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A better understanding of coastal hydrological and ecohydrological processes is required to optimally manage coastal groundwater systems, particularly where groundwater-surface water interactions and/or the impacts of freshwater-saltwater density contrasts are important (National Water Committee, 2004; Cullen, 2006). A coastal NCRIS site will deliver the opportunity for developing long term understanding of hydrological processes and dependencies in these critical groundwater environments. Given the wide range of water management and scientific issues arising from rapid development and the threat of climate change impacts, North Stradbroke Island (NSI) in southeast Queensland is confirmed as the appropriate additional NCRIS site, having hydrological features representative of many coastal groundwater systems around Australia. It will be of national and international significance given the global concern about rapid development in coastal environments. Climate change is expected to cause elevated sea-levels and tidal penetration into estuaries and associated wetlands. In southeast Queensland there is also likely to be an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, that is, more severe flooding/flushing events as well as storm surges. The establishment of infrastructure and baseline data on the key groundwater and biophysical processes in coastal environments is fundamental to our capacity to anticipate, and respond to, the likely changes and impacts related to climate change.

 

NSI is a large sand-mass island around 10 km offshore from Brisbane. It is around 400 km2 in area with sand masses up to 250m high and is located close to the margin between temperate and subtropical climate zones. Mean rainfall is around 1500mm. The large, aeolian dunes date from the Quaternary with older dunes and buried soils in the west and younger dunes towards the eastern side of the island. Groundwater-fed water bodies (e.g., lakes, springs, wetlands) and their associated groundwater-dependent ecosystems are common features of these sand masses. Many of the lakes have significance to local indigenous communities. Like other important sand mass systems in South East Queensland (i.e., Fraser Is., Cooloola, Moreton Is), and indeed around Australia, it contains significant groundwater resources which are accessed by local communities and mining companies. In addition, a significant volume of groundwater is exported to the mainland. While potential exists for expansion of the resource recovery (it is proposed that sustainable rates for the total sand mass system could be of the order of 100,000 ML/a or more), so little is known about groundwater dependent water bodies and ecosystems that confidence in the sustainability of the proposed rates is low and expansion is suspended. Dependent ecosystems include freshwater and estuarine wetlands, mangrove and paperbark communities, and surface water (lake, stream) fauna. There is evidence that vegetation communities have been changing response to changing groundwater conditions. Several species are listed nationally as endangered and a number are endemic to the island.

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