Filtration in laboratory

Port Curtis water and sediment survey 2011

CSIRO researchers collected water and sediment samples to provide a 3-day snapshot of concentrations of trace metals in Port Curtis, Gladstone.

  • 8 May 2012


Project summary

From 6-8 December 2011 a CSIRO team collected water and sediment samples to determine the concentrations of trace metals in Port Curtis, Gladstone, Queensland. The sampling - conducted midway between neap and spring tides, and while dredging was underway in the Harbour - provides a three-day snapshot only and does not take into account water quality changes over time or at other times.

This study, funded by the Gladstone Ports Corporation, was independently carried out by CSIRO and used very sensitive monitoring and analysis techniques that are able to determine the actual concentrations of many metals in the Harbour.

CSIRO conducted a previous similar study in Gladstone Harbour in 2004/5 which enabled some comparison of results.


Map of Gladstone Harbour with sampling sites identified

Sites in Port Curtis where water and sediment samples were collected (6-8 December 2011).

Report findings

CSIRO’s report found:

  • No evidence of increased dissolved metal concentrations in the areas of Port Curtis that are being dredged.
  • The concentrations of dissolved arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, manganese, nickel, lead and zinc were below the ANZECC/ARMCANZ marine water quality guideline trigger values that apply in Australia at all 21 sites sampled and the concentrations were relatively low compared to other industrialised harbours.
  • Dissolved aluminium concentrations were above the ANZECC/ARMCANZ (2000) environmental concern level (ECL) of 0.5 µg/L at the majority of sites sampled. It should be noted that there is no reliable guideline value for aluminium in marine waters in Australia and the ECL value is a highly conservative value based on very limited toxicity data. There are no water quality guidelines that apply for aluminium in marine waters in Europe or North America.  From the current data set, it was not possible to attribute a specific source of the dissolved aluminium. 
  • Dissolved copper and nickel concentrations were higher in December 2011 compared to previous CSIRO surveys in 2004/5.
  • Total metal concentrations in the seafloor sediment samples were below ANZECC guideline values for all metals (where guidelines apply) apart from arsenic.
  • Few identifiable trends in concentrations across the Harbour, which means that no hot spots of high metal concentrations were found.
  • Metals in suspended sediments were not elevated.

What does this mean?

  • The study did not find any elevated metal concentrations within the location of the dredging activity.
  • Further investigations would be required to determine if dissolved aluminium concentrations may be causing some stress to organisms living in the Harbour.
  • Although arsenic is slightly elevated in some sediments our previous work shows the arsenic comes from natural sources such as geological formations, which naturally contain elevated arsenic concentrations.
  • The dissolved copper and nickel data suggest that the concentration of these elements have increased in the water column over the last five years. We do not know what the source of the additional metals is.

Next steps

As CSIRO’s study only provides a three-day snapshot of trace metal concentrations in Port Curtis, more research would need to be looked at in the broader context of what other monitoring studies have been conducted and found.

Solely in relation to the CSIRO study, we would recommend that the water quality issues identified, such as aluminium bioavailability and toxicity, are further investigated.