Saving the Peel-Harvey estuary

August 19, 2013

A Murdoch University-led study, funded by the Western Australia Marine Science Institution, has engaged with local stakeholders to create future models for managing the Peel-Harvey Estuary to assist in preventing further decline in its ecosystem health.

Modelling within the report found current governance could be improved by clarifying areas of responsibilities, streamlining decision making processes and increasing feedback and task accountability.

Dr Sarah Metcalf, from Murdoch’s School of Management and Governance, said the project engaged stakeholders from government, industry and agriculture, conservation groups, recreational groups and the university sector to offer insight into current problems and ‘ideal’ scenarios for future management.

“The Peel-Harvey estuarine system has been recognised as the most at-risk estuary in WA, while its surrounding area is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia,” she said.

“A lot is at stake in maintaining and improving its health, from real estate values to tourism, recreational enjoyment by locals to the protection of bird species in its internationally recognised wetlands.

“Our consultations have resulted in proposed future models of governance that, if implemented, could provide a holistic approach to slowing or reversing the decline of ecosystem health – based largely on creating clear lines of responsibility and assuring accountability for agencies charged with ensuring the estuary’s protection.”

Dr Metcalf said immediate action was needed, as recent studies have suggested that the Peel-Harvey estuarine system could be entering a new period of decline.

Studies have found increased macroalgal volume and toxic algal growth, sedimentation and the presence of monosulphidic black ooze, which can cause deoxygenation and acidification of surface water, leading to fish kills.

“The Peel-Harvey estuarine system is one of the finest in the world and deserves our protection,” Dr Metcalf said.

She said catchments that had gone through the ‘turbulent and arduous process’ of altering governance structures to attain successful management included Chesapeake Bay in the USA and Johnston River catchment in Queensland.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Policy, involved Murdoch University, the WA Department of Fisheries, Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) and the CSIRO.

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