Phosphorus Awareness Project

Phosphorus Awareness Project

The Phosphorus Awareness Project (PAP) is an education campaign that educates the general community about the impact of too many nutrients in the Swan and Canning River systems and wetlands and how to reduce those levels.

The PAP aims to see a decrease in nutrient loads and algal blooms through changes in community and industry behaviour and practices resulting in biodiverse and sustainable rivers and wetlands throughout the Perth Metropolitan Area. PAP, formally known as the Phosphorus Action Group (PAG), was formed in October 1998 as a sub group of the Canning Catchment Coordinating Group, which is now SERCUL. PAP is managed by Education and Promotion Manager, Natasha Bowden, hosted by SERCUL and is supported by the Rivers and Estuaries Branch of the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

educating the community

PAP's Aim

PAP aims to reduce the amount of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) people contribute to waterways through stormwater drains, groundwater and catchment run-off by:

  • Making the connections for people between their backyards, the stormwater drainage and groundwater systems and water bodies such as the Swan and Canning Rivers;
  • Promoting appropriate fertiliser practises for the soils of the region through the Fertilise Wise campaign. The lack of general awareness of the high nutrient levels in fertilisers is a target for the campaign;
  • Educating householders to use P-free (NP) detergents, particularly in unsewered areas of the catchment, and to consider the contribution of pet faeces and bread fed to water birds to nutrient loads in the catchment; and
  • Educating school, community, local government and industry groups to encourage them to decrease their nutrient outputs.
The Algae Problem

The Algae Problem

The Swan and Canning River systems and many wetlands are in a poor state of health, as evidenced by the undesirable and sometimes toxic algal blooms that occur regularly during warmer months.

Algae are plants that grow naturally in our rivers and wetlands but when they bloom they are undesirable for many reasons. They:

  • Decrease light penetration into the water, thus affecting plant photosynthesis and causing impacts further up the food chain.
  • Use dissolved oxygen as they decompose, effectively starving many aquatic animals of oxygen and causing an increase in the bacteria which causes Botulism. This results in the death of many aquatic animals including fish, crabs and waterbirds and has impacts further up the food chain.
  • Result in an increase in mosquitoes and midges.
  • Are unsightly and foul smelling.
  • Can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health issues when eaten, inhaled or skin contact is made.
  • Prevent recreational use of the river.
To Many Nutrients

Too Many Nutrients

High levels of phosphorus and nitrogen present in the Swan and Canning River systems and wetlands are promoting the growth of blue green and other problem algae, especially in the middle to lower reaches of the Canning and the middle reaches of the Swan. Algae use excess phosphorus and nitrogen to grow and multiply rapidly to large numbers, thriving when the weather is warm and sunny and the water flow is slow.

Phosphorus and nitrogen, essential plant and animal nutrients naturally present in our waterways and soils in very low concentrations, are readily dissolved in water and easily pass through the food chain. Whilst low levels sustain life, excessive amounts of nutrients cause serious water quality problems.

Nutrients accumulate in the environment as a result of human activity. We are using too many nutrients in our daily living. Nutrients entering the Swan, Canning and wetlands originate from:

  • Fertilisers
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves (especially deciduous)
  • Soil
  • Dog faeces
  • Detergents
  • Leakages from septic tanks
  • Bread fed to water birds
  • Intensive agriculture and industrial sources

Garden fertilisers are the largest threat to our rivers as nutrients added to our sandy soils are easily leached.

Everyone lives in a catchment and contributes nutrients to river and wetland systems. Nutrients are carried by water over land through erosion and run-off, through soil by leaching to groundwater, through smaller creeks and streams and through street drains, which are connected to the river.

The current nutrient load in the Swan Canning is 251 tonnes of nitrogen and 26 tonnes of phosphorus per year. We need to reduce the nitrogen load by 49% and the phosphorus load by 46% to achieve acceptable river health.

To find out how you can keep our rivers healthy please refer to our How You Can Help page.

School and Community Education

School and Community Education

The PAP has a number of free school and community education programs. Please browse through the For Educators section for more information about these initiatives or contact Natasha Bowden at SERCUL.

Annual Nutrient Survey for Local Goverments

Annual Nutrient Survey for Local Government Authorities

Every year the Phosphorus Awareness Project surveys the 30 Local Government Authorities (LGA’s) around the Perth Metropolitan Area on their nutrient practices. The survey aims to raise awareness of the nutrient problem in our rivers, to determine the level of nutrient Best Management Practices that LGA’s are undertaking and to provide solutions and resources to improve LGA’s nutrient practices.

Want to find out more

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