New project seeks the source of faecal matter

A new tracking project will “pinpoint” the source of faecal matter that contaminates the Tamar River.

The six-month Faecal Source Tracking Pilot Project started in January and is funded through NRM North’s Tamar Estuary and Esk Rivers Program [TEER], with additional funding from the City of Launceston and the West Tamar Council. 

It aims to detect whether the Enterococci bacteria found in water samples taken monthly from the estuary, has come from cattle, horses, sheep, septic tank systems or sewage treatment plants at Ti Tree Bend, Riverside, Newnham and Legana. 

TEER Program scientific and technical coordinator Toni Furlonge said results would not be too far away.

“By the end of June, we will have some preliminary results of the sources of Enterococci bacteria from key locations in the upper Tamar estuary, telling us whether the bacteria has come from livestock or humans," she said. 

Scientists will continue to collect water samples from the estuary and send them to John Adulcikas, who will grow the bacteria using a range of sugars.

“When they sample the water and they give me some samples I can match it against a library of known bacteria and determine if it’s from livestock or a human source,” he said.

Mr Adulcikas’ university honours thesis proved the ability to differentiate between the source of faecal bacteria.

“There is a degree of human contamination and livestock contamination and that’s as far as my honours can show,” he said. 

The latest project is looking to narrow the source of the matter down.

“By identifying the source of the pollutants we can then better target resources,” Dr Furlonge added.

Scientists already know about 26 per cent of the bacteria and pollutants in the estuary come from treatment plants.

When the Faecal Source Tracking Pilot Project ends in June the TEER committee will analyse the results to decide “whether the information is useful” and decide whether to continue the project.

Dr Furlonge hoped the information would help inform decisions to target infrastructure investment and catchment management to improve the health of the Tamar estuary.