Native Fish Demonstration Reach Guide: Pillar 4 – Monitoring and Evaluation

Demonstration reach projects are designed to “demonstrate” the benefits to local communities that a coordinated program of river rehabilitation activities over a reach of river has on native fish, river health and stakeholder engagement. As such, monitoring and evaluation has to be a key component of all demonstration reaches. When gauging the success of a demonstration reach project, there are three important questions that need to be asked:

  1. Have the rehabilitation interventions resulted in ecological improvement (in particular in relation to restoring native fish populations)?
  2. Has the project engaged all stakeholders, particularly the local community, and are they satisfied with the outcomes?
  3. Has the project been undertaken using “best practice” principles, and does it represent value for money?

These questions can only be answered if the project embraces an adaptive management approach from the start, with monitoring and evaluation programs developed and implemented to gauge both ecological and stakeholder engagement success. Active adaptive management in demonstration reaches involves implementing a range of on-ground actions designed to achieve strategic goals that primarily focus on aspects of rehabilitating native fish populations. These actions need to be monitored and evaluated to ensure they are “best practice”, and can be modified according to the outcomes wanting to be achieved.  In order to share achievements, it also involves implementing a number of communication and engagement activities so that all stakeholders are kept informed and engaged.  These activities will be wide ranging from field days to the dissemination of posters, information pamphlets, and school visits. The success of these communication and engagement activities must be evaluated and modified as necessary to maximise their impacts.

It is important to recognise that there are two components to adaptive management; adaptive governance and adaptive experimentation. The planning processes for a demonstration reach (see Planning Pillar) and the monitoring and evaluation program must be properly coordinated and integrated. They need to be flexible enough to respond to the outcomes identified through the monitoring and evaluation approach (adaptive experiments) by modifying management actions accordingly (adaptive governance). Similarly, communication and engagement activities can be viewed as on-ground experiments (adaptive experiments) that need to be tested, with the planning process flexible enough to respond to the results (adaptive governance). A reach of river where a coordinated program of rehabilitation is undertaken without the monitoring and evaluation program is referred to as a Rehabilitation Reach.

This Guide can be used to set up both Demonstration and Rehabilitation Reaches; however, potential proponents should be aware that the absence of monitoring and evaluation limits the approach.  Instead, assumptions will have to be made on the likely impact of particular interventions on fish populations, and reporting to stakeholders will largely be based on inputs (number of riparian trees planted, number of snags placed in the river etc.) rather than outcomes (increase in fish recruitment, adult fish numbers etc.). There is also no opportunity to take an adaptive management approach and to demonstrate best practice.

In effect, the definitions of demonstration reaches and rehabilitation reaches represent two extremes i.e. rigorous monitoring and no monitoring. In the real world there will be intermediaries between these two, depending on funding and resource availability. The hypotheses to be tested, and the rigor in which they can be tested will be set within this context. What is important, is to recognise what level of information a particular monitoring program can deliver right from the start. This way there will be no unrealistic expectations amongst stakeholders, and the risks (i.e. expected lack of knowledge of outcomes in some areas) can be acknowledged and deemed acceptable or otherwise by investors etc.

In order to ensure a consistent approach to monitoring and evaluation across demonstration reaches, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) commissioned the development of a “framework for developing and implementing ecological monitoring and evaluation of aquatic rehabilitation in demonstration reaches” (Boys et al. 2009). The framework provides a very good model for anyone undertaking biological monitoring in a demonstration reach. Summaries of the main points are given in this guide. At present, a similar framework is not available for community engagement monitoring, but here are some suggested approaches.

  • Rigorous monitoring enables an adaptive management approach, allowing the most effective use of resources by highlighting both positive and negative outcomes, and permitting appropriate modifications of management actions.
  • The planning and governance framework must be flexible enough to respond in a timely manner to outcomes of monitoring and evaluation (adaptive experiments) and modify management actions accordingly (adaptive governance).
  • Given the current state of knowledge regarding river restoration activities and their impacts on native fishesRehabilitation Reaches where no monitoring takes place, present the highest investment risk (funds and resources).
  • There is an existing framework to guide the development of biological Monitoring and Evaluation Plans in demonstration reaches (see Boys et al. 2009).
  • There are two types of biological monitoring; Condition Monitoring is designed to measure the response of the whole river reach to all the management interventions, Intervention Monitoring measures the impact of a particular intervention (e.g. resnagging).
  • The development of Conceptual Models is the key to understanding how the ecosystem may operate in relation to a particular stressor (e.g Alien fish) and the planned intervention (e.g. Carp removal).
  • Conceptual models allow specific Hypotheses to be developed and appropriate indicators and sampling methods chosen.
  • The choice of Experimental Design and Statistical Analysis is essential, a poorly designed monitoring program will not provide the desired information and may result in a very expensive failure.
  • Regular analysis and Reporting of results is vital. They need to be conveyed to the steering committee as well as all stakeholders. It is important to release all findings whether they represent successes or failures.
  • A monitoring and evaluation framework similar to Boys et al. (2009) needs to be developed for monitoring community engagement. Surrogates (e.g. attendance at meetings, number of “hits” on a website) can give some indication of the effectiveness of communication activities but given the importance of community support for river rehabilitation and demonstration reaches, they are no substitute for direct monitoring.


Example of monitoring outcomes modifying intervention requirements – Dewfish demonstration reach:

Monitoring of the Dewfish Reach identified two issues that need to be addressed through additional interventions, these are:

1. Decline in abundance of small bodied species.

There has been an ongoing decline of small bodied species at the tributary intervention sites probably due to the loss of macrophytes and emergent vegetation habitats (these are susceptible to flood events). As a result, active reintroduction of key habitats will be targeted. This includes the installation of rock and gravel beds, finer submerged bank-side snags and re-introduction of aquatic vegetation.

2. Recruitment of large bodied species has been limited.

Very few juvenile or small individuals of large bodied species have been recorded during monitoring surveys. This situation is unsustainable and needs to be addressed. The provision of spawning structures (hollow logs, pipes etc.) for Murray cod and gravel beds for nest building for Eel-tailed catfish has been recommended to start addressing this issue.

Without a comprehensive monitoring program it is unlikely that these issues would have been detected and there would have been no opportunity to undertake the necessary management interventions to address them.

Examples of rehabilitation goals:

Intervention monitoring being undertaken at each existing demonstration reach (after Boys et al. 2014):

Examples of sampling methods and environmental indicators from existing demonstration reaches:

Allan, C. 2007. Adaptive management of natural resources. In: Wilson, A.I., Dehaan, R.I., Watts, R.I, Page, K.J., Bowmer, K.H. and Curtis, A. (eds.) Proceedings of the 5th Australian Stream Management Conference, Australian rivers: making a difference. Charles Sturt University, Thurgoona, New South Wales.

Boys, C.A., Robinson, W., Butcher, A., Zampatti, B. and Lyon, J. 2009. Framework for developing and implementing ecological monitoring and evaluation of aquatic rehabilitation in demonstration reaches. MDBA Publication No. 43/08. Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.

Boys,C., Alexander, T. Fowler, T. and Thieband, I. 2010. Interim monitoring report of the Namoi River Demonstration Reach 2011. M&E phase 1 report prepared for the Murray-darling basin Authority, NSW Department of primary Industries, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute, Nelson Bay, NSW.

Boys, C.A., Southwell, M., Thoms, M.C. et al. 2013. Evaluation of Aquatic Rehabilitation in the Bourke to Brewarrina Demonstration Reach, Barwon-darling River, Australia. Fisheries Final Report Series No. 134. NSW Department of Primary Industries, Port Stephens Fisheries Institute.

Boys, C.A., Lyon, J., Zampatti, B., Norris, A., Butcher, A., Robinson, W. and Jackson, P. 2014. Demonstration reaches: Looking back whilst moving forward with river rehabilitation under the Native Fish Strategy. Ecological Management and Restoration, 15 (suppl 1), 67-74.

Norris, A., Hutchison, M. and Chilcott, K. 2012. Dewfish Demonstration Reach Monitoring and Evaluation Report, Autumn 2012. Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, Brisbane.

Norris, A., Hutchison, M. and Chilcott, K. 2014. Dewfish Demonstration Reach Monitoring and Evaluation Report Spring 2013. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Brisbane.

Raymond, S., Hames, F., Lyon, J. and Tennant, W. 2013. Hollands Creek demonstration reach. Final Report 2012/13. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental research. Client Report. Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg.

Raymond, S., Lyon, J., Hames, F. and Wilson, A. 2013. Ovens River demonstration Reach. Final Report 2012/13. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Client Report, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Heidelberg.

Palmer, M.A., Bernhardt, E.s., Allan, J.D., Lake, P.S., Alexander, G., Brooks, S., Carr, J., Clayton, S., Dahm, C.N., Follstad Shah, J., Galat, D.L., Loss, G., Goodwin, P., Hart, D.D., Hasset, B., Jenkinson, R., Kondoff, G.M., Lare, R., Meyer, J.L., O’Donnell, T.K., Pyano, L. and Sudduth, E. 2005. Standards for ecologically successful river restoration. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 208-217.

Wilson, P.J., Gehrig, S.L., Leigh, S.J., Bice, C.M. and Zampatti, B.P. 2013. Fish and aquatic habitats in the Katarapko Anabranch system (“Katfish”Demonstration Reach): “Before” intervention monitoring 2013. South Australian Research and Development Institute (Aquatic Sciencesa0, Adelaide, SARDI Publication No. F2012/000441-2, SARDI Research Report5 Series No.742.