Sustainable Wetlands

Toward Sustainable Landscapes: Phosphorus Management to Protect Wetlands

Greening Australia
University of Western Australia

Wetlands

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Greening Australia staff examine vegetation.In Australia, Alcoa Foundation is funding a sustainable land use research initiative conducted by Greening Australia and the University of Western Australia. The project is investigating ways to reduce fertilizer run-off through the innovative use of vegetation to absorb excess nutrients.

The research focuses on the Peel-Harvey catchment, a nearly 1.15 million hectare geographically diverse region 75km south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. The Peel-Harvey catchment is an internationally recognized Ramsar-listed wetland. The Ramsar Convention is a treaty which was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971. It provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Peel-Harvey is located in the most rapidly expanding urban area in Australia, which supports beef and dairy farming, forestry and bauxite mining, and is likely to become a major area for horticulture in the near future. Peel-Harvey encompasses a variety of high quality coastal dune and lake environments, the largest estuarine system in south west Australia, and major protected wetlands that are of international importance for migratory birds. Given the current pace of agricultural development in the region, fertilizer run-off is expected to become increasingly severe. New paradigms for land use will be required if agricultural profitability, quality of life and environmental health are to be maintained in this fragile area.

The Peel-Harvey catchment and its estuaries have been under stress from overload of nutrients due to fertilizer run-off for some time. Previous analysis identified phosphorous as the primary nutrient which must be targeted to improve water quality. The research is specifically looking to uncover how and when phosphorous moves from paddocks into waterways in the Peel-Harvey catchment. It is also investigating how vegetation can be manipulated to reduce phosphorous movement into waterways. The researchers hope to develop landuse management plans which will ease nutrient loads in the water and allow for sustainable agricultural development that is aligned with conservation priorities.

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