How the Major Integrated Projects came about

THE Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Water Science Taskforce recommended two major integrated projects (MIPs) in its final report released in May 2016 (GBR Water Science Taskforce, 2016).

The Queensland Government, through the Office of the Great Barrier Reef (OGBR) within the Department of the Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP), agreed to implement this recommendation to reduce nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions.

The MIPs aim to concentrate interventions and management efforts at a catchment scale and fully evaluate their effectiveness in improving water quality.

The approach is being trialled in two regions to test whether it is effective and suitable for broader application. In the Wet Tropics, the project has engaged with cane and banana growers within the Tully and Johnstone catchments to develop a strategy to reduce nutrient and pesticide run-off. In the Burdekin, the project has engaged with graziers in the Bowen-Broken-Bogie (BBB) catchment to develop a strategy to reduce sediment and associated particulate nutrient run-off.

The MIPs will deliver a mix of tools and interventions during a three-year period in a focused and integrated way in known hot spot areas for nutrients, sediments and pesticides.

Examples of tools and interventions include, but are not limited to, one-on-one extension, peer to peer learning, trialling and promoting innovative agricultural practices, remediation actions, customised incentives, stewardship payments and systems repair works.

These projects will build on and integrate with existing activities to maximise efficiencies and outcomes.

The MIPs will explore and test the efficacy of a strategic integrated and comprehensive engagement and behavioural change process.

As a pilot program, the MIPs will evaluate and communicate the environmental, economic and social benefits and corresponding costs (in terms of investment required). If successful, the approaches can then be appropriately applied across GBR catchments.

Graziers and local communities in hot spot areas will be closely engaged in designing, delivering and evaluating the projects.

The MIPs provide an opportunity to design and deliver a range of interventions to improve water quality from the ground up, in a focused and tailored way; while also testing the effectiveness of this approach and adapting it as needed over the life of the project.

Building on the science and learnings developed over the last decade or more of delivering reef water quality programs, the regions are now in an ideal position to implement this approach.

Principal Scientist Jane Waterhouse, CSIRO technical representative Christian Roth, and Carl Mitchell EHP in discussion during the Design Phase of the Landholders Driving change project

Participants at a workshop in the first stage of the Major Integrated Project that was to become the Landholders Driving Change project

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.