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Vasse-Wonnerup: Identifying nutrient and organic matter sources in an impacted coastal wetland system

Coastal wetland systems are highly susceptible to human disturbance particularly through: (1) nutrient inputs for agriculture in their catchments; (2) loss of fringing vegetation; and (3) changes to flow rates from the catchments and ocean. Understanding how these disturbances impact the environmental, social and economic amenities such as Ramsar values, natural coastal amenities and fisheries of coastal wetlands is critical for appropriate management measures to be implemented to mediate such impacts.

The Vasse Wonnerup wetland system (VWWS) is an important Ramsar site in south-western Australia, but receives high nutrient input from the surrounding catchment, and exchange with the ocean is limited due to barriers at the entrance channels. The high nutrient loads and reduced flushing have stimulated extensive phytoplankton and macroalgal blooms resulting in large accumulations of detrital material in the sediments, which are likely to be contributing to anoxic conditions leading to fish kills.

The project will identify the different sources and sinks of nutrients and organic matter in the Vasse Wonnerup wetland system (VWWS) using a variety of approaches such as biomarkers assessment, and field-based experimental manipulations, with the aim provide recommendations that will lead to the water quality improvement in this important recreational region of south-western Western Australia.

The specific aims for the project are to:

  • Identify the flow of nutrients  and carbon between the potential sources of nutrients and the pool of nutrients in the wetland system; and
  • Identify the proportion of the allochthonous and autochthonous sources of carbon and nutrients (N and P) contributing to the wetland system's primary productivity.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with researchers at Murdoch University and Southern Cross University as part of a larger multi-institutional and disciplinary programme.

Funding agency

South West Catchments Council

Project duration



Miss Roisin McCallum, PhD Student
Professor Glenn Hyndes
Dr Kathryn Mahon
Murdoch University, Dr Jane Chambers
Southern Cross University, Professor Bradley Eyre
Southern Cross University, Dr Joanne Oakes
Southern Cross University, Ms Perrine Mangion

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