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2021 report card: fish monitoring scaled up.

Fish populations have been graded “good to very good” in most freshwater systems across the Far North, a new report into waterway health has revealed.

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Fish populations and diversity are generally good across our region, but we know that some exotic aquarium fish species are turning up in our waterways.

Released today, the annual Wet Tropics Waterway Health Report Card includes comprehensive data for the first time on fish populations and diversity. Wet Tropics Waterways Chair Professor Steve Turton said four out of nine catchments from the Daintree to Ingham received an ‘A’ grading for fish, while the Barron River ranked lowest for the region on a ‘C’.

“Fish populations and diversity are generally good across our region, but we know that some exotic aquarium fish species are turning up in our waterways,’’ Prof. Turton said. “This is an emerging issue because these species can become predators for our native fish or can out-compete them for food and habitat.

“The Barron catchment has one of the most modified fish fauna in Australia, with numerous native species and some exotic species introduced above the falls.”
He urged people to dispose of aquarium fish and plants responsibly.

“An infestation of Amazon frogbit, an aquarium plant, has spread rapidly along the Barron River and some tributaries over the past four years,’’ he said. “Invasive weeds can choke and smother waterways, alter their flow and change biochemistry, which enables pest fish species like tilapia to thrive.”

Environment and Great Barrier Reef Minister Meaghan Scanlon acknowledged the Wet Tropics Waterways partners from industry, community and government for their ongoing collaboration in pulling together the annual report card.

“The Palaszczuk Government is proud to be investing another $270 million to improve water quality in the reef and our catchments,” she said.

“This is part of a record $1.4 billion investment in the environment to create jobs as part of our COVID-19 economic recovery plan as well as further funding for our trailblazing Land Restoration Fund.”

The 2021 Report Card assesses the region’s nine catchments and eight estuaries, as well as the inshore marine and offshore marine zones, by analysing and integrating scientific monitoring data contributed by several organisations.

The Report Card shows most freshwater rivers and estuaries from the Daintree to Ingham’s Herbert River continue to be in ‘good’ or ‘very good’ condition. However, the cumulative data from the last five years shows the effects of mass coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks with a decline in offshore coral condition.

This year’s 2021 Report Card also includes an assessment of urban water management. Councils from the Daintree to Bundaberg are now being benchmarked for activities ranging from wastewater and stormwater management to the control of sediment runoff during urban development.

All eight local government areas in the Wet Tropics were assessed with five receiving a ‘B’ grade in the Report Card, which means many of their activities meet or exceed current best practice. Overall, the region met minimum standards with a ‘C’ grade.

“This urban stewardship framework is an important addition to the Report Card. It helps us understand the contribution of urban communities to water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, and how we can better manage this in future.”

“While the results show that our councils are doing pretty well with managing water quality at wastewater treatment plants and controlling sediment runoff in developing areas, there’s room for improvement in older urban areas, where we can improve planning and monitoring of stormwater and modelling of stormwater pollutants.”

Wet Tropics Waterways is also releasing the first edition of ‘Reef & Rivers Magazine’, which showcases action being taken around the region to help the Great Barrier Reef.

“There are many projects going on around the region and many individuals who are doing incredible work, so we are excited to share some of these stories with the community,” Professor Turton said.

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