The Derwent estuary lies at the heart of the Hobart metropolitan area and is an integral part of Tasmania’s natural, cultural and economic heritage. Approximately 40% of Tasmania’s population – 210,000 people – live around the estuary’s margins and the Derwent is widely used for recreation, boating, fishing and marine transportation. The estuary supports several large industries, including paper production, zinc smelting and boat building, and is Tasmania’s fourth busiest port. The estuary is an important and productive ecosystem, supporting large areas of wetlands, seagrasses, tidal flats and rocky reefs. These areas support a diversity of species, including internationally protected wading birds, handfish and whales.
A number of environmental issues affect the Derwent estuary, in particular:
– Severe heavy metal contamination of sediments and biota by mercury, zinc, cadmium, lead, copper and arsenic;
– elevated nutrient concentrations, localised algal growth and, in the upper estuary, seasonally depressed oxygen levels;
– loss and degradation of estuarine habitat and species;
– severe infestation by invasive species, including harmful algal blooms;
– altered environmental flows and physical barriers to fish migration associated with dams;
– intermittent faecal contamination of recreational waters.
The Derwent Estuary Program (DEP) was established in 1999 as a partnership between state and local governments, industries, scientists and the community to restore and promote the Derwent estuary. A key role of the DEP is to coordinate and support monitoring activities and scientific investigations, and to compile and distribute the resulting information in regular reports, including five-yearly State of the Derwent Report and annual Report Cards.
Estuarine research and management has been strongly supported by partnerships with the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania and CSIRO Marine Research. Key areas of research have included contaminated sediments-biota interactions, predictive biogeochemical models, mapping of benthic habitat and temperate reefs, sea-level rise impacts on saltmarsh, etc.
Karen Alexander is an interdisciplinary Research Fellow in ecosystem based coastal management in the Centre for Marine Socioecology at the University of Tasmania. Prior to this she was a Research Associate in marine social science at the Scottish Association for Marine Science, UK and completed a PhD in Marine Science in 2012 at the University of the Highlands and Islands/University of Aberdeen, UK.
Dr Alexander is a human geographer specialising in issues around the transition to a green (blue) economy. Her research interests include identifying and understanding those aspects of governance that can act as incentives or barriers to marine use management and, in particular, conflict between users of the marine space. Her current research focus is regional ecosystem-based coastal management, the governance constraints that prevent implementation of an integrated EBM approach and issues of ‘sectoral interplay’.
Associate Professor Catriona Macleod is Deputy Head of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Centre within the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania. She is a senior research fellow with more than 20 years’ experience in environmental impact assessment. Her research team and students have had a particular focus on the ecological and functional effects of metal contamination, in particular as that relates to seafood safety and trophic interactions in contaminated systems. Another key research interest has been improving understanding of the environmental impacts and interactions of finfish aquaculture, and in providing the system understanding and recommendations to support sustainable development and management of aquaculture operations. In both instances environmental remediation and effective management of system-wide impacts have been a core application.
Research outputs from her team have been used to inform regulatory policy and strategic research direction for aquaculture activities locally and internationally, and our metals research has resulted in advisories to protect public health. Her advice is frequently sought on marine environmental issues, both within Australia and overseas and she has served on several international review committees. She was a finalist in the Australian Rural Woman of the Year Awards 2010 and was nominated for the Tasmanian Scientist of the Year in 2012. She also has a keen interest in marine and coastal resource management; in particular understanding how issues around multiple use management can be improved or resolved, and where science and effective communication can inform and improve decision making. This has led to several recent research projects focused on the relationship between environmental assessment and broader community values, and specifically identifying ways to better connect science and environmental understanding to community needs.
Christine Coughanowr has been obsessed with the Derwent estuary since she first crossed the Tasman Bridge, on her arrival in Tasmania in 1993. She has investigated and reported on water quality issues affecting the estuary and its catchment for over 20 years, (including four State of the Derwent reports) and established the Derwent Estuary Program (DEP) 15 years ago in collaboration with a dedicated team of colleagues and program partners. In 2010, the DEP won Australia’s coveted National Riverprize as a recognised leader in science-based river management. Previously, Christine worked for UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in Paris and as a water resources consultant in the United States and France. In 2001, she received a Churchill fellowship to visit estuary management programs in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. She holds a Batchelor of Science degree in geology from Duke University and a Master of Science degree in estuarine geology from the University of Delaware (USA).