Guiding the sustainable development of the Peel-Harvey

August 27, 2015

From left to right, Andy Gulliver, Lesley Wilkinson, Tony Free, Marilyn Gray, Associate Professor Matt Hipsey, Professor Andrew Taggart, Dr Fiona Valesini, Prifessor Mike Elliott, Councillor Caroline Knight

Investigators and funders from the Peel region at the recent Peel Awards

A multidisciplinary team of researchers led by a Murdoch University academic will be investigating how best to develop the Peel region without unduly impacting the health of the iconic Peel-Harvey estuary.

Dr Fiona Valesini from the Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, who is the lead Chief Investigator on this unique three year project, said the research would help to deliver the types of benefits the growing population in the area needs and wants while minimising the downstream effects on the natural assets provided by the estuary, like good water quality and fishing.

The study is being funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage grant worth $541,405, with major cash and in-kind contributions also being provided by the partner organisations (City of Mandurah, Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, Shire of Murray, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Department of Water and the University of Hull, UK) and collaborating universities (Murdoch, the University of Western Australia, Southern Cross University and the University of Hull). All together, the project has attracted $1.18 million in cash contributions and $1.94 million of in-kind support.

The funding will be used to support key post-doctoral staff to help undertake the project, research training for graduate and post-graduate students, as well as a large field data collection program across the catchment and estuary, including samples for nutrient analysis and samples of the invertebrate and fish faunas.

“Our goal is to develop a decision-support framework for predicting the best ‘trade-offs’ between different catchment development approaches and the health of the waterways,” she said.

“This is a difficult challenge, not only for the Peel-Harvey but for urbanised estuaries worldwide, and a really important one to tackle to help better sustain these key ecosystems and the lifestyles they support, particularly given growing pressures from population growth and climate change.

“Funding like this allows us to build a good critical mass of people working together on a common goal, as well as train the next generation of estuarine scientists.”

Dr Valesini said a range of information required to support the project had already been gathered by agencies and individuals in the region and the study would provide a framework for bringing it together.

“The outcomes of this research are targeted squarely at both community and environmental benefits, and we see these two aspects as being tightly interlinked,” she added.

“From the community’s perspective, the goal is to help find catchment development solutions that support a growing, prosperous and diverse population, and one that can still enjoy the benefits of a healthy estuary into the future.

“From the environmental perspective, our goal is to understand more about the functional linkages between the catchment and estuary, and how key catchment pressures ‘translate’ into different ecological outcomes for the estuary.

“Bringing environmental, ecological and socio-economic interests and expertise together for this project is unique in Australia and we hope it will provide a framework for similar projects in different regions.”

Dr Valesini’s grant is one four research projects at Murdoch University that have been awarded more than $1.5 million in the latest round of the ARC’s Linkage Projects scheme.

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