Bank erosion in a macrotidal tropical river: Exploring the relative impact of boat wash on riverbank erosion

Peter A. Novak, Charlie A. Fairfield, Mike Miloshis, Zoe C. Knight, Robert Lindsay, Alison J. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Macrotidal tropical rivers are dynamic systems where wet-season floods and tidal flows cause significant riverbank erosion and sediment transport. This study aimed to explore patterns of riverbank erosion and deposition in a large, tropical, macrotidal river in Northern Australia; the Daly River. In particular, we aimed to determine if recreational boat use was impacting bank erosion in this dynamic river. Erosion pins were installed at multiple levels on both banks at 10 sites along a 34 km reach of the river. Measurements were made every four to six weeks during the low water dry season, and opportunistically during the wet season (flooding period) and seasonal transition periods. A bank geotechnical assessment, riverbed cross-sections and site bathymetry were undertaken. Whilst the wet season was a period of substantial erosion (mean rate of 0.64 mm day−1), the highest mean erosion rate (3.6 mm day−1) was observed in the early dry season (April to May), a period of stabilizing water levels but greatest boat traffic. Bank erosion at this time was measured on both sides of the river and the inside of meander bends, which is atypical of normal riverine bank erosion patterns, and indicative of erosion due to boat wash. As the dry season progressed, significant spatial differences in erosion rates were evident, where erosion was observed at sites upstream of a large shallow sand bar, while sites downstream from the sand bar gained material through the deposition of tidally transported sediment. This study highlights the importance of understanding the significance and interaction of various erosive factors in tropical tidal rivers and has demonstrated that boat wash may be an important contributor to dry season bank erosion in these systems. We encourage management agencies to consider the role of boats in any future river management program in these systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalRiver Research and Applications
Issue number1
Early online date6 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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