TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

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

Monitoring river health in the wet-dry tropics: strategic considerations, community participation and indicators

Monitoring river health in the wet-dry tropics


TitleMonitoring river health in the wet-dry tropics: strategic considerations, community participation and indicators
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsTownsend, S, Humphrey, C, Choy, S, Dobbs, R, Burford, M, Hunt, R, Jardine, T, Kennard, M, Shellberg, J, Woodward, E
Date Published12/2012
InstitutionGriffith University
ISBN Number978-1-921576-67-6
KeywordsMonitoring river health

River health is in generally good condition in the Australian wet–dry tropics compared to the more developed parts of Australia. The health of rivers is nevertheless modified by anthropogenic activities due to diffuse catchment pressures; notably grazing, feral animals and fire, and more localised pressures from mining and agriculture.

Residents of the wet–dry tropics have high expectations that the rivers will remain healthy, and view any degradation, even if minor on a national scale, as being significant and the possible start of long-term degradation.

Monitoring river health in the wet–dry tropics faces significant challenges. The vast area, small population base and limited allweather road infrastructure impose resource and logistical challenges. The high seasonality of rainfall also imposes constraints on monitoring. In the wet season most rivers are inaccessible. In the dry season many rivers cease flowing while others reduce to a series of disconnected pools or waterholes. Some rivers and streams are groundwater-fed and flow year-round.

The key objective for long-term monitoring espoused in this report is the early detection of anthropogenic effects that may potentially degrade river health. This concurs with the approach of the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council and the Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ANZECCARMCANZ
2000). This approach is especially significant in the wet-dry tropics to provide warning of river health degradation and thereby avoid the social and economic costs of restoration. In many parts of Australia monitoring is directed to assessing river health responses to restoration activities.

Early detection however requires adequate resources, which are severely limited in the north, and a sound knowledge of the desired reference condition so that natural inter-annual variability can be distinguished from anthropogenic impacts. To address the resource constraint, a two-tiered approach to monitoring is proposed. This approach acknowledges that not everything, everywhere, can be monitored.