Health of Darwin Harbour under the microscope 


The health and sustainability of Darwin Harbour are coming under the microscope of local and interstate researchers as part of a three year, major research project conducted by the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge (TRaCK) consortium.

Scientists from Charles Darwin University, Griffith University, CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and the Northern Territory Government are working together to better understand how nutrients move into and through the harbour ecosystem.

Field work in the harbour has started with researchers looking at both natural sources of nutrients and those coming from human activity such as sewage.

Project leader, Dr Michele Burford said that nutrients were a key ingredient for a healthy harbour, but too much of a good thing could be harmful.

“All the things we value in Darwin Harbour – the great fishing, wonderful wildlife and fantastic recreational opportunities, could change for the worse if the nutrient levels in the water get out of balance,” she said.

The scientists are out for long hours making measurements on the harbour. “As part of our investigations we are collecting sediment cores from the mudflats and then adding nutrients to them in the lab to see whether the microscopic algae increase.  This tells us whether there are risks from increased nutrient inputs in the future” said Dr Burford.

“As Darwin grows, more people come to live and industry expands, then this research will be particularly important in ensuring the continued health of the harbour.”

Scientist with the Aquatic Health Unit, Dr Simon Townsend of the NT Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts, said the water quality of Darwin Harbour was generally good but it was imperative that it remained that way.

“A Water Quality Protection Plan is being prepared by government and as part of this plan a modeling tool is being developed to predict the impacts that expanding development and population may have on the harbour’s water quality,” he said.

“The model needs to be based on sound science and through this research project we will have a better understanding of how nutrients behave in the harbour, where they go and whether they prompt damaging algal growth.”

The TRaCK consortium brings together leading tropical river scientists from across Australia with the aim of building capacity to better manage northern Australia’s tropical rivers, wetlands and estuaries.

TRaCK is a substantial new research investment of more than $30 million from the Australian Government, leading research institutions and the Queensland, West Australian and Northern Territory governments.  Major funding is received through the Australian Government’s Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) Programme, the Raising National Water Standards Programme and Land and Water Australia.