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Most recent fish kill points to an unhealthy river

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Rocky Mouth Creek
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Most recent fish kill points to an unhealthy river

 

By Samantha Elley

One Woodburn farmer has raised the alarm of a recent fish kill that occurred at Rocky Mouth Creek a few weeks ago.

Wanting to stay anonymous, he said the death of more than 100 mullet, carp and herring happened just before the most recent rain event.

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“It was definitely in the hundreds,” he said.

“Up until that kill, the fish out the front of my place would keep me awake at night, as they swirl around.”

His concern was the timing of the closing and opening of the flood gates in Rocky Mouth Creek.

“The gates were closed, but there was an outlet for the fish to get through. Why were all fish killed above the weir and not below?” he said.

He indicated that the outlet for the fish could not accommodate them as they tried to move through the river system.

A NSW DPI spokesperson confirmed the fish kill.

“On 3 April 2024, NSW DPI received a report of a fish death event at Rocky Mouth Creek, near Woodburn affecting just over 100 fish,” they said.

“DPI Fisheries Officers have attended the site and attributed the cause of the event to a drop in Dissolved Oxygen (DO) due to a hypoxic blackwater event from a breakdown in organic material.”

Fish kills are defined as a sudden mass mortality of wild fish, according to DPI’s website and are more likely to occur in summer or when there are sudden changes in temperature.

Since October last year there have been five reported fish kills, including the one at Woodburn and another at Ballina on January 13 where thousands of mullet died in the Richmond River to a hypoxic blackwater event.

A hypoxic blackwater event is where organic material, such as leaf litter and woody debris, is washed into the river and its rapid decay consumes dissolved oxygen from the water. The lack of dissolved oxygen in the water can lead to fish kills.

The issue of fish kills is a complex one, according to a spokesperson from Rous County Council.

“Historically, the floodplain has been intensively drained and floodgated for flood mitigation and to allow agriculture to expand,” they said.

“Rous has now inherited responsibility for a large network of historical drainage infrastructure, including the Rocky Mouth Creek floodgates.”

The spokesperson said the floodgate’s primary role is to mitigate the impact of floods on properties upstream, so this is when they are lowered.

“However, when the floodgates aren’t needed for flood mitigation, with the support of surrounding landowners, they can be raised up to allow water to flow up and down the creek, which improves the condition of the waterway,” they said.

“Keeping the floodgates open doesn’t prevent blackwater from being created (as this happens) upstream in low lying areas where grass and other vegetation is flooded and rots.”

Rous County Council has confirmed in a study done by the state government called Coastal Floodplain Prioritisation Study of the Richmond River, that for meaningful improvements to occur in blackwater creation within Rocky Mouth Creek, low lying areas need to be returned to natural swamp and wetland and artificial drainage systems removed.

Floodplain officer Chrisy Clay said the flood mitigation assets owned by Rous County Council are largely historical.

“There was a lot of flood mitigation assets put in place in the 1950s and 60s following the 1954 flood,” she said.

“The late 1800s, early 1900s we had a lot of assets already in place.

“They’re there to reduce the impact of floods…this has been essential for the establishment and expansion of agriculture and the rural settlement of the flood plain.

“Unfortunately, what we didn’t know at the time is that there would be unintended environmental consequences from those works.”

Ms Clay said the very fundamental characteristic of the flood plain has now changed and there isn’t an aspect that hasn’t been altered.

“The hydrology has been completely altered,” she said.

“And that has completely altered the vegetation types, the biodiversity and ecosystems we have there.

“They’ve also impacted on water quality both on the drainage system and in the estuary itself.”

Vegetation types such as reeds and rushes and wetland plants would have been suited to inundation.

“But now we’ve changed them by draining them and the main vegetation type is dryland pasture which starts to decompose and rots during inundation,” said Ms Clay.

She said the worst fish kills she has seen was firstly in 2001 at Wardell.

“The entire estuary had no dissolved oxygen left in it…and nothing can live in that,” she said.

“We had all levels of the food web…die en masse. Fish, crustaceans, oysters, sea grass, prawns…they all died.”

Then in 2008 there was another major fish kill in the Richmond River estuary.

Ms Clay said there was an unfortunate cycle of water quality issues in the area.

“This is why the Richmond River’s been classified as the  most degraded and worst in NSW,” she said.

“Tackling issue of black water is…complicated.

“The science says that how we rectify that is reducing the drainage of these areas.

“Unfortunately, the only mechanism we have for change is through the goodwill of landowners.”

Ms Clay said the changes that need to occur are likely to have a negative impact on their land in regards to agriculture and land value.

“It’s very difficult to garner support we need to have occur from good will alone,” she said.

 

For more Richmond Valley news, click here.

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Don’t Miss Out! Early Bird Tickets Now on Sale for the 2024 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Gala Dinner & National Announcement

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Don’t Miss Out! Early Bird Tickets Now on Sale for the 2024 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award Gala Dinner & National Announcement

 

The National Winner and Runner Up of the 2024 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award will be announced at a Gala Dinner at the Great Hall, Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday, 20 August 2024. The prestigious event celebrates female-led ingenuity in the regions. 

The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award, with the support of platinum sponsor Westpac, showcases the critical role women play in rural, regional and remote businesses, industries and communities.

The annual Gala Dinner is an opportunity to celebrate the forward-thinking, courageous leaders who come from industries across some of the remote areas of Australia, including each of the State and Territory winners, Kate Lamason (QLD), Rebecca Keeley (NSW/ACT), Grace Larson (VIC), Belle Binder (TAS), Nikki Atkinson (SA), Mandy Walker (WA) and Tanya Egerton (NT).

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2023 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award National Winner Nikki Davey will be the event MC with the black-tie evening attended by award alumni, government officials, industry and private sector representatives and media.

The event is open to the public to purchase tickets here.

AgriFutures Managing Director John Harvey said the long-running Award is a salute to the wonderful contribution that Australian women are making in the regions.

“The Gala Dinner is an event that champions the remarkable contributions of the 2024 cohort and is an opportunity to honour these extraordinary women who are the pillars of our rural and regional industries, businesses, and communities,” Mr Harvey said.

Background Information

Now in its 24th year, the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award has gained a significant profile, growing in prestige and popularity, and is recognised as a program of influence among parliamentarians, industry, media and Award Alumni.

Each state and territory winner receives a $15,000 grant for their project, business or program, access to professional development opportunities and alumni networks.

The National Winner and Runner Up will receive an additional grant of $20,000 and $15,000, respectively, thanks to the awards platinum sponsor, Westpac.

AgriFutures Australia is committed to the future growth and advancement of the Award as a means of identifying, celebrating and empowering women. The Rural Women’s Award is one of many AgriFutures Australia initiatives ensuring our rural industries prosper now, and into the future.

For more information about the awards, head here.

 

For more rural news, click here.

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Better be-leaf it: celebrating International Day of Plant Health

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Better be-leaf it: celebrating International Day of Plant Health

 

In commemoration of the International Day of Plant Health on May 12, 2024, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry is spotlighting the significance of regional collaboration in safeguarding plant health.

Regional achievements in plant health will be lauded during the Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI) Symposium, a two-day event held at the Cairns Convention Centre on May 8 and 9. The symposium aims to foster better coordination among industry stakeholders, researchers, and governments to protect plant health.

Gabrielle Vivian-Smith, Australia’s Chief Plant Protection Officer, emphasises the critical role of plants in sustaining our region’s ecosystems. She underscores the staggering impact of plant pests and diseases, which annually result in the loss of 40% of food crops globally, with rural communities bearing the brunt. Vivian-Smith highlights the department’s commitment to research and innovation to combat these challenges and support farmers’ livelihoods.

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One notable initiative involves researching the efficacy of ethyl formate in controlling the khapra beetle at Australian borders, alongside collaborative efforts with the Queensland government to mitigate seasonal incursions of exotic fruit fly. Additionally, the department is enhancing biosecurity measures domestically and fostering partnerships with neighbouring countries to ensure regional plant health.

Recent endeavour’s include departmental visits to ‘high-biosecurity-risk’ sites in Honiara, where collaboration with Solomon Islands’ counterparts facilitated the detection of exotic plant pest threats. Furthermore, Papua New Guinea’s National Agriculture and Quarantine Inspection Authority will host biosecurity officers from Solomon Islands to exchange insights on target pests and surveillance techniques, aligning with the department’s Pacific Biosecurity Strategy.

The PBRI symposium will encompass diverse topics such as varroa mites in honeybees, the Indigenous Ranger Biosecurity Program, and biosecurity risks in the wine industry.

In addition to acknowledging regional achievements, it’s worth noting that the United Nations designated May 12 as the International Day of Plant Health in 2022, emphasising the vital role of plants in sustaining life on Earth. With plants contributing 80% of the food humans consume and generating 98% of the oxygen we breathe, safeguarding their health is paramount for global well-being.

 

For more rural news, click here.

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Budget 2024-25: Rural Health Equity Remains Unaddressed

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Budget 2024-25: Rural Health Equity Remains Unaddressed

 

Statement by the National Rural Health Alliance

The recent Federal Budget has missed a crucial opportunity to tackle the persistent healthcare disparities between rural and urban Australia, asserts the National Rural Health Alliance.

Nicole O’Reilly, Chairperson of the National Rural Health Alliance, expressed disappointment at the budget’s failure to meet expectations. She emphasised the government’s lack of responsiveness to rural voices and its failure to commit to comprehensive reforms that would deliver sustainable and long-term benefits for rural communities.

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The statistics paint a stark picture: Australians living farther from urban centres have lower life expectancies and are twice as likely to succumb to preventable illnesses. Rural men and women face significantly higher risks of dying from avoidable causes compared to their urban counterparts. Alarmingly, many rural residents lack access to primary healthcare services within a reasonable distance from their homes, leading to reduced utilisation of Medicare services and exacerbating the burden of disease in remote areas.

O’Reilly highlighted the evidence indicating a significant disparity in healthcare spending, with each person in rural and remote Australia missing out on nearly $850 per year in healthcare access, totalling an annual rural health underspend of $6.5 billion.

The National Rural Health Alliance welcomed certain budget measures, such as the support for rural training opportunities through initiatives like the Charles Darwin University Menzies Medical Program and additional funding for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. However, O’Reilly stressed that these efforts alone are insufficient to address the diverse healthcare needs across rural and remote Australia.

While acknowledging positive steps, O’Reilly emphasised the urgent need for more comprehensive and sustained commitments to ensure equitable healthcare outcomes for rural and remote Australians. She urged the government to prioritise rural health reform in future budget allocations to ensure that all communities receive the care and support they deserve.

 

For more health news, click here.

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