Standard Presentation (15 mins) Australian Marine Sciences Association 2022

Building on Partnerships in the Torres Strait: Working together to understand the influence of the Fly River discharge (#32)

Jane Waterhouse 1 , Simon Apte 2 , Jane Mellors 1 , Vic McGrath 3 , John Rainbird 3 , Caroline Petus 1
  1. TROPWATER, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  2. CSIRO, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. Torres Strait Regional Authority, Thursday Island, Australia

Copper mining began in the Fly River catchment in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the 1980s. Around 40 million tonnes of copper mining waste has gone into the Fly River every year. In the late 1980s, local communities were concerned that the mining waste from the Fly River might reach the Torres Strait, and whether people, animals, and environments in the Torres Strait could be affected. This led to the Torres Strait Baseline Study (TSBS) which ran from 1991-1993. The study measured the amount of sediment and trace metals in the Torres Strait, providing a baseline that could be used as a comparison in future studies. Between 2015 and 2020, three National Environmental Science Program (NESP) Tropical Water Quality Hub projects examined the spatial and temporal extent of the Fly River discharge into the Torres Strait, providing a great opportunity to revisit the TSBS and assess changes over time. Rangers from the Torres Strait Regional Authority assisted in water quality and sediment sampling campaigns to support the multiple lines of evidence assessment of the influence of the Fly River discharge on the Torres Strait. After initial training, the Rangers conducted weekly salinity and temperature monitoring at 7 island locations from 2016-2020, and provided support for sediment, seagrass and water quality sampling. The input from the Ranger teams was invaluable and overcame some of the barriers to regular sampling in remote areas. Delivery of one-on-one training, provision of clearly described sampling methods and expectations, and regular contact and feedback with the sampling and Ranger Coordination teams were some of the key factors to success of the research. Communicating the results to the community in an appropriate manner is vital for allowing ongoing research/monitoring; the Ranger teams played a critical role in reporting the findings back to communities. The projects highlighted the value of partnering with local communities and adopting a multiple lines of evidence approach to environmental assessment and monitoring in remote, complex and data poor marine environments such as the Torres Strait.