Is it sweet for the reef?

By Dr Douglas Tait

A small team of Barefoot Biogeochem’ers recently toured the lower Burdekin riverine area surrounding Ayr in North Queensland, sampling groundwater under cane fields. Collecting samples to analyse for nutrient, metal and pesticide concentrations as well as sampling for tritium, radon and radium to determine the age and movement of the water.

Understanding the impacts of this highly modified and managed landscape on groundwater will be important for predicting effects on the nearby Great Barrier Reef. Early results point to improvements in modern farming methods with lower nutrient concentrations in groundwater close to the surface but historical high use of nitrogen fertilizers is clearly detectable in deeper wells.    

Well maintained wells, friendly farmers and a relaxed community atmosphere made the week of sampling in Australia’s sugar capital a smooth and enjoyable experience. The research will be part of an honours project looking at the age and chemical load of the groundwater in the lower Burdekin region as well as ongoing further research into groundwater movement into the reef via shallow and deep submarine ground water discharge and paleo channels.