Inland Waters


The Northern Gulf region is comprised of the Mitchell, Gilbert, Staaten and Norman river catchments. These little known rivers systems are some of the cleanest, unregulated rivers left in the world. The length of waterways in the Northern Gulf region is enormous, there is over 15,425 km of major stream length in the Mitchell Catchment alone, and this catchment only represents approximately 36% of the rivers across the region.

Our vision for the inland waters of the Northern Gulf region is that they are protected and maintained, through enhancing riparian zones and water quality, stabilising erosion and reducing sediment and nutrient loads. If managed properly, healthy inland waters will maintain environmental, economic, cultural and recreational values without compromising the aquatic biodiversity that these freshwater systems also support.

While the strategies, actions and targets for Inland waters have been integrated into the three other sections, we have conducted a full regional assessment of our freshwater systems, including a catchment by catchment assessment, which you can read here.

Furthermore, a full list of research priorities was identified through this assessment, which would provide essential knowledge and data to underpin emerging and existing NRM priorities.

Research and monitoring programs to examine the impact on catchment condition of pollutant loads (particularly suspended sediments) and basin water quality (including wet season flood plumes). Review sensitivity of aquatic ecosystems (including coastal and marine systems) and utilise ecosystem modelling to assess likely impacts and scenarios under more extreme climate variability.
Establish a cross-regional Gulf river basin water quality data reporting framework that obtains all currently available water quality data including from industry and agency sources, and provides independent reporting of known risk areas and management status to regional stakeholders. Consult with agricultural catchment management project groups from GBR catchments to identify opportunities for transfer of experience gained from GBR Basin Water Quality Improvement Plans.
Develop a prioritisation framework to determine areas for future freshwater surveys (fish and macro invertebrate), including:

  • Revisiting some sites that were surveyed in the past to determine if the condition remains the same;
  • Areas where there will be potential future developments, as this data can be used to develop strategies to mitigate the impacts of development;
  • Collecting high resolution native fish baseline community data in areas where tilapia may expand to for future reference and comparison; and
  • Investigating new technologies in freshwater vertebrate sampling techniques such as environmental DNA.
A comprehensive study of groundwater dynamics in Gulf catchments should occur before any further water resource development or increased groundwater extraction takes place, which:

  • Collaborates with research bodies to undertake a systematic investigation of the importance of groundwater within each of the region’s basins and using a systematic approach identify the priority Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem (GDE’s) and the management issues within the region.
  • Develops an inventory of the Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems within each basin;
  •  Assesses of groundwater contribution to surface flow regimes and waterbody expression; and
  • Determines the effects of changes in groundwater on fish distribution and abundance, particularly in floodplain lagoons (potential collaboration).
The rivers in the region have specific indicators of health that are not represented currently by the Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council (ANZECC) standards. Thus community, regulators, industry, consultants, community groups and catchment and water managers do not have a framework for determining water quality in our rivers, lakes, estuaries and marine waters. Our water quality is tested and compared against standards developed in catchments that are not redolent of the nature and character of our riparian systems.  This essentially means that the region is not able to effectively measure and monitor water quality in terms of what is ‘natural’ for the Gulf rivers. Possible research project is to develop pre and post-rainfall guidelines for good water quality in Northern Gulf rivers based on the water quality found in the Staaten and Gilbert catchments.
Research to increase our understanding of the total concentration and speciation of elements within the range of sediment particle size fractions in sediments as well as the pH, buffer capacity and hydrodynamics of streams. This needs to be determined to provide an understanding of the mechanisms which control heavy metal mobility.
A targeted freshwater turtle survey for Northern Gulf river basins, including spatial distribution, eco-hydraulic requirements and thresholds for population viability, is required for biodiversity conservation and water resource planning in the Northern Gulf region.


Progress understanding of flow dependent aquatic ecosystem assets to serve ecologically sustainable water resource management planning:

  • Consult with government agencies and aquatic ecosystem R&D providers regarding Gulf river flow regimes and flow dependent ecological assets; and
  • Communicate with relevant regional community stakeholders regarding existing levels of understanding and outstanding information gaps and establish a regionally endorsed list of flow associated aquatic ecosystem research priorities.
Collect, generate and interpret remote sensing data and soil erosion modelling to identify the highest priority management investment areas to effectively address elevated river basin sediment load source and high risk areas.
Support fisheries research to develop and compare effective survey methods for freshwater sawfish in freshwater habitats of Gulf rivers and conduct targeted surveys of large perennial waterholes stratified across Gulf river basins including those affected by passage barriers.
Undertake a study looking at the hydrology in rivers in the Northern Gulf region including the permanency of wetlands, direction and duration of flows, the groundwater dynamics and the locations and volumes of inter-basin flooding.  Areas of poor hydrological understanding and those areas which may be targeted for water resource development should be given priority for study.
Engage relevant government agencies and aquatic ecosystem R&D providers to undertake a systematic investigation of the importance of groundwater to identified ecosystem assets within each of the region’s basins and the vulnerability of these groundwater systems to existing levels of exploitation and emerging threats.
Develop a methodology using satellite remote sensing for assessing the permanency of waterholes, building on the work done by Damien Burrows in the past. This methodology can then be used to prioritise waterbodies for stock and feral animal exclusion. Model the impacts of climate change on the permanency of waterbodies.
A study on what constitutes the freshwater recreational fishery of the northern Gulf region i.e. identify where recreational fishers have access to freshwater fisheries within the region and what species are targeted as a basis toward future identification of management needs. 
Develop and populate a GIS spatial layer and linked database for groundwater dependent ecosystem assets within Gulf river basins and implement protective management works for prioritised sites.  Use other spatial data layers and published information where available and consult pastoral and Traditional land owners to populate GDE database with available biodiversity and cultural value information and threat and condition data, and other site attributes including land use and tenure. Interrogate regional GDE database to identify where higher value GDE sites are subject to condition pressures and warrant management intervention.
Support the preservation of aquatic refugia through;

  • Engaging researchers to further define aquatic refugia for biodiversity across all basins of the Northern Gulf (as has been defined for the Mitchell Basin by Hermoso et al 2013);
  • Use Regional Assessment and Community Engagement to Prioritise HCVAE for Management Investment;
  • Conduct field and desktop assessment to prepare a value, condition, threat matrix for identified sites; and
  • Consult with the regional community and relevant agencies and external stakeholder groups to review the identified site list for omissions and to prioritise a key set for longer term (3-5 year) management investment.
Collect, generate and interpret past and current remote sensing data and soil erosion modelling to identify the highest priority management investment areas to effectively address elevated river basin sediment load source and high risk areas. After prioritisation determine the resources needed to manage the erosion in selected areas (possibly large areas of the Mitchell and selected areas in the Gilbert).
Establish stratified monitoring of stocked versus unstocked alluvial frontage landscape gully initiation and erosion rates.
Develop a gully erosion stabilisation trial stratified across a range of different landscape contexts/basins, to determine most effective methods in reducing gully scarp retreat. The trial should integrate and address biological, chemical and physical factors driving and resisting erosion.
Pastoral agronomist economic evaluation of pastoral productivity losses to quantify existing and projected losses of alluvial frontage land forms, in terms of specific pastoral production losses associated with the concerned land types.
Numerous natural springs exist from the McBride basalt ground waters that will no doubt be targeted as a future development resource.  What are the nature and sustainability benchmarks for this water resource – noting that spring discharge is also significantly influenced by lunar stages?
Investigate heavy metal contamination risk in fish in the lower Norman and upper Mitchell catchments from past and current mining activities.
Support an integrated research effort to draw together all existing knowledge and models concerning the relationship between Gulf river basin condition, flow regimes and flow dependent ecological assets, including coastal and marine systems, to develop an integrated system model for examining the potential impacts of altered hydrological regimes associated with water resource development and climate change.