The port waterways water quality improvement plan: are we there yet?

Mr Sam Gaylard1, Ms Courtney Cummings1, Mr  Peter  Pfennig1

1Environment Protection Authority, Adelaide, Australia

The Port River and Barker Inlet is an internationally recognized system of mangrove lined tidal creeks, seagrass meadows and mudflats. It is a nursery area for fish and invertebrates that drive local commercial and recreational fisheries. It is also the hub of South Australian shipping trade and historical presence of heavy industry and urbanization.

Unsurprisingly, it has long legacy of pollution issues, foremost of these the widespread eutrophication due to multiple industrial and terrestrial nutrient discharges. Water chemistry monitoring showed frequent phytoplankton blooms and consistently high water nutrient concentrations. This condition existed for decades with rafts of Ulva smothering mangroves and seagrass meadows, toxic red tides, habitat loss, acid sulphate soils and unpleasant odours.

In 2004, with the help of the Federal government, the EPA undertook a study to develop a water quality improvement plan. This was a strategy aiming to reduce the load of nutrients entering the Port River and Barker Inlet and improve its ecological condition. This work followed the National Water Quality Management Strategy to set community agreed environmental values and water quality objectives.

Fast forward 15 years and substantial nutrient load reductions have been achieved, but have these changes resulted in water quality improvement, habitat improvement and are the environmental values being met?


Sam is a marine scientist within Government with over 18 years experience in impact assessment and the monitoring and evaluation of the condition in nearshore temperate marine waters, particularly seagrass systems.

I have extensive experience in condition assessment monitoring programs including  leading the development and implementation of the South Australian near shore marine aquatic ecosystem condition reporting program, which uses multiple lines of evidence to assess habitat condition throughout South Australia.

I am currently working on how environmental decision making could be improved through the use of ecosystem services for coastal and marine ecosystems.

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