The Wet Tropics region of north Queensland has outstanding environmental values, contains the highest biological diversity in Australia, and borders the Great Barrier Reef. Comparable to other tropical areas worldwide, increasing urban and agricultural development in the Wet Tropics has caused concerns with respect to ecosystem degradation due to poor water quality in freshwater reaches and marine environments. Key issues currently identified in the Wet Tropics include erosion and subsequent stream turbidity and sedimentation, nutrients from erosion and fertiliser use and pesticide residue contamination. Issues such as reduced dissolved oxygen, acid sulfate soil runoff, and biological factors such as weed infestation, reduced and degraded riparian vegetation condition, and flow modification have also been identified. These issues mainly arise from agricultural activities with lesser effects from urban development. Management of pollution to improve in-stream water quality requires a long-term monitoring program to characterize water quality conditions over different flows and seasons.
This type of monitoring program is underway; however, the focus is on the Great Barrier Reef and does not fully consider freshwater ecosystem health. Another major issue is the lack of a fully developed conceptual framework that links changed land use to water quality and subsequently to aquatic ecosystem health. In this paper, we establish the current level of water quality knowledge in the Wet Tropics while outlining a conceptual framework connecting changing land management practices and their effects to water quality and to ecosystem health.