Stream turbidity responses to storm events in a pristine rainforest watershed on the Coral Coast of southern Fiji

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Source of Publication

International Journal of Sediment Research

Publication Date



© 2016 International Research and Training Centre on Erosion and Sedimentation/the World Association for Sedimentation and Erosion Research On the Coral Coast of Viti Levu Island in Fiji, inadequate knowledge of suspended sediment delivery patterns in small pristine coastal watersheds hinders any future assessment of accelerated erosion in disturbed areas nearby. This study adopts a rainfall–stream turbidity monitoring approach in the Votua Creek, which drains a small, steep but minimally-disturbed coastal rainforest catchment. Storm rainfall characteristics, stream depth and water turbidity were continuously monitored over one complete Fiji wet season from October 2009 to April 2010. The aim was to evaluate whether these parameters provide sufficient information to illustrate basic features of storm–sediment transport responses, in the case of limited stream gauging and very simple sediment rating curves. This is important because Pacific Island nations like Fiji do not have the resources to initiate long-term gauging and sediment sampling programmes across numerous small catchments. A significant power function demonstrates that turbidity (T) is a suitable proxy for total suspended solids (TSS) for turbidity measurements above 5 NTU, with TSS=0.930T1.111 (r=0.98, P<0.001). Over the study period, 10 individual storms 11.2–120.1 mm in size produced a ‘significant turbidity response’ (STR) in the Votua Creek. Rainfall parameters (totals and intensities) showed positive linear relationships (r=0.72–0.94) with stream turbidity parameters (mean, maximum, duration), whilst relationships of similar strength (r=0.76–0.98) were also derived between stream flow depth and turbidity. This implies that for small rainforest watersheds in Fiji, rainfall parameters offer no substantial disadvantage over flow as predictors of stream sediment responses to major storms. Event-based analysis revealed that negative (anticlockwise) hysteresis is a typical flow–turbidity pattern for STR events. Negative hysteresis is produced when secondary episodes of renewed (heavy) rainfall occur after maximum intensity, in the later phase of storm events. Tropical Cyclone Mick in December 2009 generated the largest flood and the greatest turbidity response (Tmax=1021 NTU, Tmean=207 NTU). This concurs with earlier work confirming that tropical cyclones are the most important events for sediment transport in Fiji stream networks.




Elsevier B.V.





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Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Coastal watersheds, Fiji, Negative hysteresis, Storm events, Stream turbidity, Suspended sediment

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Indexed in Scopus


Open Access