Great Southern Landscapes

Helping the Harvey

The Helping the Harvey project brings together organisations, industry, government, scientists, local community and landholders to restore river function and diversity to the highly degraded lower reaches of the Harvey River in Western Australia.

Photo credits Jesse Collins and Greening Australia.

The Harvey River is a waterway found on Noongar country in the south-west of Western Australia. This region has the highest proportion of endemic fishes and crayfishes on the continent and is a globally recognised endemic hotspot.

Rivers are the life blood of regional communities and in changing times they and the diversity they support are under threat. This project has a focus on helping Harvey River communities take action now to ensure a healthy river for future generations.

This work is made possible thanks to funding from the Alcoa Foundation’s Three Rivers, One Estuary initiative, with significant support from the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, and forms part of the wider collaborative partnership between Harvey River Restoration Taskforce and the Water Corporation, all working together under ‘Marron More than a Meal’.

The Challenge

Over the past few decades, a growing body of evidence shows that the inland aquatic fauna of the WA’s southwest is in decline.

Since the turn of the century, five of the regions freshwater fish species, four freshwater crayfish species and the sole species of freshwater mussel have been listed as threatened under the Federal Government’s Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act 1999). Other species are variously listed under State legislation.

Much of this decline has been driven by the loss of suitable habitats through stream channelization, river regulation, land clearing, flood abatement and the impact of introduced species. This coupled with reductions in rainfall and subsequent run-off and aquifer recharge from the increasing impact of climate change continue to impact aquatic fauna. Adaptive management is necessary to aid their conservation.

The Solution

The marron (Cherax cainii) is a south-western Australian aquatic icon, not only for the important and unique recreational fishery that it supports, but also for its role as a biological indicator of ecosystem health.

Murdoch University scientists at a sampling site on the lower Harvey River. Photo: Murdoch University.

An aquatic survey of the lower Harvey River, conducted by Murdoch University’s Freshwater Fish Group and Fish Health Unit in 2019, found that during the hot, dry summer months, fish and crayfish were more likely found in shaded parts of the waterway with a good variety of instream habitat, including deeper pools. In nearby shallow streams, the water temperature was above the tolerance level of some species, including marron.

As climate change drives increases in temperature and decreases in rainfall, we know creating cool, shady areas and deep pools as refuges for aquatic species can help nature adapt, while simultaneously improving water quality, stabilising banks and restoring habitat.

Marron underwater beside sunken logs

Marron and other aquatic species will seek out cool, shady refuges during hot summer days.

Over the next three years, the Helping the Harvey project team will work on a science-led targeted restoration demonstration along the lower Harvey River, as part of the collaborative ‘Marron, More than a Meal – revive our rivers’ program.

The Marron More Than a Meal program and its supporting projects aims to demonstrate how the restoration of drainage channels can lead to an improvement of the aquatic ecosystems.

Aquatic habitat will be improved by science-led trials of instream features, while the channel banks will be fenced to exclude livestock and revegetated to provide shading and cooling of the river corridor. The site will be subject to rigorous monitoring and citizen science activities to quantify the impacts of the works and engage community around sustainable waterway management.

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In addition to on-ground works such as the trial log installation, a key aspect of the project is engaging First Nations Peoples, the local community, schools and landholders in river restoration.

Supported by Lotterywest, we put on the Harvey River Festival in 2021, a series of three fun events to get community involved in helping the river. These were the Harvey River Fair, Healing Bilya during NAIDOC Week and an outdoor screening of the Upriver documentary.

In 2022, we offered community events and citizen science opportunities aimed at raising awareness, strengthening community connections to the river and increasing a sense of stewardship for the Harvey River. We also undertook a demonstration project with a private landholder to transform their linear drain into a meandering waterway, boosting productivity and biodiversity values. We held workshops for landholders to see this transformation for themselves.

In 2023, we undertook further monitoring of river restoration works and more habitat plantings, and the results from three years of monitoring show an increase in macroinvertebrate richness and diversity, indicating the restored sites are moving in the right direction.

Helping the Harvey is an Alcoa Foundation funded project through the Three Rivers, One Estuary initiative, and forms part of the wider collaborative partnership between Harvey River Restoration Taskforce, Department of Water and Environmental Regulation, Water Corporation, Peel-Harvey Catchment Council and State NRM all working together under ‘Marron More Than a Meal’. Thanks to Lotterywest for their support of the Harvey River Festival. For more information about this project, please send us an online query.