Estimating the exposure of coral reefs and seagrass meadows to land-sourced contaminants in river flood plumes of the Great Barrier Reef: validating a simple satellite risk framework with environmental data

Petus, Caroline, Devlin, Michelle, Thompson, Angus, McKenzie, Len, Da Silva, Eduardo Teixeira, Collier, Catherine, Tracey, Dieter, and Martin, Katherine (2016) Estimating the exposure of coral reefs and seagrass meadows to land-sourced contaminants in river flood plumes of the Great Barrier Reef: validating a simple satellite risk framework with environmental data. Remote Sensing, 8 (3). 210.

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River runoff and associated flood plumes (hereafter river plumes) are a major source of land-sourced contaminants to the marine environment, and are a significant threat to coastal and marine ecosystems worldwide. Remote sensing monitoring products have been developed to map the spatial extent, composition and frequency of occurrence of river plumes in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), Australia. There is, however, a need to incorporate these monitoring products into Risk Assessment Frameworks as management decision tools. A simple Satellite Risk Framework has been recently proposed to generate maps of potential risk to seagrass and coral reef ecosystems in the GBR focusing on the Austral tropical wet season. This framework was based on a "magnitude × likelihood" risk management approach and GBR plume water types mapped from satellite imagery. The GBR plume water types (so called "Primary" for the inshore plume waters, "Secondary" for the midshelf-plume waters and "Tertiary" for the offshore plume waters) represent distinct concentrations and combinations of land-sourced and marine contaminants. The current study aimed to test and refine the methods of the Satellite Risk Framework. It compared predicted pollutant concentrations in plume water types (multi-annual average from 2005–2014) to published ecological thresholds, and combined this information with similarly long-term measures of seagrass and coral ecosystem health. The Satellite Risk Framework and newly-introduced multi-annual risk scores were successful in demonstrating where water conditions were, on average, correlated to adverse biological responses. Seagrass meadow abundance (multi-annual change in % cover) was negatively correlated to the multi-annual risk score at the site level (R2 = 0.47, p < 0.05). Relationships between multi-annual risk scores and multi-annual changes in proportional macroalgae cover (as an index for coral reef health) were more complex (R2 = 0.04, p > 0.05), though reefs incurring higher risk scores showed relatively higher proportional macroalgae cover. Multi-annual risk score thresholds associated with loss of seagrass cover were defined, with lower risk scores (≤0.2) associated with a gain or little loss in seagrass cover (gain/−12%), medium risk scores (0.2–0.4) associated with moderate loss (−12/−30%) and higher risk scores (>0.4) with the greatest loss in cover (>−30%). These thresholds were used to generate an intermediate river plume risk map specifically for seagrass meadows of the GBR. An intermediate river plume risk map for coral reefs was also developed by considering a multi-annual risk score threshold of 0.2—above which a higher proportion of macroalgae within the algal communities can be expected. These findings contribute to a long-term and adaptive approach to set relevant risk framework and thresholds for adverse biological responses in the GBR. The ecological thresholds and risk scores used in this study will be refined and validated through ongoing monitoring and assessment. As uncertainties are reduced, these risk metrics will provide important information for the development of strategies to manage water quality and ecosystem health.

Item ID: 44728
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2072-4292
Keywords: environmental risk mapping; river plumes; land-sourced contaminants; MODIS; Great Barrier Reef; seagrass meadows; coral reefs
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© 2016 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons by Attribution(CC-BY) license(

Funders: Reef Rescue Marine Monitoring Program, Australian Government Reef Programme, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Australian Department of Environment
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2016 00:00
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410404 Environmental management @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960501 Ecosystem Assessment and Management at Regional or Larger Scales @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 50%
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