Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Assessment of water quality from the Normanby River catchment to coastal flood plumes on the northern Great Barrier Reef, Australia

C. Howley A D , M. Devlin B C and M. Burford A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia.

B Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, NR33 0HT, UK.

C Centre of Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: christina.howley@griffithuni.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research - https://doi.org/10.1071/MF17009
Submitted: 15 January 2017  Accepted: 14 September 2017   Published online: 7 February 2018

Abstract

Understanding the flux and fate of nutrients and sediments from rivers is of global importance because of the effects of these materials on coastal ecosystems. The present study followed three flood events from upper tributaries of the Normanby River to Princess Charlotte Bay in the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon, Australia. During each event, nutrients and suspended sediment concentrations were measured along a freshwater to marine transect. The upper catchment provided the majority of suspended sediments and nutrients supplied to the river system, although concentrations of most materials decreased by 52–85% between the upper catchment and estuary. As an exception, ammonium concentrations doubled within the estuary, indicating that undisturbed coastal ecosystems can provide a significant source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen to tropical river flood plumes. The dissolved nutrients in floodwaters stimulated phytoplankton blooms that inundated seagrass meadows and coral reefs. Northern GBR marine ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change and catchment development. The results of this study show that increased anthropogenic loads of nutrients and sediments from the upper Normanby catchment have the potential to affect the condition of marine ecosystems at Princess Charlotte Bay.


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