Supervising Scientist Division

5 National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research

Supervising Scientist Annual Report 2004–2005

Supervising Scientist, Darwin, 2005
ISBN 0 642 24395 6
ISSN 0 158-4030

5.1 Introduction

The National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research (nctwr) is a collaborative venture between the Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist (eriss) and three university partners: James Cook University, Charles Darwin University and the University of Western Australia.

The nctwr conducts research and training with the aim of providing information and expertise to assist managers and users of tropical wetlands to use these valuable habitats in a sustainable manner. Information about nctwr is available on the Internet at www.nctwr.org.au.

5.2 National Centre for Tropical Wetland Research activities

5.2.1 Board of Management

For much of 2004–05, the Board of Management was Chaired on an interim basis by Dr Arthur Johnston, Supervising Scientist for the Department of the Environment and Heritage. Dr Johnston was standing in for the Hon Bob Collins, AO, former Senator for the Northern Territory and former Commonwealth Minister, who has been unavailable to act in the role.

Membership of the Board is made up of representatives from each partner institution:

Dr Max Finlayson, Director of eriss and also the Director of the nctwr, resigned in March 2005 and was replaced by Dr Rick van Dam for an interim period of six months.

The Board guides the research and training directions of the nctwr and met on 23 March 2005 to reflect on the success to date of the Centre and to discuss its future directions. The key outcome of the meeting was that the nctwr should continue in some form, but that a process be initiated to establish the future research needs of key stakeholders (ie government, industry) and that this information be used to identify the necessary research skills and develop a strategic research prospectus. Since the meeting, this process has been underway and will be reported on for the 2005–06 reporting period.

5.2.2 Operational Committee

The Operational Committee was restructured, and some members have been selected to be on the new Tropical Rivers Inventory and Assessment Project Steering Committee (see below). The Operational Committee did not meet during the period.

5.2.3 Advisory Committee

During the reporting period, the Chair of the Advisory Committee, Mr Theo Hooy, Assistant Secretary of the Coast and Waters Branch in the Department of the Environment and Heritage, changed roles with the Department and relinquished his position as Chair. His replacement, who is yet to be formalised, is expected to be the new Assistant Secretary of the Coast and Waters Branch. Members of the Advisory Committee include:

The Committee advises the Board of Management on research and training priorities and identifies issues of concern to major stakeholders. The Advisory Committee met formally on 25 August 2004. A key outcome of the meeting was to formalise the Committee’s additional role as the Steering Committee for the Tropical Rivers Inventory and Assessment Project (see below).

5.2.4 Research programme

The nctwr research programme included collaborative projects with a number of national agencies and organisations, including the following.

Tropical rivers inventory and assessment project (TRIAP)

The TRIAP, funded by Land & Water Australia and the Natural Heritage Trust 2, is a collaborative effort between eriss, James Cook University and the University of Western Australia, with additional involvement of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. It is currently the key research activity of the nctwr. The project aims to provide an information base to support the management of Australia’s tropical rivers and consists of three sub-projects: mapping and inventory; risk assessment of key threats; and development of a framework for evaluating ecosystem services. The project focus during 2004–05 was on sub-projects 1 and 3. A stakeholder workshop was held in November 2004 and attracted representatives from government, indigenous and research interests. Nineteen presentations were delivered, providing stakeholders with a summary and progress update of the TRIAP, and seeking open discussion. Information on the TRIAP can be obtained from the nctwr web site (www.nctwr.org.au).

Bulgarene borefield aquatic ecosystem study

This study was funded by the Western Australian Water Corporation and was a collaboration between eriss and the University of Western Australia. Through a desk-top review and field survey, the study determined the potential impacts to aquatic ecosystems of pools in the De Grey River in the Pilbara from groundwater drawdown.

Tools for assessing vulnerability of wetlands and rivers to climate change in the Gulf of Carpentaria

This study was funded by the Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) and was a collaboration between eriss, the University of Western Australia, the University of the Sunshine Coast and Damara WA Pty Ltd. The aim was to provide a detailed assessment of, and recommendations for, tools that could be used for assessing vulnerability of wetlands and rivers to climate change in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Ecological risk assessment of the ginger ant (Solenopsis germinata) on seabird colonies at Ashmore Reef

This activity was funded by the Department of the Environment and Heritage’s Marine Protected Areas Branch, and was a collaboration between eriss, the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). Through a desk-top analysis and field survey, the project identified relationships between nesting success of key vulnerable bird species and the exotic ginger ant. The study outcomes are being used to determine the types of and need for risk reduction/management actions.

Review of low-cost GIS software and data for use in wetland inventory

In 2004, eriss was commissioned by the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) to conduct a review of low cost GIS software and data for wetland inventory, assessment and monitoring. A draft version of the report was presented to the STRP workshop held in Wageningen in July 2004. The final version of the report was submitted in January 2005, and is currently under peer review. When the review process is completed, it will be published as the inaugural report in the newly-established Ramsar Technical Report series.

A comprehensive analysis of the freshwater fish faunas and their key management issues across northern Australia

This study is being funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, and is a collaboration between James Cook University, Griffith University and eriss. It will involve fish biodiversity surveys in key locations across northern Australia (from Cape York to Kimberley) and provide a review of the major management issues for freshwater fish, recommendations on further research, and increase community knowledge on fish and aquatic management issues. Key elements of the project include establishing a communications platform including a website with comprehensive coverage of freshwater fish issues, acting as a one-stop-shop for information on freshwater fish across all of northern Australia, incorporating community knowledge into the database of knowledge, and build community knowledge of freshwater fish issues and using community interest in fishes to increase their involvement with aquatic management issues, including in regional NRM plans. This project builds upon the significant desktop data collation exercise undertaken during the TRIAP.

5.2.5 Training programme

No formal training activities were undertaken during the reporting period.

5.2.6 Extension activities

Extension activities built on the above research and training programmes and included the following activities.

Revised Letter of Intent with the Unviersity of the Sunshine Coast

In early 2005, a revised Letter of Intent was signed between eriss and the University of the Sunshine Coast to facilitate collaboration in wetland training and coastal change assessment and research.

NRMMC Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce

Dr Rick van Dam and Mr John Lowry continued to contribute to meetings of the NRMMC Wetlands and Waterbirds Taskforce, primarily reporting as the National Focal Point for the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP).

In addition, John Lowry attended the Australian Wetlands Inventory Database Workshop in Brisbane, April 2005. The main aim of the workshop was to progress towards an agreed approach for a nationally consistent wetland inventory approach.