All tied up: stream monitoring in south-east South Australia

Inspired by a few colleagues, including Sophie Lewis who I met last week and writes the excellent, I’ve started a blog.  I am hoping to reach a different audience, free myself (a little) from academic writing conventions and perhaps even improve my productivity.  So, here goes…

My colleague Cameron Barr and I are back from our second field trip to South Australia’s inventively named “south-east” region (the inventiveness doesn’t end there: Kingston SE is the name of one of the coastal towns, lest we confuse it with Kingston-on-Murray nearly 400 km away).

We have been collecting approx. 1 metre long lengths of rope which we had previous placed in 40 stream sites around the “south-east”.  Over the past month of so (we hope) they have been colonised by diatoms, a type of algae which form the basis of many aquatic “food chains” (see here for further info). We will assess whether the diatoms are being strongly influenced by nutrients (such as phosphorus) dissolved in the water of the streams.

This project, funded by the Environment Protection Authority, will hopefully help to refine South Australia’s stream water quality guidelines.  By understanding how the diatoms are influenced by nutrients, it may help the EPA to develop new nutrient thresholds in an effort to help guide efforts to improve the quality of our creeks and rivers.

Given the first set of water quality data we have been given, there is much room for improvement.  Around half of the 40 sites sampled are highly nutrient enriched while 20% are “hypereutrophic”.  Given that much of the massive drainage network that contributes these nutrients was constructed after World War II, then it is likely that we are yet to feel the full effects of these impacts.

I’ll report on the diatom results in a month or two, but for the moment I’ll sign off and leave you with a couple images from the field trip.

Here’s Cameron collecting our precious ropes…Image

and an example of the ropes themselves:  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Note how the ropes are frayed to maximise the habitat for colonisation by diatoms.  We got the idea from out colleague at University College London Ben Goldsmith who did his Ph.D. on diatoms in streams.

We were very impressed by scale of the windfarm near Millicent and the town’s promotion of the farm (“the largest in the Southern Hemisphere”) as a tourist attraction.  Certainly to me, the impressive windmills (some around 90 m high) enhance this landscape.Image

That’s all for now.  Next time I’ll write about our work which uses information from the past to help understand our present.


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