Background to the Major Integrated Projects

THE Great Barrier Reef (GBR) Water Science Taskforce recommended two major integrated projects (MIPs) in its 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 runoff.

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 hotspot 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 during more than a decade of delivering reef water quality programs, the regions are now in an ideal position to implement this approach.

Underpinning principles and outcomes


THE GBR Water Science Taskforce recommended that the projects use a suite of tools tailored to optimise uptake and outcomes. The recommendations, extracted from the report (GBR Water Science Taskforce, 2016), are:

  • significantly improved communication, collaboration and extension targeted to individuals and supportive of peer-to-peer learning. The increased extension effort will include additional full time extension officers and/or agronomists being made available specifically to support project participants;
  • fine-scale and nested monitoring within the catchments to demonstrate the effect of system restoration and land practice changes to the stakeholders to enable adaptive management;
  • trial and promotion of innovative practices such as enhanced efficiency fertilisers coupled with techniques for gully prevention and remediation;
  • improved and new user friendly and farm specific tools and technological applications. This includes building on systems already in place for grazing such as Forage and VegMachine, as well as new tools and apps to support farmers to match fertiliser application rates to yield to promote outcome-focused innovative approaches to farm management;
  • prioritisation of locations in the landscape for interventions and encourage improved land management building on Water Quality Improvement Plans, the Walking the Landscape approach for system understanding, and BMP programs to identify costs and benefits of different actions; and
  • stewardship payments or other incentives to achieve practice change above the minimum standard and voluntary changes in the use of marginal land to support less polluting uses or restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems, wetlands and other areas critical for effective landscape function.
Priority Outcomes

A RANGE of outcomes are to be addressed including knowledge and attitudes of landholders in project areas, adoption of sustainable practices, landscape health, and pollutant loads entering local waterways.

From the DEHP perspective, all outcomes are important, but the strategic priority is to deliver enduring sustainable land management within local communities. While the projects are expected to reduce water quality impacts over their life, DEHP recognises this may mean the MIPs do not achieve the highest possible trajectory in pollutant load reduction within the limited project timeframe.

Land uses

IT is expected the MIPs will focus primarily on agricultural land use. Other land uses in project areas can be engaged if water quality benefits can be identified, but the priority should be agricultural impacts.

Mix of actions

THE DEHP understands the MIPs may be mainly about trialling existing activities (e.g. extension, grants, systems repair etc.) tailored to the needs of local communities, rather than producing a new innovative approach to catchment management. However, DEHP strongly supports Terrain and NQ Dry Tropics in exploring and trialling new ways to achieve desired outcomes, as ideas arise throughout project design and implementation.


STRATEGIC integration is critical to maximise return on investment and reduce burden on landholders and local stakeholders. It is expected that all parties involved in MIPs will explore opportunities for building on and adding value to other activities being delivered in project areas.


THE MIPs are an opportunity to trial a range of actions and measure their effectiveness in delivering sustainable management and water quality outcomes, with the aim of transferring successful actions to other regions. As such, transferability of outcomes and learnings is of key importance. It is understood that some actions trialled through the MIPs may only be directly applicable locally, but the MIPs should also include some actions that can be applied elsewhere.

Project management

GIVEN the high profile of these projects, there is a lot of expectation for MIPs to deliver outcomes. While it is understood that not all actions trialled through MIPs will be effective and maximum water quality outcomes may not be achieved within the project timeframe, it is critical that MIPs do not fail on the project management front. These projects will be the subject of future audits, which increases the need for rigour around project management from all parties.

The outcomes of the LDC aim to inform the design of future programs. While a clear objective is to improve water quality, it is also important for the BMIP to bring about changes in landholder attitudes and management practices that continue to improve water quality, while maintaining productivity, beyond the life of the BMIP.

Mix of tools

The mix of tools is:

  • incentives — support for on-ground works including a range of mechanisms such as market based instruments to support greater improvements;
  • large scale remediation (system repair) –demonstration of techniques for the massive systems, a prioritisation process at sub-catchment and then local scale, implementation of a number of sediment reduction projects on the identified priority gully systems;
  • technical support (implementation team) — farm planning, specific works;
  • training and education — courses, field days, peer to peer, learning packages, networks, demonstration sites; and
  • policy / Research and development — most likely to link to/align with existing work (not likely to be new out of this project).


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.
KEQ #8

KEQ #7
KEQ #6

KEQ #5

KEQ #4

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.

KEQ #3

*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.

KEQ #1

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.

KEQ #2

*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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