Preventable fine sediment export from the Burdekin River catchment reduces coastal seagrass abundance and increases dugong mortality within the Townsville region of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The coastal seagrass meadows in the Townsville region of the Great Barrier Reef are crucial seagrass foraging habitat for endangered dugong populations. Deteriorating coastal water quality and in situ light levels reduce the extent of these meadows, particularly in years with significant terrestrial runoff from the nearby Burdekin River catchment. However, uncertainty surrounds the impact of variable seagrass abundance on dugong carrying capacity. Here, I demonstrate that a power-law relationship with exponent value of − 1 (R2 ~ 0.87) links mortality data with predicted changes in annual above ground seagrass biomass. This relationship indicates that the dugong carrying capacity of the region is tightly coupled to the biomass of seagrass available for metabolism. Thus, mortality rates increase precipitously following large flood events with a response lag of < 12-months. The management implications of this result are discussed in terms of climate scenarios that indicate an increased future likelihood of extreme flood events.