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Tech to Improve Water Quality of Great Barrier Reef

The water quality in the Great Barrier Reef will be improved thanks to a multimillion-dollar collaboration between The University of Queensland and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science. The newly launched Reef Catchments Science Partnership (RCSP), led by UQ’s Associate Professor Michael Warne and Professor Stuart Phinn, is developing new and enhanced methods of land and water quality monitoring. Dr Warne stated that innovative, high-tech monitoring and modelling tools will allow the researchers to better protect the Reef and achieve Queensland’s conservation goals.

The AU$ 3.1 million Reef Catchments Science Partnership help implement key components of the Queensland Government’s Reef Protection Regulations and generate information to assist in the design and delivery of water quality improvement programs and projects.

It was noted that these regulations, passed in 2019, are designed to quickly improve practices to reduce land-based pollutant runoff from both industrial and new agricultural sources. The RCSP will work to develop customised monitoring tools and data products for use in the field, bolstering both monitoring and compliance.

A large part of the program will include building tools to support the calculation of various forms of nutrients and sediment entering the Reef. And it offers the researchers a great platform to explore and develop collaborative projects with other research groups, NGOs and industry, Dr Warne added.

Professor Stuart Phinn said the partnership will allow government agencies to work with communities to monitor, model and reduce pollutant and pesticide loads in Reef catchments. He noted that appropriately developed technology and information will help the team better understand and manage human impacts on the Reef. They will be able to transform scientific expertise into real, practical tools, with direct impacts on water quality in Reef catchments and on the Reef itself.

UQ’s research team will also include a senior scientist, five post-doctoral fellows and one PhD student, with Queensland Government scientists also contributing. The program is the first stage of the ongoing collaboration between UQ and the Queensland Department of Environment and Science.

The World Wildlife Fund recently released a first-of-its-kind report assessing the current field of conservation technology and the ability of various tools to diagnose, understand and address the most critical environmental challenges of the present day.

They identified three emerging technologies with especially promising trajectories to advance conservation over the next ten years. The three technologies are artificial intelligence (specifically machine learning and computer vision), environmental DNA (eDNA) and genomics, and networked sensors are named the top three emerging conservation technologies.

The report, led by WILDLABS and Colorado State University and supported by their NGO partners and two tech sector leaders, surveyed 248 conservationists and technologists across 37 countries using the WILDLABS.NET platform, asking them to rate 11 widely used tools for their capacity to advance conservation.

Over 90% of respondents rated each of the top three emerging technologies as ‘very helpful’ or ‘game changers.’ Although these three technologies ranked among the lowest when it came to current overall performance, their promising trajectories show their substantial room for and the likelihood of further development, potentially making them areas ripe for investment and exploration. The three technologies represent new frontiers in wildlife conservation, at a time when protecting and restoring the natural world has never been more important or urgent.


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