Hull and Murdoch Universities join forces to tackle estuary health

Peel-Harvey Estuary

Estuarine experts from the University of Hull and researchers from Murdoch University in Australia are working together to protect the health of one of south-western Australia’s largest estuaries.

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

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

Economic growth and major population change in the area, when combined with climate change, make the sustainable development of this water resource a challenge.

The research team from Hull’s Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, led Professor Mike Elliott, are collaborating on the project to predict the best ‘trade-offs’ between different catchment development approaches and the health of the waterways.

A 2013 study by the Australian Research Council found increased levels of black sulphidic ooze, which could cause deoxygenation and lead to fish deaths.

Professor Elliott, Director of IECS, said “The project gives us the opportunity to test our recent ideas on estuarine ecohydrology and ecoengineering.  It builds on the experience of IECS in other countries and gives all parties the chance to learn from each other for environmental benefit”.

From 5th from the left: Chief Investigator Associate Professor Matt Hipsey; Acting Vice-Chancellor of Murdoch University Professor Andrew Taggard; Chief Investigator Dr Fiona Valesini; Principal Investigator Professor Mike Elliott; with members of the City of Mandurah and Peel-Harvey Catchment Council.

The project will use numerical modelling, land use studies, social and environmental economics, ecological assessment and valuation, systems analysis and engagement with local stakeholders.

‘Balancing Estuarine and Societal Health in a Changing Environment’, a study led by Dr Fiona Valesini from Murdoch’s Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research, has been awarded $540,000 by the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme.

Dr Valesini said, “In particular, being awarded this funding shows the value of an interdisciplinary approach which characterises the estuarine work at Murdoch, Hull and with the other partners”.

Other collaborators in the projects include academics from the University of Hull’s Business School, the University of Western Australia, Southern Cross University, and the Department of Water.

Acting Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University, Professor Andrew Taggart, said “This project would not have been possible without the valuable contributions and support of our partners the City of Mandurah, Shire of Murray and Peel-Harvey Catchment Council, together with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet and Department of Water of Western Australia and the University of Hull”.

The project builds on a healthy estuaries event held in 2012 in Mandurah, Western Australia, which was organised by Murdoch University staff and addressed by Professor Elliott.

In 2013 Professor Elliott was also appointed as Sir Walter Murdoch Distinguished Adjunct Professor at Murdoch University.

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