Scientists converge on Cairns to talk about emerging waterway issues

The health of Wet Tropics waterways will be under the spotlight next month when scientists and environmental managers converge on Cairns to talk about issues ranging from microplastics to climate change.

The inaugural ‘Emerging Issues in Waterway Health Forum’, hosted by Wet Tropics Waterways, aims to raise awareness of new issues that are impacting waterways and ways to manage them.

Keynote speakers include Dr Michelle Blewitt from the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project, which is collecting data on pollution hotspots to add weight to an issue that is invisible to the human eye but an increasing threat to marine life and the food chain.

Dr Karl Bowles will speak on the impacts of PFAS, or polyfluorinated alkyl substances, in waterways. The synthetic chemicals have been used in industrial and household products since the 1950s for their heat, stain and water resistance properties.

Other guest speakers include Dr Brendan Ebner on aquatic biosecurity and Professor Steve Turton on the impacts of climate change on local river catchments.

Wet Tropics Waterways manager Greg Vinall said there was no coordinated monitoring of these issues and their potential impacts on waterways and the Great Barrier Reef, despite concerns and increasing media attention.

“The Wet Tropics Report Card, which we release each year, assesses pollutants in our waterways that run off the land including nutrients, sediments and pesticides,’’ he said. “But there are emerging issues that don’t get picked up yet and may need to be monitored as part of future report cards.”

He said concerns had been raised about PFAS since the early 2000s when research revealed their potential to bioaccumulate in animals and humans, but the ecological effects were not yet known, although they were known to move around after floods, which poses a threat to the Reef.

The forum will also include panel discussions about possible management actions.
Wet Tropics Waterways is a partnership of more than 50 organisations and businesses from industry, research, government and community sectors. It was formed in 2015 to improve the health of Far North Queensland waterways and the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.

The inaugural ‘Emerging Issues in Waterway Health Forum’ will be held in Cairns on Thursday 7 November at CQU on the corner of Abbott and Shields Sts. Tickets are $50 (students $25). Wet Tropics Waterways partners are entitled to one free registration.

For more information see Forum 2019



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