, Volume 559, Issue 1, pp 23-76

Eutrophication in Australian Rivers, Reservoirs and Estuaries – A Southern Hemisphere Perspective on the Science and its Implications

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Abstract

Australian science has made rapid advances in the last decade in understanding eutrophication processes in inland waters and estuaries. The freshwater research on which these advances are based was triggered by well-publicised blooms of cyanobacteria during the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly a 1000 km long bloom on the Darling River. In estuaries the study which greatly enhanced our understanding but simultaneously served to stimulate further research into estuarine eutrophication, the Port Phillip Bay Study, was initially designed to address perceived problems of toxicants in the Bay but provided profound insights into drivers for, and ecosystem responses to, eutrophication. Subsequent estuarine research has largely been stimulated by management questions arising from Australia’s increasing coastal development for residential purposes. The research has shown that some of the beliefs extant at the time of the blooms were incorrect. For example, it is now clear that stratification and light penetration, not nutrient availability, are the triggers for blooms in the impounded rivers of southeastern Australia, although nutrient exhaustion limits the biomass of blooms. Again, nitrogen seems to play as important a role as phosphorus does in controlling the biomass of these freshwater blooms. The research has also shown that aspects of eutrophication, such as nutrient transport, are dominated by different processes in different parts of Australia. Many of the biophysical processes involved in eutrophication have now been quantified sufficiently for models to be developed of such processes as sediment-nutrient release, stratification, turbidity and algal growth in both freshwater and estuarine systems. In some cases the models are reliable enough for the knowledge gained in particular waterbodies to be applied elsewhere. Thus, there is now a firm scientific foundation for managers to rely upon when managing algal blooms. Whilst these findings have already been presented to managers and communities throughout Australia, there is still a considerable way to go before they are absorbed into their modus operandi.