Terrestrial discharge into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon: nutrient behavior in coastal waters

MJ Devlin, J Brodie

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Pollution of coastal regions of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) is dominated by river discharge associated with agricultural development of the adjacent catchments. Runoff of sediment, nutrients and pesticides has sharply increased since European settlement. Since 1991 plumes from river discharge entering the GBRWHA have been mapped by aerial mapping of plume edges and concentrations of contaminants in plumes measured. Plume dispersion is governed primarily by wind speed and direction. Most plumes spread in a band up to 50 km from the coast. Particulate material discharged in the plumes is trapped within 10 km of the coast. Dissolved nutrients disperse much further and elevated nutrient concentrations are measurable at distances of hundreds of kilometres from river mouths. This differential transport of particulate versus dissolved nutrients is important for the potential effects of these materials and management of their generation on the Great Barrier Reef catchment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-22
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number1-4
Early online date20 Nov 2004
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • Flood plumes
  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Land runoff
  • Nutrients
  • Suspended sediment
  • Water quality

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