OzGREEN programs connect youth with communities to become leaders of innovative sustainable social change

 

Results So Far 


Where We Test

The Bellingen Riverwatch program sees volunteers take monthly water quality data at 15 core sites and 7 additional sites across the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers.


 

What We Test For

Bellingen Riverwatch Volunteers conduct site assessments, take site photos and test water samples for the following indicators of river health:

  • Temperature;
  • pH;
  • Electrical Conductivity (Salinity);
  • Turbidity;
  • Available Phosphate; and
  • Dissolved Oxygen.

This is complemented by Faecal Coliform testing by OzGREEN and bi-annual water quality testing by Scientists from the Office of Environment and Heritage.


 

Why We Test

River health and water quality can change due to a wide range of factors, such as geology, rainfall, vegetation cover, gradient/steepness and size of the catchment, human impacts through land use, natural disasters, climate, and much more.

To help build a picture of a catchments’ health, ongoing and regular monitoring of water quality is required to build what’s called ‘baseline data’ - a long-term picture of what’s considered normal conditions for that particular waterway. By gathering this data, it can contribute towards:

  • building a picture of the aquatic and riverine health of the Bellinger and Kalang River catchments,
  • helping researchers identify issues and/or impacts in both rivers,
  • providing a photographic, scientific and anecdotal history of our waterways; and
  • potentially providing information to facilitate research into the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle (or George’s Turtle) in the Bellinger catchment.

 

Results Across all Sites

The graphs below show the dissolved oxygen, phosphates and temperature data across the Bellinger River, Never Never River, Rosewood site and Kalang River from June 2017 to June 2018.

When interpreting data, we have used the ANZECC Water Quality Guidelines for a healthy lowlands river system. This information will soon be available in a downloadable PDF.


Dissolved Oxygen

The ANZECC Water Quality Trigger Values for Dissolved Oxygen for moderately disturbed ecosystems for Lowland Rivers (less than 150m elevation) is 85 to 110 % saturation.

Results outside these values could be harmful to ecosystems. Anything below 85% is a threat to aquatic life and the macroinvertebrates that our turtles love to eat. Potential impacts outside ANZECC trigger values include lack of oxygen to support aquatic plant and animal life and fish kills.

Monitoring Dissolved Oxygen levels is very important as the Bellingen River Snapping Turtle (BRST) is able to supplement its oxygen uptake through cloacal (bum) breathing, reducing its need to come to the water surface to breathe.

The tables below shows the dissolved oxygen across the Bellinger River, Never Never River, Rosewood site and Kalang River. There are some results outside the ANZECC trigger values (outside of the green band).

Possible causes of results outside these values include stagnant water, organic waste such as sewage, fertiliser run-off and plant material in the waterway. Micro-organisms use the oxygen as they break down the organic matter.

 

Dissolved Oxygen across the Bellinger River

 

Dissolved Oxygen across the Never Never River and Rosewood site

 

Dissolved Oxygen across the Kalang River


Available Phosphates

Phosphates are the essential plant and animal nutrient that occurs naturally in very low levels in Australian soils.

The ANZECC Water Quality Trigger Values for Available Phosphates for moderately disturbed ecosystems for Lowland Rivers is 0.06mg/L. Results above 0.06mg/L could be harmful to ecosystems and may have the following impacts on waterways:

  • Abundance of algae and aquatic weeds which out-compete native plants
  • Waterways choked with vegetation
  • Increased Biochemical Oxygen Demand
  • Reduced Dissolved Oxygen
  • Reduced plant and animal diversity
  • Blue-green algal blooms
  • Eutrophication

The tables below shows the Available Phosphate levels across the Bellinger River, Never Never River, Rosewood site and Kalang River. There are some results outside the ANZECC trigger values (outside of the green band) in the Bellinger and Kalang rivers, but none in Never Never River and at the Rosewood site.

Possible causes of results outside these values include sewage, sediments from erosion, faeces from feedlots, dairies and pets, phosphate-based detergents, decaying plant material, fertilisers and industrial waste.

Scientists from the Office of Environment and Heritage are carrying out a comprehensive bi-annual water quality and macroinvertebrate surveys in December 2018 which will help identify the causes of elevated phosphate and nitrate levels.

Available Phosphates across the Bellinger River

 

Available Phosphates across the Never Never River and Rosewood site

Available Phosphates across the Kalang River


Temperature

The ANZECC Water Quality Trigger Values for temperature for moderately disturbed ecosystems for Lowland Rivers (less than 150m elevation) is site dependant.

The Bellinger River Virus (BRV) virus, the agent most likely to be responsible for the mortality event of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle in 2015, has been found to reproduce in vivo temperatures above 28°C.

The tables below show the temperature data across across all sites. We have highlighted temperatures above 25°C in the red band.

We are seeing higher temperatures in our rivers due to climate change and loss of riparian vegetation. However, where and if we have refugial zones along the river is an important element we need to consider with climate change. When there’s no refuges, we see a drop in macroinvertebrates, and this poses a threat to our turtles.

Highly concerning are the temperature results above 30°C that have been recorded at Gordonville Crossing, where there is little to no riparian zone for our turtles.

As long as refugial cool spots remain in the river, elevated temperatures due to climate change is not a great threat to our turtles.

Bellingen Riverwatch scientists have noted that these results are taken from edge samples and have requested test extensions to the program in 2019 to ascertain temperature flux with depth. Bellingen Riverwatch is now seeking funding to add cross-sectional water temperature testing equipment,, including Mister Chains, to our kits.

Temperature across the Bellinger River, Never Never River, Rosewood site and Kalang River


What can you do to help?

There are many things community members can do to maintain river health and support the recovery of the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. 

 

Keep a ‘Clean’ Routine

Thorough cleaning of boats and equipment when moving from the Bellinger to other waterways may significantly reduce the risk of transporting the BRV virus. Community members can help minimise the risk of spreading the virus by swimming in only one location, or cleaning and drying swimming gear between visits, and washing down canoes with soapy water and drying thoroughly before re-use. 

Resources:

  • Keep a ‘clean’ routine: Bellinger River Snapping Turtle mortality - download PDF
  • Code of Conduct for recreational use: Bellinger & Kalang Estuary - download PDF

Restore Estuarine River Banks

Improving the condition of the riparian vegetation and stabilising riverbanks is important for maintaining water quality and habitat for aquatic animals in the Bellinger and Kalang rivers. Without action to protect and restore these important areas, it is likely we will see a gradual decline in the health of our waterways through reduced water quality, the loss of riparian vegetation for birds and wildlife, and the smothering of macroinvertebrates, native fish and seagrass habitats with sediments washed into the river from eroding riverbanks.

Native vegetation plays a vital role in river bank restoration. Whilst erosion and deposition of sediment are natural river processes, the accelerated rates of erosion seen today are the result of removal of native vegetation over time through land clearing, over-grazing and other development pressures. This in turn leads to the loss of productive land and valuable habitat and impact on water quality and aquatic habitats downstream. The affects of accelerated erosion are especially significant during floods.

Disturbance or destruction of river bank vegetation and weed invasion has also severely limited the ability of river banks to repair themselves through natural regeneration of vegetation between flood events.

In their current state, river banks need active assistance and management to maintain and improve their stability and resistance to erosion. Planting river banks with native species which are adapted to the pressures of this dynamic environment is a valuable way to ensure our river estuaries remain healthy.

The vegetation naturally occuring on estuarine river banks changes as the river water becomes less salty upstream. The Bellinger and Kalang estuaries have four vegetation zones characterised by particular groupings of plant species and their preferred location on the river bank. See here for more info.

You can help by joining Bellinger Landcare, or by assisting landholders to recreate healthy riparian vegetation to protect and enhance our estuarine water ways. Contact Bellinger Landcare on belland@midcoast.com.au or 02 6655 0588 for more information.

Resources:

  • Bellinger River Estuary Revegetation Guide leaflet - download PDF
  • Ecohealth: An aquatic ecosystem health check for the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers - download PDF
  • Growing Lomandra from Seed, Bellinger Landcare - download PDF

 

Best Practice Stock Management

Best practice for stock management should address the following aspects: Fencing, off-river Stock watering points, Formed access points.  Stock management is vital for riparian health to reduce:

  • Damage to riparian vegetation from grazing and trampling, leaving banks exposed.
  • Compaction of soil by hard hooves, subsequent erosion and degradation of the river structure.
  • Pollution resulting from sediment washing into the water course from erosion sites.
  • Stirring of sediment and damage to aquatic habitats caused by cattle loitering in streams.
  • Pollution resulting from cattle defecation.
  • Weed growth, through high nutrient loads from dung.
  • Stock exposure to water borne parasites, disease and footrot.

For more information, see “Bellinger River System Landholder Booklet: Best Practice for a Healthy River” - download PDF here or request a copy from Amanda Carter at Bellingen Shire Council on acarter@bellingen.nsw.gov.au.

 

Best Practice Fox Management

Turtle nest predation by foxes are a major threat to the Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. Wild dogs kill and maul stock, threaten populations of native animals, have a social impact on farming and rural families, and are a reservoir for disease spread.

Some misconceptions around baiting are that 1080 doesn’t work and that it kills wildlife, particularly quolls. In a 2007 baiting trial of 19 spotted-tail quoll, it was found that most, if not all quolls survived.

It is important that landholders make use of all legal control methods. These include:

  • Baiting
  • Trapping
  • Shooting
  • Fencing

Group baiting gives best control options. It is important to target optimum times of the year, be proactive, strategic, and targeted.

Trapping is a great method for follow up after coordinated baiting programs or for targeting specific dogs. There are legal requirements involved.

A recent letter to the Bellingen Shire Courier Sun by a farmer in Kalang called for more landholders in the Kalang Valley to join in our winter baiting program in 2019. To join, landholders have to do a free four-hour course with the Ag Dept to obtain a licence to bait. To enquire about the times and locations of baiting courses, contact Mick Elliott of the Grafton Ag Dept on 0408 352 174.

Resources:

  • “Declared Pests Wild Dogs and Foxes” presentation by Mick Elliot, North Coast Local Land Services.
  • Wild dog baiting program in Kalang” - letter to Bellingen Shire Courier Sun by Philip Robertson Smith, Oct 11 2018

Report Turtles

To notify of sightings of Bellinger River Snapping Turtles and nesting sites, please contact Bellinger Turtle Team, Office of Environment and Heritage on (02) 6659 8200 or Bellinger.turtle@environment.nsw.gov.au. See also www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp

Turtles can be mapped using Turtle SAT. See How to Use Turtle Sat PDF for more info. 

To report sick or dead turtles, phone 131 555.

 


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