As top predators, dolphins are bioindicators of environmental health and as such can provide important insight into the condition of the habitats upon which they rely. Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphins utilise estuaries and tend to be highly site specific making them more vulnerable to injury, illness and mortality due to the cumulative number of threats posed by human activities. In recent years, concerns for the status and health of dolphin communities that use Australia’s estuaries have increased. Despite these concerns and the economic, social, cultural and environmental value of dolphins, there remains very little understanding of the relationships between estuarine conditions and the health of dolphin communities. This project aims to investigate the relationships between the utilisation and status of coastal dolphin populations and the health of estuaries. To achieve this, three key estuarine systems in Northern New South Wales have been selected as study sites; Tweed River, Richmond River and Nambucca River. Each of these estuaries have differing levels of degradation and are suitable comparative sites to facilitate following objectives:
- Assess the abundance, trends and residency patterns of dolphin populations in these major estuarine systems of Northern New South Wales
- Identify habitats and prey species of critical importance to resident dolphin populations
- Examine the health of resident populations of dolphins utilizing major estuaries using assessments of external features from photographs and samples from stranded animals
- Investigate the relationships between estuarine condition from water quality monitoring data and the status of dolphin communities
- Provide for more informed management plans and ensure more effective conservation initiatives.
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Will purchase survey equipment for volunteer crew to carry out research surveys
Will produce a Dolphin Watch monitoring handbook
Will purchase protective equipment for field research volunteer crew
Will contribute to the training of 50 citizen scientists from Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland
Will develop education materials promoting environmentally friendly actions to care for dolphins and their habitats to the public
Will purchase field equipment such as hand held GPS units to measure the habitat use by dolphins and identify areas critical to their survival
Will complete 2 boat surveys in Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland with citizen science teams to understand the abundance and trends of dolphin populations
Will attend to 1 stranded or injured dolphin and obtain samples to assess their health
Will analyse the pollutant levels and the presence of viruses in dolphins that have standed and deceased to understand the health of dolphins in Northern New South Wales and South East Queensland