Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group takes out award

Aquatic ecosystem monitoring: Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group members Ben Vincent, Adrienne Burns, Sarah Mika and Darren Ryder are committed to the Ecohealth program.
Aquatic ecosystem monitoring: Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group members Ben Vincent, Adrienne Burns, Sarah Mika and Darren Ryder are committed to the Ecohealth program.

A research group has won a national award after nearly a decade of scoring the health of catchments from Port Macquarie to the Queensland border.

The University of New England Aquatic Ecology and Restoration Research Group’s Ecohealth program informs councils and other waterway managers about critical indicators of river health in a format that brings ratepayers into the decision-making process.

The research group’s work earned it the River Basin Management Society's award for Building Knowledge in Waterway Management.

The award recognises projects that generate and share knowledge to advance the sustainable management of Australia's rivers. 

Associate Professor Darren Ryder said it was a proud moment for the group and its Ecohealth River Report Card program. 

"The judges commented that it was the quality of the science, strength of our partnerships and commitment to community engagement and education in river health that made our program stand out," he said. 

"Universities are well placed to provide the science for natural resource management programs, but few commit to engaging with management agencies, local government and communities to improve ecosystem health."

The aquatic ecosystem monitoring program measures the health of rivers and estuaries for the plants and animals that live in them.

The river health report card for our area covers the Hastings and Camden Haven catchments.

The snapshot looks at key environmental indicators including water quality, riverbank vegetation, channel shape, and fish and waterbug communities.

Aquatic ecologist Dr Sarah Mika said over time, with repeated surveys, they could start to see how different parts of the catchments responded in the dry and wet seasons.

After nearly 10 years of monitoring, A/Prof Ryder and his team are returning to some of their 400 study sites for the second and third time.

"Our work encourages councils and their residents to take ownership of their rivers in a way they haven't done before,” A/Prof Ryder said.

“We help them identify where the problems are and to work to address them.”

A/Prof Ryder said the aim was to build an understanding of river health over a four-year cycle and to help governments and councils target their actions - like riparian plantings, weeding or opening up causeways to allow fish passage.

Thor Aaso from Port Macquarie-Hastings Council and John Schmidt from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage have been instrumental in establishing and maintaining the Ecohealth program in the Hastings and Camden Haven catchments since the program began.