Reef Aid

A fishway for Palm Creek

To boost numbers of native fish throughout the creek system, Greening Australia worked with Wilmar Sugar Australia and other partners to install a new fishway for the Victoria Mill Weir in Palm Creek.

Palm Creek is a distributary of the Herbert River that runs through Ingham and eventually then into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. The Nywaigi Aboriginal people are the Traditional Owners of the land around Palm Creek, and manage Mungalla Station and its wetland complex which occur at the end of the creek catchment.

The key focus of income in the Ingham area for over 100 years has been sugar cane production. This continues be an important industry in the region.

Greening Australia is working in partnership with different landholders in the Palm Creek catchment – from the Traditional Owners of Mungalla Station downstream, to Wilmar Sugar further upstream – to restore important wetlands and waterways, and ultimately improve the quality of water that flows out to the Great Barrier Reef.

This project to install a fishway for Palm Creek is one of the many components of our coastal wetland restoration project in this area, and of Greening Australia’s Reef Aid Program. The project is funded by the Australian Government and delivered in partnership with Reef Trust.

The Challenge

Habitat connectivity between rivers, wetlands and standing pools is important for coastal species like Mangrove Jacks and Barramundi, that migrate up into freshwater to complete their lifecycles.

Due to the speed of the water coming over the weir at Palm Creek, it can be difficult for native fish to swim into the upper reaches of the Palm Creek system to breed and establish populations. The flow is sometimes fast and turbulent, and fish are unable to sustain bursts of energy long enough to move upstream.


The Solution

Greening Australia approached Wilmar Sugar Australia with the idea of installing a fishway so that, during the wet season, migratory native fish can travel upstream past the Victoria Mill Weir, access the upper reaches of Palm Creek, and sustain populations in the Hinchinbrook area.

Wilmar Sugar Australia were glad to be involved and provided access to land. “It’s been great being able to supply the land to help make this project a reality. We’re proud to be part of such an important environmental project for the Hinchinbrook region,” said Wilmar Sugar Australia’s Herbert Regional Operations Manager Adam Douglas.

We commissioned Alluvium to design the fishway. Because of the drop of the weir, the design involved a series of 26 cells, each dropping 100mm, creating a rock ramp. The structure allows fish to rest in hollows or behind rocks, out of the stronger current, and gradually move their way up in short bursts of energy.

Ingham contractors Michael Bartolini Concreting were engaged to construct the 46-metre-long fishway in October and November 2019. The 11-day job involved removing more than 1,850 cubic metres of soil, placing 1,180 rocks and laying 150 cubic metres of concrete.

After the hardscaping was complete, Greening Australia worked with Hinchinbrook Shire Council to revegetate the 0.5ha footprint around the fishway and weir as well. This planting was supported by our Restoring Australia partnership with Officeworks. The plants will grow up to help protect the structure of the ladder and provide overhanging shade for species in the waterway.

Included in the planting are a mixture of riparian species that are known food sources for the Mahogany Glider. This endangered species is local to the area and has a very restricted range. It’s hoped these plantings will support them to move further in search of habitat.

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Works to construct the fishway and revegetate the area around it were completed in December 2019. Leading this fishway construction project was a first (hopefully of many!) for Greening Australia, and together with Birdlife Australia and OzFish, we are continuing to monitor the site to ensure it is working as planned.

We have been confident that installing the fishway would see native fish numbers thriving in Palm Creek, and lead to upstream populations of species such as Empire Gudgeons, Eastern Rainbows, Glass Perch, Fly-speckled Hardyheads, Spangled Perch, Eel-tailed Catfish, Mangrove Jacks and Barramundi. Recent monitoring results from OzFish has recorded 16 fish species using the fishway, including Barramundi, Tarpon, Spangled Perch, Rainbowfish, Empire Gudgeon, Bony Bream and Eel-tailed Catfish (read more in this blog from OzFish).

It’s our expectation that this higher diversity of fish species upstream will also support a greater range of birdlife and other biodiversity.


Monitoring at the finished fishway. Photo credit OzFish.

This project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and delivered as part of our Reef Aid program. If you would like more information, please feel free to send us an online query.