There is a pressing need to obtain historical information on estuaries so that levels of natural variability and ecosystem thresholds can be identified. Once these factors are known, estuaries that exhibit high conservation value and minimal impact from anthropogenic activity can be acknowledged and protected. In order to understand and quantify the level of change that may have occurred due to human impact, near pristine estuaries that have the potential to act as reference sites need to be identified. However, this is often difficult due to a lack of documented knowledge of estuary variability. This paper retrospectively assesses environmental conditions in the Burrum River, a sub-tropical east Australian estuary on the coast of Queensland, using diatom and stable isotope analyses. These techniques were combined with AMS 14C dating methods to determine if this system has undergone any natural or anthropogenically induced change. Diatom assemblages have shown very little variation over the past 5,000 years, indicating minimal changes to water quality. Upper and lower limits for δ13C and δ15N stable isotope results also infer that the sources of carbon and nitrogen to the Burrum River estuary have remained constant over this time period. Carbon inputs have been dominated by marine autotrophic production, whilst nitrogen inputs are indicative of terrestrial sources. Hence, the Burrum River has not been altered by anthropogenic activities and is a suitable reference site for benchmarking impacted sub-tropical estuaries. This paper demonstrates that paleolimnological techniques can be applied successfully to identify estuaries that are suitable as reference sites.
Logan, B & Taffs, KH 2011, 'The Burrum River estuary: identifying reference sites for Australian sub-tropical esturine systems using paleolimnological methods', Journal of Palaeolimnology, vol. 46, no. 4, pp. 613-622.
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