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Julie Tsatsaros Publishes on Improving Water Quality Near Great Barrier Reef

December 2, 2020

photo of Julie Tsatsaros

Julie Tsatsaros

Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University forestry professor Julie Tsatsaros published research that highlights water quality improvement for the Wet Tropics in Australia adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, with an Aboriginal organization playing a key role.

Tsatsaros is the lead author on the paper in the scholarly journal, Water, in November 2020. She worked on the research with scientists from Australia and the Czech Republic.

“The research shows how multiple stakeholders in rural watersheds can contribute to successful water quality management outcomes for freshwaters that drain to the Great Barrier Reef,” Tsatsaros said. “We integrated physical science and community involvement, especially from the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation. This organization assisted in all phases of a pilot water quality monitoring program and after the initial study, continued to monitor the water quality through its Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program in partnership with local, state and federal agencies and organizations.”

Tsatsaros said the research framework is a case study that can be applied to both freshwaters and marine environments anywhere in the world.

The Wet Tropics region of northeastern Queensland stretches approximately 500 kilometers along the coast of Australia and contains the highest biological diversity in the country. The Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef are United Nations World Heritage sites.

“The Wet Tropics has outstanding environmental values and is economically important. Our research focused upon the Tully Basin adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. Increasing urban development and agricultural growth in the Wet Tropics has raised serious water quality concerns. In addition to the Indigenous Aboriginal people, other stakeholders in this research included other local residents, farmers, tourism operators and scientists,” Tsatsaros said.

Tsatsaros, who is the Environmental Science and Management graduate coordinator at Highlands, said developing and improving water quality guidelines is an ongoing process.

“One of the key recommendations resulting from our research was the importance of developing a long-term water quality monitoring program for the Tully Basin. As a result of this pilot water quality monitoring research, the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation received a Queensland State grant and took a lead role in continuing water quality monitoring,” Tsatsaros said.

Tsatsaros said in northern Australia, as in many regions around the world, a challenge exists to integrate different kinds of knowledge to ensure water planning and management proceeds in appropriate ways, including culturally appropriate ways.

“This research fills an important gap because it tests a framework that links social science and water chemistry data. It incorporates environmental values that the basin community feels needs to be protected,” Tsatsaros said.

Tsatsaros said an important outcome of the research in the Tully Basin is that it contributes to achieving greater Indigenous involvement in water management in this part of Australia.

“The Indigenous people have better co-management opportunities for water resources,” Tsatsaros said.

Tsatsaros joined the Highlands University faculty in 2016. In 2013, she earned her Ph.D. in water resources from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia. She also holds a master’s degree in limnology (lake ecology) from Michigan State University.

At Highlands, Tsatsaros teaches classes such as Aquatic Ecology, Water Resources, Watershed Management, Water Science and Limnology.

“I want our Highlands students to understand the importance of local community participation in developing and implementing long term water quality improvement in both freshwaters and marine environments. I also want students to be excited about natural resources and how their knowledge and experience can help improve watershed conditions in New Mexico and beyond,” Tsatsaros said.

Tsatsaros is published in other scholarly journals such as Water, Air and Soil Pollution. Her Wet Tropics research will be highlighted further in a special edition of the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin in early 2021.