Research leader

Prof Bronwyn Gillanders Research Leader
Dr Patrick Reis Santos Research Leader

Research team

Dr Patrick Reis Santos Research Team
Dr Ana Judith Giraldo Research Team
Koster Sarakinis Research Team
William Goh Research Team

The environmental impacts of the bushfires on Kangaroo Island will not be confined to the terrestrial landscape but are likely to have substantial detrimental impacts on the island's aquatic ecosystems. One key area of concern is the estuarine systems downstream or adjacent to burned areas. However, impacts of bushfires in estuaries have not yet been explored, despite the ecological importance of these environments, including as nursery habitats for juveniles of numerous fish species. In addition, as many estuarine systems on Kangaroo Island are not permanently open to the sea, the impacts of accumulated soot, ash and sediment funnelled into the estuaries are likely to be exacerbated, and have the potential to disrupt the complex ecological and biogeochemical cycles that take place in estuarine systems, affect water quality, increase contaminant loadings, and have pervasive consequences for local fish communities. These impacts are especially likely following rainfall events. 

This project is being completed with the support of the CRC's funding for quick response. It is evaluating the immediate and longer-term impacts of bushfires on estuarine water quality and its implications to estuarine fish. 

Researchers will:

  • assess the impacts on fish species diversity, abundance, and assemblage structure as well as changes to functional diversity over time
  • measure changes in water quality including fire-induced chemical contamination by heavy metals and other persistent compounds, and its effects on fish (e.g. contamination)
  • monitor changes in estuarine water quality parameters, and trace the mobilisation and fluxes of contaminants released from bushfires into aquatic systems and potential long-term contamination of hydrological reservoirs
  • evaluate the implications of bushfires to estuarine ecosystem functioning and to coastal marine fish populations that depend on estuaries during their early life stages. 

Evaluation and monitoring will allow researchers to follow ecosystem changes over time, and understand the processes that drive resilience and the potential recovery of estuarine ecosystems. Results will contribute to predicting future impacts of bushfires, and to the development of potential mitigation or adaptation measures, as well as underpin biodiversity conservation, adaptation, and sustainable management strategies, supporting the governance that lies ahead.