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Assessment of the eutrophication status of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon (Australia)

Abstract

Current scientific consensus is that inshore regions of the central and southern Great Barrier Reef, Australia, are at risk of impacts from increased nutrient (as well as sediment and pesticide) loads delivered to Reef waters. Increases in the discharge of water quality contaminants to the Reef are largely a consequence of the expansion of agricultural practices in northern Queensland catchments following European settlement in the 1850s. In particular, the presence of elevated chlorophyll a and nutrient concentrations in many parts of the inshore Great Barrier Reef together with intense and extensive phytoplankton blooms following the discharge of nutrient-rich river flood waters suggest that the central and southern inshore area of the Great Barrier Reef is likely to be significantly impacted by elevated nutrient loads. The biological consequences of this are not fully quantified, but are likely to include changes in reef condition including hard and soft coral biodiversity, macroalgal abundance, hard coral cover and coral recruitment, as well as change in seagrass distribution and tissue nutrient status. Contemporary government policy is centered around promotion and funding of better catchment management practices to minimize the loss of catchment nutrients (both applied and natural) and the maintenance of a Reef wide water quality and ecosystem monitoring program. The monitoring program is designed to assess trends in uptake of management practice improvements and their associated impacts on water quality and ecosystem status over the next 10 years. A draft set of quantitative criteria to assess the eutrophication status of Great Barrier Reef waters is outlined for further discussion and refinement.

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Correspondence to J. E. Brodie.

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Brodie, J.E., Devlin, M., Haynes, D. et al. Assessment of the eutrophication status of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon (Australia). Biogeochemistry 106, 281–302 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-010-9542-2

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Keywords

  • Eutrophication
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Nutrients
  • Water quality management