Students Investigate the Health of Moreton Bay

Earthwatch Institute has recently finished undertaking research into the health of Moreton Bay with the assistance of 12 high school students, as part of a Student Challenge Program.

Dugong Dugong dugon c Ruth Hartnup banner

The Student Challenge Program gives students from across the country the opportunity to become scientists for a week in their summer holidays. Students are able to work in the Australian environment alongside some of the country's leading research scientists.

This expedition focused on examining the health of Moreton Bay as part of a Healthy Waterways Report Card. According to the 2014 Ports Australia report, in early 2013 1.4 million cubes of silt and sediment accumulated in the Port of Brisbane channels and berths, as a result of flooding rains and multiple dam water releases within Brisbane catchment.

Dr James Udy, Chief Scientist of Healthy Waterways explains, “Increased sediments is having astonishing impact on the marine life that inhabits the bay, with 70% of Moreton Bay now being covered in mud rather than 30% a decade ago” he said.

Moreton Bay is an iconic marine ecosystem; internationally listed as a RAMSAR site as a wetland of international significance, important to migratory shore birds and home to endangered and threatened species such as dugongs, loggerhead turtles, dolphins and many others.   “The seagrass of Moreton Bay supports numerous animals through the provision of food and shelter from predation. Without extensive seagrass meadows in Moreton Bay, some species could go regionally extinct or decline in their populations. The expansion in the mud patch of Moreton Bay, due to an increase in mud is a major threat to the health of seagrass and animals who rely on it” he said.

Seagrass c Chris Roeflsema

Healthy Waterways, in partnership with The University of Queensland, Griffith University and Tangalooma Island Resort are demonstrating one way to help address this issue by collecting data for the highly respected Healthy Waterways Report Card. Since 2000, Healthy Waterways has produced an annual Report Card, that focuses political and community attention to waterways issues.

The assessment conducted by Earthwatch citizen scientists will contribute to this annual waterway health report to ensure the community and decision makers understand ecological, social and economic values of maintaining healthy waterways.

This will be the first year that Healthy Waterways has used volunteer data to contribute to such a large component of the environmental assessment of Moreton Bay. It also contributes billions of dollars each year to the economy of South East Queensland through fisheries and tourism.

“This Earthwatch program will provide substantial components of the annual assessment of seagrass habitats in Moreton Bay, arguably the most important natural asset of the bay.” Dr Udy said.

Prof David McInnes, Chief Executive Officer explains, “Earthwatch is unique in the way it engages regular people, citizen scientists, alongside research scientists to collect valuable data, with a common goal to achieve a more sustainable Australia”.

“To stop the mud patch covering the bottom of Moreton Bay we need to undertake more on ground actions to keep the mud on farms and construction sites. The new Healthy Waterways Report card will help people understand the links between community values and the condition of waterways.”

Spotted Wobbegong Orectolobus maculatus c Richard Ling 2