Spatial patterns in water quality changes during dredging in tropical environments

Fisher, Rebecca, Stark, Clair, Ridd, Peter, and Jones, Ross (2015) Spatial patterns in water quality changes during dredging in tropical environments. PLoS ONE, 10 (12). e0143309. pp. 1-22.

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Dredging poses a potential risk to tropical ecosystems, especially in turbidity-sensitive environments such as coral reefs, filter feeding communities and seagrasses. There is little detailed observational time-series data on the spatial effects of dredging on turbidity and light and defining likely footprints is a fundamental task for impact prediction, the EIA process, and for designing monitoring projects when dredging is underway. It is also important for public perception of risks associated with dredging. Using an extensive collection of in situ water quality data (73 sites) from three recent large scale capital dredging programs in Australia, and which included extensive pre-dredging baseline data, we describe relationships with distance from dredging for a range of water quality metrics. Using a criterion to define a zone of potential impact of where the water quality value exceeds the 80th percentile of the baseline value for turbidity-based metrics or the 20th percentile for the light based metrics, effects were observed predominantly up to three km from dredging, but in one instance up to nearly 20 km. This upper (~20 km) limit was unusual and caused by a local oceanographic feature of consistent unidirectional flow during the project. Water quality loggers were located along the principal axis of this flow (from 200 m to 30 km) and provided the opportunity to develop a matrix of exposure based on running means calculated across multiple time periods (from hours to one month) and distance from the dredging, and summarized across a broad range of percentile values. This information can be used to more formally develop water quality thresholds for benthic organisms, such as corals, filter-feeders (e.g. sponges) and seagrasses in future laboratory- and field-based studies using environmentally realistic and relevant exposure scenarios, that may be used to further refine distance based analyses of impact, potentially further reducing the size of the dredging footprint.

Item ID: 42370
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Keywords: optical backscatter; water turbidity; photosynthetically active radiation; dredging; coral reefs
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© 2015 Fisher et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funders: Western Australian Marine Science Institute (WAMSI), Chevron Australia, Woodside Energy, BHP Billiton
Projects and Grants: WASMI Dredging Science Node
Date Deposited: 03 Feb 2016 03:35
FoR Codes: 02 PHYSICAL SCIENCES > 0203 Classical Physics > 020303 Fluid Physics @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960903 Coastal and Estuarine Water Management @ 100%
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