Project number: 2021-114
Project Status:
Budget expenditure: $101,740.68
Principal Investigator: Kaitlyn O'Mara
Organisation: Griffith University Nathan Campus
Project start/end date: 30 Jul 2022 - 30 Jul 2023


The tropical waters of northern Australia contain unique and diverse aquatic species that are adapted to the seasonally variable climate. Many species rely on seasonal river flows to move, forage, reproduce and fulfil critical life history stages, particularly in ephemeral rivers which become disconnected in the dry season. River flows and harvest are known to influence both freshwater and marine fish and fisheries. However, river flows have been modified in several tropical catchments by water abstraction and development of water storage infrastructure for agriculture and drinking water. Additionally, there is increasing pressure to develop new water resource infrastructure in northern Australia. A large and disparate body of literature exists that has documented the relationships between tropical fish species and the seasonal variations in river flow. Production of several commercially, recreationally, and traditionally important tropical aquatic species is linked to flow, suggesting that these may be at risk from the multiple pressures of water abstraction and harvesting, warranting the need for a synthesis of current knowledge on water abstraction impacts and identification of knowledge gaps for targeted future research.

We will address this priority task through the delivery of a stakeholder targeted synthesis of current knowledge on the impacts of water abstraction on tropical aquatic species by a team of recognised experts who have worked extensively on the flow dependence of tropical aquatic species in northern Australia. Through this synthesis, we aim to increase stakeholder understanding of water abstraction impacts on aquatic species.


1. Determine key directives for the synthesis during initial meeting in Darwin with the NT government research advisory committee
2. Review and synthesise relevant grey and published literature
3. Identify potential risks of surface water abstraction on priority fish species and identify critical knowledge gaps and future research needs
4. Share the outcomes with project stakeholders and provide research advice

Final report

Authors: Kaitlyn O’Mara Leah Beesley Keller Kopf Michele Burford Michael Douglas Ben Stewart-Koster Mark Kennard
Final Report • 2023-12-12 • 14.77 MB


This project synthesised information that could be used to help guide decision making around the protection of fisheries species that may be impacted by water abstraction. This review was led by Griffith University and conducted in collaboration with the University of Western Australia, Charles Darwin University, and the Northern Territory Fisheries. The synthesis of existing information on the impacts of water abstraction found substantial evidence for impacts on some species and large gaps in the research literature for others. The reviewed studies showed that the severity of predicted impacts varies between river systems and between different modes of water abstraction, as well as with different timing, magnitude, and thresholds of water take. The collective results of these studies modelling potential impacts of water abstraction warrant a precautionary approach to setting water takes, with particular emphasis on ensuring the continuation of high flow years which disproportionately support fishery biomass. It is recommended that the flow dependencies of these species be carefully considered when implementing water policies and research be conducted to fill knowledge gaps for species where little is known about their dependency on the natural flow regime.

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