07 Jan 2011
The tragic loss of life, stock and property damage overshadows all else, but Queensland’s floods are also a once in a life-time chance to assess agricultural, economic and environmental impacts that may shape the well-being of our nation for generations to come.
Learning more about the many negative and positive impacts of drought and flood on our food bowls is one obvious area of scientific concern.
However, there are also impacts on fish stocks at a time when world fisheries are dwindling – testified by the close to half a million dollars paid for one tuna in Japan this week.
‘While there is great short-term damage,’ says Dr Ben Gawne, ‘there are also prospects for long-term gain.’
Dr Gawne is Director of the Murray Darling Freshwater Research Centre in the Department of Environmental Management & Ecology at La Trobe University’s Albury-Wodonga campus.
He says the floods are an important environmental ‘driver’ and represent an ‘amazing opportunity’ to both understand the role of floods and benchmark what might be achieved from environmental flows – knowledge that could be of great benefit over the next decade.
‘For example, the high nutrient-run off into estuaries and oceans might be extremely beneficial for marine life, which may benefit the crab, shrimp and flathead industries.
‘On the other hand, the same nutrients may adversely affect major tourist attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef by encouraging algal growth at the expense of coral.
‘Similarly, the floods in SE Australia late last year may lead to a major boost in the health of river systems. However, they have also been associated with broad scale “black water” events which led to the death of many fish in the Murray Darling system.’
Unfortunately we are missing the opportunity to learn from these events, says Dr Gawne.
‘This is due to current funding arrangements for research that lack a strategic approach, so at a time like this it is difficult to get the work done in the time required to inform future policies and action.
‘It is critical that we learn as much as we can from these floods to inform our management of water resources and as part of our response to the next drought,’ he says. ‘Cycles of wet and dry are symbolic of Australia.’
Dr Gawne can be can be contacted on Tel: (02) 6024 9690 / 9885; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org