Wednesday 19 January 2011

Queensland floods also a crisis for marine environment

In addition to the devastating effects on human lives and livelihoods, the recent flood events in Queensland, Australia are expected to impact heavily on coastal marine ecosystems as flood water continues to flow from the Brisbane River and other river systems to the north, including the Tully and beyond.

Bays and inshore waters are still receiving massive quantities of fresh water, silt, pesticides, nutrients and other pollution swept up as floodwaters inundated farmland as well as residential and industrial areas. Many wetland habitats such as mangrove forests are under threat.

Seagrass meadows, considered one of the world's most important ecosystems, are critical for the survival of Queensland's remnant dugong populations in locations such as Hervey Bay, Shoalwater Bay and Moreton Bay. The wellbeing of green turtles and other marine fauna is also linked to seagrass habitat.

It is not known what the impacts will be on inshore dolphins and other cetacean species in Queensland waters, although significant changes to the lower end of the food chain will often have implications for its top predators.

There are particular concerns for the snubfin dolphin. Only described by science in 2005 and classified in Queensland as 'near threatened', relatively little is understood about its natural history or distribution. However, with riverine, estuarine and coastal waters as its primary habitat and inshore pollutants, sediment and habitat destruction among its major threats, the snubfin might well be one of the species at risk.

While severe flood events can be said to be natural phenomena, the ability of ecosystems to survive and recover from them has been compromised by more than two centuries of escalating human activity. There is an urgent need for increased monitoring of water quality, including suspended and deposited sediment, salinity, temperature, chlorophyll and contaminants, as well as the state of health of marine plants and animals on a broad scale.


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