AROUND 30 people tuned into an online seminar to wrap up South Gippsland Landcare Network’s (SGLN) Corner Inlet Citizen Science Water Quality Improvement Project last week.

Farmers, representatives from Agriculture Victoria, GippsDairy and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA) and members of the local community all came together to hear the results of the data collected, and understand the impacts for land management in the Corner Inlet catchment.

SGLN project coordinator, Cassie Wright, described how volunteers (including students from Foster Secondary College) collected water samples from four creeks near Foster over an 18-month period (which included several lockdowns).

Samples were taken from the same two sites on each creek, and sent to a laboratory in Melbourne to measure NOX (nitrate and nitrite) and ammonia, with turbidity measured on site using turbidity tubes.

Seminar presenters explained the science behind water monitoring, including the complexities of the nutrient cycle. Monitoring results at any given point often represent a ‘snapshot’ in time, and that further monitoring and research is often needed to gather more information about long-term trends.

The final results are still being processed, however, preliminary results suggest the 75th percentile records for ammonia and turbidity in all four creeks, and nitrate levels in two of the creeks, exceeded the State Environmental Protection guidelines for total nitrogen.

As with most environmental issues, a multitude of factors are likely to contribute to poor water quality. Nevertheless, the results clearly show cause for concern about the health of our creeks, and the impacts on nearby Corner Inlet, which is an internationally significant Ramsar site. Seagrass meadows, which are critical marine habitat and nurseries for fish, are particularly vulnerable to high nutrient and sediment levels.

The discussions that followed the results revealed a strong desire amongst all participants to be part of the solution to the problem.

Strategies that have been proven to improve water quality include nutrient budgeting, avoiding fertiliser application within four days of runoff events, revegetating and excluding stock from waterways and dung beetle release, which all offer productivity benefits to farmers.

SGLN is currently calling for expressions of interest for revegetation projects, and dung beetle nursery and release sites. There is also potential for collaborative projects with GippsDairy and the WGCMA for larger-scale projects, and landholders along waterways in the catchment are encouraged to contact Cassie Wright at cassie@sgln.net.au.

A Corner Inlet Landcare Group has also been established, and offers all members of the local community the opportunity to be involved in projects to improve the health of Corner Inlet. For membership enquiries, visit sgln.net.au.

SGLN acknowledges the support of Coastcare and the state government which funded this program.