Early February 2001, the Richmond River, Northern NSWAustralia, suffered an immense fish kill, affecting over 35 kilometres of riverine and estuarine habitat, and the surrounding coastal ecosystem. A flood, combined with summer heat, pasture grasses, drainage channels, and sediment, triggered a chain reaction that left the coastal river devoid of oxygen and life.
The Richmond River has many forms of agriculture within its catchment, as well as commercial and recreational fishing and a high tourism industry. Much of the floodplain has been cleared for crops or grazing, with a marked increase in drainage channels being developed to take floodwaters back off the land and into the river. Erosion from cleared lands and developing areas caused large quantities of sediment to smother in-river habitats of the river system. Towns, such as Lismore and Ballina, are built on the riverbanks, causing strain on where floodwaters can go. These factors have caused massive losses in habitat for fish and other aquatic species, as well as terrestrial species that are crucial to the balance of the coastal riverine ecosystem.
The decision was made to allow the river to regenerate on its own accord. Early monitoring over six to eight months, suggests rapid recovery of the river habitat. The general community and Governments need to help reduce the probability of this event occurring again by re-vegetating river banks and floodplains, and implementing better drainage and land management solutions. To help ensure that this scale of event does not happen again in the future within other coastal catchments, improved management of land, river and coasts need to occur.