Science-driven, integrated management of Sydney estuary, NSW


This proposal is for the construction of a comprehensive spatial database with which managers can interrogate, in real time, all available physical, chemical and environmental information on Sydney estuary. The project will derive a science-driven scheme for daily environmental decision-making and for setting long-term managerial strategic plans. This GIS-based platform will provide, for the first time, a tool for effective and sustained management of the harbour-estuary.


Associate Professor Gavin Birch

Research Location

School of Geosciences

Program Type



Currently, no integrated environmental database exists for Sydney estuary. Extensive data are available for sediments mantling the harbour and some information is available on water quality and intertidal macrophytes, but these data are held by separate institutions in various formats. A comprehensive, integrated spatial GIS database is required to construct a science-driven scheme for managerial support for short-term decision-making and for future strategic planning.

The Environmental Geology Group at the University of Sydney (USEGG) has conducted extensive research on the chemistry of sediments and water of Sydney estuary over almost two decades. Sediments mantling the harbour have been found to contain all classes of chemical contaminant, including heavy metals, organochlorine pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Concentrations of these contaminants in extensive areas far exceed sediment quality guidelines and may be having adverse effects on benthic animals. Recent research by the USEEG found sediments at many locations had adverse effects on sensitive invertebrate species in laboratory toxicity tests. Some water quality data are also available for the harbour under dry-weather conditions and for high-precipitation events.

Mapping of seagrass and other intertidal flora has lead to the determination of intertidal and subtidal areas of conservation value within Sydney estuary and the deeper parts of the waterway have been prioritized for maritime use value.

Although a sizeable database on Sydney estuary resides with the USEGG, insufficient information is available to evaluate impacts of contaminated sediments on the local ecology. We propose a three-phase project that will build on existing information and generate sufficient new data to enable informed decisions to be made on the management of Sydney estuary.

The first objective of the project will be to compile all available physical and environmental information for Sydney estuary into an integrated, spatial GIS database. These attributes will then be used to build a risk-based matrix to identify areas of environmental sensitivity and for the construction of a science-driven scheme for day-to-day decision-making and for setting long-term managerial strategies.

The ultimate objective of the project is to construct a real-time, GIS-based management tool for making informed decisions to support effective management of the harbour-estuary. The package will be capable of providing all physical, chemical and environmental information for any location of interest by simply selecting the site on a computer image. All available information for that location will be displayed on the monitor in real time, a suggested management strategy will be provided, and any risks particular to that location will be identified.

Additional Information

HDR Inherent Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements set out in the Science Postgraduate Handbook, you may be required to satisfy a number of inherent requirements to complete this degree. Example of inherent requirement may include:

- Confidential disclosure and registration of a disability that may hinder your performance in your degree;
- Confidential disclosure of a pre-existing or current medical condition that may hinder your performance in your degree (e.g. heart disease, pace-maker, significant immune suppression, diabetes, vertigo, etc.);
- Ability to perform independently and/or with minimal supervision;
- Ability to undertake certain physical tasks (e.g. heavy lifting);
- Ability to undertake observatory, sensory and communication tasks;
- Ability to spend time at remote sites (e.g. One Tree Island, Narrabri and Camden);
- Ability to work in confined spaces or at heights;
- Ability to operate heavy machinery (e.g. farming equipment);
- Hold or acquire an Australian driver’s licence;
- Hold a current scuba diving license;
- Hold a current Working with Children Check;
- Meet initial and ongoing immunisation requirements (e.g. Q-Fever, Vaccinia virus, Hepatitis, etc.)

You must consult with your nominated supervisor regarding any identified inherent requirements before completing your application.

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estuary management, harbour management, environmental information system, geology

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 664

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