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River research for the public good | TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

TRaCK: Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge

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

Research Themes

River research for the public good

River research for the public good

We aim to provide the science and knowledge that governments, communities and industries need for the sustainable use and management of Australia's tropical rivers and estuaries.

Research themes

TRaCK's research combines science, economic and social perspectives. Our research aims to look beyond the river banks, to the floodplains and down to the estuaries and coasts to capture the “whole river picture”, including how people value these catchments. Our different strands of research are organised into six interconnected themes:

Study area

The tropical rivers region is vast and often inaccessible.  While studying the whole region in detail would be ideal, it is not feasible.  TRaCK consulted communities and interest groups in the north to determine which catchments it should focus its research efforts on.  These four catchments are the Fitzroy in Western Australia, the Daly in the Northern Territory, and the Mitchell and Flinders catchments in Queensland.  During the first phase of research from 2006-2012, the majority of our field-based research occurred in these catchments. Several projects also sought to investigate the the entire northern Australia, tropical rivers area.

When TRaCK was first conceived it was anticipated that ten years of research was needed to gain a good baseline understanding of tropical rivers. Having completed the first phase of research, we recently sought feedback on the next phase of research, with some people interested in seeing a shift in focus catchments to include the Ord River and the dry tropics.

Projects

The first phase of TRaCK research was made up of 21 projects, followed by a ‘synthesis and adoption’ year with six projects funded by the National Water Commission. A full listing of these projects is available here, or you can explore via research catchments or themes.

 

Making decisions about water

Project Leader:
Francis Pantus
Outcomes This project was reviewed and wound up in late 2008.  It was superseded by Project 1.4 "Knowledge integration and science delivery" which observed a tighter focus – iinitially only including the Daly River.
1.01
Project Leader:
Owen Stanley
Outcomes For Governments, this research enabled Indigenous aspirations to be more clearly heard within mainstream water planning processes, thus leading to more inclusive policy making and better decisions. For Indigenous land holders, ranger groups and organisations this research has developed skills, capacity and confidence that they are able to actively shape decisions that affect the river values that are important to them. Through this research Indigenous landholders are now better positioned to understand and say what's important to them and how they want the future to unfold. For catchment authorities, natural resource management boards and landcare groups, this research has meant that their work in identifying priority land management tasks is done with a more active and useful contribution from Indigenous partners.
1.02
Project Leader:
Poh-Ling Tan
Outcomes The project improved water planning efforts at two levels: Nationally by developing a tool-kit of good practices to engage industry, Indigenous and rural communities; by setting guidelines and benchmarks to monitor and evaluate collaboration in water planning; and by establishing procedures that integrated Indigenous values into water planning. Regionally with its assistance of water agencies to improve water planning approaches; by its help to minimise conflicts between parties; by providing models and case studies for good collaboration; by its help in developing stronger long-term relationships between stakeholders.
1.03
Project Leader:
Francis Pantus
Outcomes The main outcomes from this project was the improved understanding of the workings of tropical rivers and estuaries and the capability to develop and evaluate various management options which support evidence-based decision-making in the region. This was achieved through engagement with stakeholders in order to identify realistic scenarios for the future management of key rivers and coasts, consolidating TRaCK knowledge into models that find place within the broader Catchment-to-Coast -MSE framework, and through the development of software tools that deliver TRaCK knowledge into the region's natural resource planning and decision-making processes. Scenario evaluation is not only important as a tool to develop and formally test various options for natural resource management, the MSE concepts and models are also used to help scope science development programs (e.g. TRaCK). As such, it functions as a knowledge management system, for instance in the setting of directions or prioritise development options.
1.04

River assets & values

Project Leader:
Anna Straton
Outcomes Communities, industry and government now have a greater awareness of the full value of Australia's tropical rivers, and decision-makers have access to improved knowledge about community preferences for the future of Australia's tropical rivers. Decision-makers have knowledge of the economic value of several tropical river features and also have knowledge of the economic value of several options for the future of Australia's tropical rivers in dollar terms. This knowledge will provide direct input into the evaluation of alternative development pathways for Australia's tropical rivers. Decision-makers now have more detailed knowledge about the social, economic and ecological components of tropical river systems that have historically and may in the future contribute to the maintenance of the value of Australia's tropical rivers or the creation of new value. This will provide decision-makers with (a) a new conceptual framework for understanding and assessing value, and (b) input into decisions in the form of improved understanding about potential vulnerabilities in the capacity of Australia's tropical rivers to continue to support key activities and uses, and provide the services and benefits they do currently.
2.01
Project Leader:
Sue Jackson
Outcomes Project outcomes included: Improved understanding of the social and economic significance of water, rivers and wild resources to Indigenous people in the Daly (NT) and Fitzroy (WA) catchments; Systematic and comprehensive assessment of Indigenous values (related to flow) and the impact of change to flow regime; A tested method to assess, incorporate and monitor Indigenous values in water planning; Indigenous participation in a trial monitoring program for flow regime change and wild resource use; and Collaborations to enhance the capacity of researchers, Indigenous communities and managers to incorporate social assessments in water allocation decisions and planning.
2.02

Types of tropical rivers

Project Leader:
Natalie Stoeckl
Outcomes This project benefited natural resource managers, policy makers, local and state governments, and community groups in enhancing their knowledge about: the current status, and growth rate of the region's socio-economic systems; some of their 'interactions' with the environment; and the likely impacts on the socio-economic systems and, by extension, environmental systems of alternative development paths. In addition, it: identified critical knowledge gaps within the region's socioeconomic systems. This information is useful to local residents, and/or others considering moving to, or investing in, the TRaCK region.
3.01
Project Leader:
Andrew Brooks
Outcomes This project developed a tool describing similarities and differences in riverscapes across the region at three spatial scales.  The tool is in the form of a web-based GIS product (subject to negotiations with organisations who would host the site).  It is possible for a variety of map products to be generated from this interface. The web-based GIS product is broadly applicable for use by government agencies and regional NRM groups in planning their management actions. Different management actions are appropriate for different types of riverscape. The output from this project has been designed in a manner that can be updated as more detailed base data becomes available in the future.
3.02
Project Leader:
Brad Pusey
Outcomes This research has enabled the important findings of other TRaCK research projects in catchments such as the Daly, Fitzroy and Mitchell Rivers to be transferred and applied with confidence, to other catchments in north Australia. For Government natural resource managers the findings from this research has greatly improved the understanding of how remotely sensed data on the environmental attributes of catchments can be used to define water flows. By inferring the water flow characteristics of rivers, where actual flow data would be otherwise unavailable or limited, water planners are better placed to determine environmental water requirements and manage water allocation across Australia in an ecologically sustainable way. An improved understanding of the relationships between hydrology, environmental characteristics and ecology has also assisted in predicting how water flows respond to global climate change.
3.03

Water, sediments & nutrients

Project Leader:
Richard Cresswell
Outcomes Government policy and water planning staff have benefited from an increased understanding of the links between surface water and groundwater systems in tropical environments. For example, they are better able to predict the effects of groundwater pumping on groundwater levels and river flows. Government staff and regional natural resource management bodies are also now better able to predict the effects of landuse change (in terms of vegetation cover) on groundwater levels and river flows. This information is critical for management of riparian ecosystems, and for protecting aquatic species which live in the rivers. Other researchers have also benefited through better knowledge of surface water - groundwater interaction and tropical hydrology. Practicing hydrologists are also able to use methods developed in this project.
4.01
Project Leader:
Gary Caitcheon
Outcomes In conjunction with other TRaCK research, the findings from this project have endeavored to predict the potential consequences of land use change on river and estuary health. These findings have assisted water planners and natural resource managers to make improved decisions when considering water allocation and development options in tropical river catchments. A better understanding of the key sub-catchments that contribute sediment and nutrients to tropical river systems, as well as the erosion processes responsible have helped land holders and managers to more effectively plan and implement on-ground prevention and remedial works and adjust land management practices so that soil loss to streams can be minimised.
4.02
Project Leader:
Barbara Robson
Outcomes Regional natural resource management groups, government policy-makers, and water planners have benefited through: Improved understanding of the origin, transport and fate of carbon, nutrients and fine sediments in tropical rivers Improved capacity to predict the consequences of land use and water resource changes on primary production in the Daly and Flinders rivers, and Improved understanding on the linkage between flows and the transport and fate of nutrients and fine sediments. This (predictive) capability is essential to assessing impacts of land-use change on ecological condition in tropical rivers, an important step for effective management of river catchments.
4.03
Project Leader:
Andrew Brooks
Outcomes Increased sediment accumulation in river systems is one of the risks associated with water resource development, intensified land-use in catchments and potentially, climate change. By clarifying the specific flow regimes required to maintain the balance of sediment movement and deposition, this research has allowed water planners and natural resource managers to better calculate the risk that current and future water extraction and land-use may have on sediment accumulation (and thus loss of habitat) in pools. The effects of climate change on sediment movement and accumulation will be better appreciated. By better understanding how sediment is moving through the river system and the sources of sediment, land managers can better prioritise remediation works for erosion control. For conservation planners, Indigenous land holders and recreational fishers, this research has clarified the nature and extent of the threat posed by sedimentation to waterhole dependent flora and fauna and their associated natural, cultural and social values.
4.04
Project Leader:
Simon Townsend
Outcomes The purpose of the Framework was to: a) Identify beneficial uses for our water resources (where they have not already been set), so they can be appropriately managed in the future to protect the needs of water dependent ecosystems, current water users, existing businesses and allow for future development in a sustainable manner, and b) Guide the planning and implementation of water quality monitoring programs in an integrated, comprehensive manner.
4.05
Project Leader:
Simon Townsend
Outcomes In north Australia, the FARWH project provided key data and capacity to allow river health to be compared across Australia. This work included: Evaluating the suitability of implementing the FARWH in the wet/dry tropics of northern Australia in order to make recommendations for ongoing monitoring of river health Helping to align north Australian regional monitoring requirements with national expectations to improve the efficiency of river health assessment and monitoring Providing training and implementation products and tools that are appropriate to northern Australia Increasing the capacity of north Australian regional authorities to undertake river health assessments Reporting on data collection, analysis and interpretation methods, and levels of data confidence Complementing other National Water Initiative activities, deliverables and outcomes Being consistent with other FARWH trials in other jurisdictions
4.06

Foodwebs & biodiversity

Project Leader:
Michael Douglas
Outcomes The project provided a better understanding of Australia's tropical river food webs and an insight into how we might go about developing new economic enterprises in the north without cutting the critical connections that bind ecosystems together.  It also provided an improved capacity to predict the consequences of environmental changes such as global warming, and important river dependent industries such as fishing, tourism and agriculture on river functioning and biodiversity. With this knowledge, Government natural resource managers are better able to manage for the whole river rather than individual components – ensuring for example, that water allocation, assessment of new developments and park management, work together rather than in isolation. Natural resource groups and land managers are in a position to better target their efforts and resources to those species and ecosystem processes that are the most critical for river health. The implications for example, of removing an important species in the food chain or adding a new exotic species will become clearer.
5.01
Project Leader:
Stuart Bunn
Outcomes This research has helped water resource managers determine the river flows necessary to maintain the plants and animals, and physical / chemical processes found in waterholes. A sound basis for determining environmental flows is a pre-requisite for ensuring north Australian rivers are not over-allocated for consumptive uses. For natural resource managers and land holders, this research has helped in the understanding of the consequences of feral animals, domestic stock and fishing on the functioning and health of waterholes, enabling more targeted management and rehabilitation methods to be developed. Indicators for monitoring the physical persistence of waterholes along tropical rivers and the important factors that keep them healthy will be determined. Management and monitoring programs for waterholes can then be developed to protect their significant environmental, economic, cultural and social values.
5.02
Project Leader:
Stuart Bunn
Outcomes This research provided a framework for explaining and predicting why river and floodplain ecosystems may change in response to pressures such as future development or global climate change. Commercial and recreational fisherman have benefited from an improved understanding of the implications of nutrient and energy movement between rivers and floodplains for fish production. Likewise, pastoralists are in a better position to understand how a change in river-floodplain connection might affect the productivity of floodplain grazing lands. And Indigenous communities gained new insight into how valued species of fish, waterbirds and turtle are affected by land use changes or weed invasion.
5.03
Project Leader:
Michele Burford
Outcomes Through better understanding how the river flows and accompanying nutrients and sediments interact with estuary food webs, resource managers have been more informed and better able to make decisions when considering issues such as sewage treatment options to cope with expanding urban development or further development in catchments. Future investments to maintain or improve water quality, upgrade sewage treatment plants or change broader scale land management practices are able to be better targeted. This research has provided fisheries managers and commercial fishing operators with an improved understanding of how river flow, nutrient and sediment inputs can affect recruitment to the prawn fishery. The potential benefits and impacts of further agricultural and urban development can then be properly balanced against the interests of other economic enterprises, as well as social and environmental effects.
5.04
Project Leader:
Peter Davies
Outcomes The research provided river managers with an improved understanding of relationships between flow, habitat, food resources, fish diversity and ecosystem processes.  The project also developed models and tools which evaluated the ecological consequences of flow alteration.  Decision-makers, water planners and managers were then in a better position to undertake the protection and maintenance of important ecological assets.
5.05
Project Leader:
Ian Halliday
Outcomes Decisions made about river management not only affect the rivers themselves but also the estuaries they flow into.  This project has provided water resource managers with a better understanding of how river flows influence estuarine fisheries so those needs can be taken into account in Water Resource Plans and other related planning instruments. For fishing-related industries the project ultimately helped support sustainable fisheries by assisting in the valuations of the ecological assets of estuaries and freshwater related processes. This project has provided a greater understanding of factors important to maintaining the fishery resource.
5.06
Project Leader:
Peter Davies
Outcomes The outputs of this project combined existing knowledge with new knowledge and data generated by TRaCK in a form directly usable by river managers and water planners.  That is, rules to help determine the environmental flow requirements for tropical rivers. With this improved knowledge of how rivers "work", government agencies are in a better position to manage tropical rivers.
5.07
Project Leader:
Jane Hughes
Outcomes The findings from this research has helped decision-makers better predict the impacts of water resource development on freshwater animals. For example if river flows are made unfavourable to a species in a particular catchment what does this mean in terms of the survival of the species as a whole? This has then lead to the development of strategies and policies for environmentally sustainable economic and social development of northern Australia. The project provided tools that have helped identify networks of protected areas that can represent the full variety of species or ecosystems in northern river systems. This has assisted Governments and conservation agencies to create a more resilient parks and reserve system and help set aquatic restoration and conservation targets and objectives.
5.08
Project Leader:
Mark Kennard
Outcomes This project: (i) determined the impact of development alternatives on the status of the northern Australian aquatic ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity, (ii) mapped aquatic ecosystems (assets), (iii) evaluated the Drainage Division scale of these assets against the draft criteria developed by the Commonwealth, States and Territories for identifying High Conservation Value Aquatic Ecosystems, and  (iv) identified knowledge gaps and priorities for regional aquatic ecosystem assets and scoped further work under the NAWFA Ecological Program. The lessons from this trial, along with feedback and stakeholder consultation, contributed to the development of the national High Conservation Value Aquatic Ecosystems (HCVAE) framework. In trialling the draft HCVAE criteria the project identified key aquatic ecological assets in northern Australia, made recommendations for the improvement of the HCVAE criteria, identified knowledge gaps and priorities in terms of ecological thresholds in relation to flow regimes and maintenance of aquatic ecosystem assets, key ecological values of assets, connectivity between assets, ecosystem services, and vulnerability/resilience to risks/threats from hydrological disturbance, climate change, water resource development or other factors.
5.09

Indigenous water use

Project Leader:
Quentin Grafton
Outcomes The principal outcome sought from this research was to provide information to better inform policy-makers, regulators and water users regarding the role of markets in managing water entitlements. This included a better understanding of the constraints involved in water markets and approaches to their resolution. Issues given particular attention included: Indigenous entitlements in water and their status in markets, non-market institutions in place to protect environments, transitions to efficient markets in presently under-allocated systems and the likely character/behaviour of markets in these circumstances.
6.01
Project Leader:
Michael O'Donnell
Outcomes This project sought outcomes to position government and non-Government policy-makers in the understanding of the suitability of existing law and proposals for new law to deal effectively and equitably with Indigenous interests in water in the north Australian situation. The perspective offered complemented other projects on the role of markets and the influence of Indigenous rights and interests on them.
6.02
Project Leader:
Jon Altman
Outcomes This research assessed both prospects and time frames for developing a NRM-based economy in these areas habitats at a time when there was considerable policy debate about on-country and off-country employment prospects. The resultant outcome is better informed decision-makers in community, business and government regarding payment for ecosystem services to support regional economies. The removal of many barriers allowed enhanced and innovative Indigenous participation in such activities, and equitable public support, if required, will facilitate sustainable economic development options that are compatible with Indigenous priorities, while ameliorating Indigenous disadvantage.
6.03
Project Leader:
Lorrae McArthur
Outcomes Outcomes sought were: Elucidation of economic development aspirations at a local level; Identification, capacity development and enhancement of Indigenous decision-making structures at various levels including the basin-wide level; Support of local capacity-building initiatives that contributed to sustainable Indigenous livelihoods(particularly relating to natural resource management); Exploration of other sustainable Indigenous livelihood opportunities; Facilitation of partnerships to enhance local capacity-building initiatives; and The progression of a holistic basin-wide sustainable Indigenous livelihoods strategic plan.
6.04
Project Leader:
Lorrae McArthur
Outcomes Outcomes sought from this Case Study will include:
6.05
Project Leader:
Amy Kimber
Outcomes The Knowledge and Adoption team sought to maximize local ownership of TRaCK among the key end users.  It achieved this by ensuring that land-holders and managers, natural resource management groups and local communities were provided with opportunities to have input and participation in the research. The team ensured that research outputs fed directly into the broader initiatives, and policy and decision making processes of regional natural resource management bodies and state and Commonwealth natural resource management and conservation agencies.
7.01