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North QLD Field Trip – Floodplains: A System with Many Moving Parts?

Highlights from the Babinda field visit on Tuesday 18 April, where we heard, saw and discussed aspects of key parts of this floodplain.

Why did we decide to come here?

The community of professionals working across water management, and using or benefiting from modelling tools, are located far and wide across Queensland. We always enjoy when colleagues join us online for some of our events and even better if we can arrange to meet face to face. This was one key motivation for arranging this event in Babinda, North Queensland, just 60km south of Cairns, in the foothills of Mount Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker. An additional opportunity came when last October, at the 2022 QWMN funded RD&I projects Showcase event, it was pleasing to see that a suite of regional investigations were underway and one that stood out to me as a unique topic was the role of paleo-channels in floodplains. A chance follow up, when I was North Queensland a month later allowed me to meet the local Jaragun Ecoservices team who explained their part of the project and how the insights gained, were helping fill a much broader role as they undertake various floodplain management and NRM work in the Russell River catchment. I saw this was a great mix of efforts well worth sharing with other QWMN participants, and so an event was arranged with our Jaragun Ecoservices hosts.

What did we do on the day?

After a week of unseasonably hot humid weather in North Queensland, Tuesday 18 April started with heavy and widespread rains, and like all well planned events, we were inside as it literally bucketed down and were able to head out as it eased late morning.

After a welcoming morning tea, from Eat Real, Cairns, the day began with an overview of the Russell River challenges and the approach that Liz Owen and Dennis Ah-Kee from the Jaragun EcoServices group have taken. To see the presentation, please click here.

Then in advance of the site visit we heard from Rohan Lucas from Alluvium in Townsville who painted a picture of the unique creek and river systems that make up the Russell River catchment and why they are at risk of a future extreme avulsions event.

As the rain eased, the convoy headed off to our first site. Here we saw first hand the benefits of a strategic riparian restoration management. Restoring the natural hydrology of the area will safeguard it against future risks. The site was planted with a mix of key species, seven years ago and is now rich in variety, including bush tucker trees which continue to be maintained by the team from Jaragun. As we walked, we heard from other agencies and modellers on how they see the management of future floodplain risk being best addressed.

After a delicious lunch and opportunity for participants to better connect with each other, we then headed to a new project site where a constructed wetland is about to be developed using a series of cells. The site will provide multiple benefits to improve water quality and other ecosystems services.  Coincidentally, I recently meet the wetland design Adrian Crocetti who was pleased to hear we had visited the site and how he was enjoying working with the local team on this unique design.

Underpinning much of the design and locations of project activity in the catchment was the identification of paleo-channels in the area. The technical team lead by HanShe Lim from James Cook University in Cairns and David Morrison from the Department of Resources, Mareeba both shared their experiences in this effort. The projects use of a range of electro-magnetic (EM) sampling techniques has improved understanding and soil mapping needs for the area.

Who was able to join us?

This event saw 30 colleagues come together. We were a healthy mix of:

  • Queensland Government departments – Environment and Sciences, Resources and Agriculture & Forestry
  • James Cook University – researchers and students
  • Consultants – Alluvium and Resilient Projects
  • NGO – Cairns and Far North Environment Council
  • Hosts – Jaragun Ecoservices and the International Water Centre

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