when speargrass seed heads are swollen and are hanging heavily. The term ‘taddo’ refers to the sounds of the seed heads knocking together as they start to open up, and indicates that the rainy season is nearing its end.
The Ngan’gi seasonal calendar represents a wealth of traditional ecological knowledge. The development of the calendar was driven by a community desire to document seasonal-specific knowledge of the river and its wetlands, including the environmental indicators that act as cues for bush tucker collection.

The calendar also addresses community concern about the loss of traditional knowledge, as older people from the language group pass away and younger people no longer use Ngan’gi as a first language.

The research is part of a Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) funded project on Indigenous socio-economic values and rivers flows in northern Australia.

Follow the link to access the article:
For more information: CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Emma Woodward, Tel: +61 (8) 8944 8409,,