Australia's northern rivers. Untapped resources? Priceless natural heritage? Research and information needs. Paper presented at River Symposium, Brisbane, 2-6 September 2002

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003

Internal Report 457
Finlayson CM & Lukacs G
Supervising Scientist Division

About the report

Compared to southern Australia it is generally considered that wetlands in northern Australia are generally ‘intact’ and possibly close to ‘pristine’. With the exception of a few specific areas we accept the comparison, but baulk at making a categorical statement that supports the impression that northern wetlands are in good condition. Without getting into an esoteric debate about concepts we provide an analysis of pressures on northern wetlands and point to major concerns for the future. We do this by assessing the extent of wetland inventory information and recommend that a coordinated approach using standardised protocols and core data is needed to complete the picture and make this available to users. Further, ecological assessment, including structured risk assessment of pressures is urgently needed. This not only provides a considered base for management actions but also for further prioritisation of research effort. We then identify major research topics that need to be addressed.

Our analysis is essentially based on the biophysical features of northern wetlands. These are valuable and in some instances well known and protected. However, in order to conserve and ensure wise use of wetlands we contend that this approach is insufficient. We propose that a strong emphasis be placed on sustainable use of the goods and services that wetlands provide humans. The challenge in doing this is to demonstrate through research activities that the provision of these goods and services is dependent on the maintenance of wetland habitats and their species. The case for doing this is illustrated through a framework relating goods and services to ecosystem components and thence to pressures that could degrade these, including the emerging pressures of globalisation of trade and global climate change, and the research required to understand these sufficiently well to support management responses.