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Monitoring and protection of temporary waters in Northern Australia

Northern Australia


  • The team is developing water quality guidelines for detecting and assessing potential environmental impacts in temporary aquatic ecosystems, including contaminants from mining.

  • This project will provide scientific advice to inform and improve mine site operations and rehabilitation under a regulatory government framework.

  • Engaging and collaborating with industry, government, and community stakeholders is central to this project.

Key points

Monitoring and protection of temporary waters in Northern Australia


Shelley Templeman

Principal Research Officer

Research leads

Understanding the health of temporary waters in Northern Australia

Temporary waters are widespread and abundant across northern Australia, yet often undervalued and overlooked. When wet, these ecosystems support a range of organisms like plants, fish, and algae. Their unpredictable wetting and drying cycles make monitoring their health a challenge.

Land use in these environments complicates this further. Northern Australia's landscapes are valued for their mineral reserves and rich pastoral land, with mining a key economic activity. The effects of potential contaminants from these activities on temporary waters remain unclear.

There is little guidance available for effectively assessing environmental impacts in these ecosystems from mines. Reliable monitoring methods are needed to detect contaminants.

Developing guidelines to protect temporary waters from contaminants

Our team is using a combination of approaches to develop guideline values that can protect temporary aquatic ecosystems from contaminants. These guidelines will inform and improve mine site operations and rehabilitation in the future.

Our different approaches include:

  • Using laboratory (ecotoxicology) approaches to investigate the responses of local organisms – algae, plants, water bugs, and fish –to a selection of contaminants.

  • Making field-based (bio-assessment) observations  of local organisms in impacted temporary aquatic ecosystems.

  • Trialling the use of emerging technologies such as environmental DNA to assist with monitoring temporary waters in remote locations.

  • Developing biological monitoring techniques to assess potential impacts from mining and other human activities.

  • Using biological monitoring to confirm the accuracy of ecotoxicological predictions about the effects of contaminants.

  • Synthesising results from laboratory and field analyses to establish site-specific guidelines for water and sediment quality.

Application of these guidelines will inform and improve mine site operations and rehabilitation in the future. We report on conditions at partnering mine sites to the Authority as part of their yearly Receiving Environment Monitoring Programs. These reports are Commercial in Confidence.

Project details

The environmental program is led by principal research scientist Dr Shelley Templeman, and assisted by Chris Williams, Dr Sarah McDonald, Stuart Ballantyne, Madeline McKenzine, and a diverse team of undergraduate student volunteers. The team’s areas of expertise include aquatic ecology, ecotoxicology, environmental engineering, data science, and ecological risk assessment.

This project is the amalgamation of various ongoing collaborations with mine sites throughout central north Queensland and the Northern Territory. Collaborative work is also undertaken with colleagues at the Supervising Scientist Branch (DCCEEW) based in the Alligator Rivers Region in the Northern Territory.

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