Category: Wet Tropics Water Quality

TYTO Wetlands: A Vision to Revitalize Ingham

The TYTO Wetlands facilities evolved from a vision to foster an appreciation for nature, encourage tourism to a small Australian town, and preserve the stunning landscape. The founders began with a simple idea to renew Ingham and ultimately gained $6 million total funding from sources like the Queensland 150th Legacy Infrastructure Program to open the TYTO Wetlands center in 2002. In 1996, sugar cane farmers began efforts to expand their crop into this valuable land containing habitats for a multitude of animals including the threatened eastern grass owl. The founders hoped to protect the land and turn it into an asset for the community that would stimulate the economy and improve overall quality of life for surrounding residents. Developing these 110 hectares of land occurred in two stages. Stage 1 involved restoring the wetlands by planting native trees to build root systems, prevent erosion, and shade out harmful weeds. Other Stage 1 efforts involved building the boardwalks, visitors center, sealed car parks, and other forms of low impact infrastructure to attract visitors and creating a comprehensive management plan to monitor success and maintain the integrity of the land. The second stage involved expanding the facilities by building a technology learning center, regional gallery, business development space, recording studio, and more. It also involved extending the boardwalks so that visitors could explore the land to a greater extent, encouraging visitors to stay longer and interact with the land more so that they may develop a deeper connection with and stronger appreciation for the natural landscape and wildlife living there. Locally, the facilities are used primarily for exercise and education. On an international scale, the world-class destination encourages eco-tourism and immigration to the area. Located away from the main street, the center serves as the heart of the community by revitalizing Ingham with job creation, aesthetic appeal, and natural value. In addition to the ~150,000 annual visitors to the area, the facilities attract niche audiences including birdwatchers hoping to snag a peek at some of the 240 unique bird species in the area. The wetlands are also home to a variety of native Australian wildlife including wallabies, egrets, whistling ducks, magpie geese, turtles, and more. The restored health of the wetlands also benefits surrounding land by preventing harmful runoff into water systems that would have come from the cane farms. Benefits extend even further to enhance the visitors’ health. Programs like 10,000 steps are held to encourage an active lifestyle to improve participants’ emotional and physical health. This program is especially powerful because it reminds people of how different other landscape may have appeared without excessive urbanization or cane farm introduction and instills a sense of responsibility in locals and visitors from abroad to protect the natural value of land. This benefit extends even beyond Australian borders. Human education is key to conservation and an experience in TYTO wetlands may be just what someone needs to think more deeply about the interactions between their daily living habits and their environment.

 

An archive of the events held at the facilities can be found here: https://www.tyto.com.au/whats-on/

This image depicts the wetland facilities as they appear today from the outlook point.

This image depicts a sugar cane farm and what the wetland facilities could have ultimately become.

Improving Water Quality – The Technology Behind The Effort

The question left standing is if human management practice alone isn’t enough, what else can we do to limit water quality degradation? The technology available is quite extensive, and we learned about multiple way in which implementing different systems and utilizing this technology can improve the health of the great barrier reef through improved water quality. I’ve outlined three of the most significant ones below:

 

Micro Algae Systems: Microalgae are one of the most important groups of organisms on the planet, producing an estimation of half the oxygen on the planet while decreasing carbon levels in vast amounts. The use of microalgae cultures in water treatment offers a unique solution due to their ability to trap waste water and use inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus for their own growth. Additionally, no secondary pollution occurs due to the algae’s capacity for the removal of some toxic organic compounds and heavy metals. A major benefit of this system is reduced cost due to less energy input, however a significant disadvantage lies in the space requirement (“footprint”). Because photosynthesis is a critical part of the process, the system functions better in warm weather climates and cannot be very deep, meaning it must take up more land horizontally to get the same effect.

A figure of a micro algae system detailing its use of sunlight, nutrient use, and byproducts.

 

High Efficiency Sediment Basins: This technology functions on sediment trapping, using a flow system where water travels through the basin allowing sediment particles to settle out and be removed from the water before flowing into natural waterways. Many also use a filtration system that uses chemical dosing to flush out pollutants, which is effective but not entirely environmentally sound, as a major constraint is the basins overflowing during large storms. Despite showing significant success, these basins are difficult to place on sites that have large space constraints and are ultimately not very cost effective, as they are very expensive to build, maintain, and operate.

A figure of a high efficiency sediment basin showing inflow, the main basin, and the outlet structure.

 

Bioreactors:  Like algae systems and sediment basins, the function of bioreactors is essentially to intercept groundwater flow before they enter waterways. These reactors can filter domestic waste to a high enough quality that it can then be discharged to certain waterways or be reclaimed for irrigation purposes. Their main mechanism includes use of a membrane for carbon filtration, denitrification, nutrient removal, and phosphorus removal, some of the biggest parameters for water quality management. Although there are negatives, such as that bioreactors’ filtration abilities have been shown to decrease with time and use, they function with a small environmental footprint and are easy to add retroactively to older wastewater treatment plans.

A figure of a membrane bioreactor and its filtration system.

 

Ultimately, there is no single, simple solution to improving water quality, but with an increasingly better understanding of how to utilize this technology and improve it along with human management techniques, measurable change is possible. The best bet is to continue to work with people, especially farmers in identified pollutant hotspots, and work towards improved monitoring, modeling, and technology to decrease water quality degradation and improve the health of natural waterways and, in the case of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef.

 

 

 

To read more about waste water treatment in Australia, check out these links:

Water Treatment and Reuse

The Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy outlines water treatment and reuse options in Australia, including membrane filtration, micro-organism treatment, and chemical treatments. This information goes beyond the options what we learned from our speaker at TYTO Wetlands and provides detailed methods along with interesting business applications.

 

Osmoflo: Water Treatment Systems, Services, & Solutions

Osmoflo is a global desalination and wastewater treatment company that spans many countries including Australia. This website details their current projects, wastewater treatment solutions, and innovative treatment technologies for difficult to treat water.

Tyto Wetlands

Water Contaminants and Source Management

Chloe Schneider- Day 06-23-17

The Wet Tropics of coastal Queensland range from mountainous rainforest to flat fields of sugarcane, with all runoff from the area leading to streams that eventually empty into the nearby ocean, the home of the Great Barrier Reef. With this runoff comes sediment, pesticides, and nitrogenous fertilizers. These three elements create great problems and destruction of waterways and especially the irreplaceable Great Barrier Reef. Nitrogen and other nutrients which runoff from farms or grazing areas that are near the coast cause microalgae blooms which is diet for the Crown Thorn Starfish larvae. These nonnative starfish eat the coral and are responsible for approximately 50% of coral decline. Sediments that empty into the Great Barrier Reef support the growth of seagrass, which smother coral.  Pesticides are toxic to reef life as well, and are especially dangerous when accumulated. These threats to the Great Barrier Reef are strongly associated with the Wet Tropic region. While the Wet Tropic region only accounts for five percent land area, it accounts for forty-six percent of the nitrogen added to the GBR and a large portion of the sediment load and pesticides as well. Improved land management of the Wet Tropics was in turn necessary for the survival of the Great Barrier Reef.

Monitoring Sites in the Wet Tropics Along the GBR

Improved land management techniques that focus on improved horticulture, agriculture, and grazing practices have been put in place since these water contaminants were assessed. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan was adopted in the Wet Tropics in 2003-2009 to focus on protection of the reef. The federal government gave millions of dollars in support of this protection plan. One goal of the reef management was to reduce the nitrogen added to the reef by eighty-six tons by 2015-2016. A long-term goal of the plan was to ensure that the land was managed so effectively so that by 2020 the water entering the reef had no detrimental impact on the reef (no nitrogen, no sediment, no toxins). Methods of reaching these goals focused on the sources of the contaminants. These sources mostly included agricultural and grazing areas. The Paddock to Reef Program (P2R) focused on effective management of farmland to catchment areas before the water entered the reef. Sites in different waterways were regularly tested and monitored for suspended solids, pesticides, and inorganic nitrogen. Pesticides were monitored and a diuron toxic equivalency factor put the pesticides on scale according to relative toxicity, and managed by harmfulness. Modeling was done from the monitoring and areas that had low water quality were targeted for more effective management techniques. From 2009 to 2016, four hundred million dollars was put toward improving management practice adoption in agriculture (specifically sugarcane and bananas), industry, and grazing.

Joint Australian and Queensland government initiative to improve land management practices.

Scientists collaborated with farmers to work toward a common goal: reducing runoff and ensuring the fertilizers and pesticides used would go into the product rather than running off into the stream. This was done by fertilizing at specific times, spraying pesticides on days with no winds, creating better irrigation and water channels, and other techniques that benefitted both the farmer’s practices and decreased water contamination. Today approximately four hundred and two grazers and eight hundred and thirty six cane growers are labeled as ‘Best Management Practices. The requirements of the Best Management Practices for a business vary depending on location and other factors, the principles can be read here. However, even if there was 100% compliance by industry and agriculture to the Best Management Practices, the goals would not be reached by 2020. This forces the focus to turn from source management to different mitigation on and near the reef.

To read about mitigation technology refer to C.J. Miles’s blog, Improving Water Quality – The Technology Behind The Effort

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