Vulnerability of threatened Australian humpback dolphins to flooding and port development within the southern Great Barrier Reef coastal region

Daniele Cagnazzi, Guido J. Parra, Peter L. Harrison, Lyndon Brooks, Robert Rankin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In this study, we used a 10-year (2007–2016) mark-recapture dataset to investigate the potential effects of flooding and port development on the population dynamics of Australian humpback dolphins (Sousa sahulensis), inhabiting the Fitzroy River and Port Curtis, within the southern Great Barrier Reef region. A Multisite Capture-Recapture model was used to quantify population size and demographic parameters for both sexes and sites. Flood occurrence and intensity (both sites), and port development (Port Curtis) were included as explanatory variables. Abundance estimates indicated that about 77 adult dolphins were present in both sites, of which 69% were females. Most females (69%) were resident with a yearly recruitment close to zero for most years. Most males and unsexed (68%) individuals showed little evidence of long-term residency. The abundances of males and unsexed individuals varied between 15 and 20 dolphins in the Fitzroy River and 19–26 in Port Curtis, but the accuracy was too low to assess changes. Female abundances started at 56 in both sites and declined to about 32 per site in 2011, coinciding with port development construction activities and a concurrent major flood. In Port Curtis, the number of females returned to their original levels once the port development was completed in 2013. In the Fitzroy River, the declining trend continued and reached the lowest estimated abundance of 29 in 2016. As port developments and floods are expected to increase along the Queensland coastal region over coming decades, the results of this study highlight increasing concerns about the vulnerability and long-term sustainability of inshore dolphins in the GBR.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01203
Number of pages18
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Volume24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Dolphins
  • Flood
  • Great barrier reef
  • Mark-recapture
  • Population trend
  • Port development
  • Sousa sahulensis

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