Water quality on the Great Barrier Reef the reason for Landholders Driving Change

In response to the ongoing water quality impacts affecting the health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), the Queensland and Australian governments have set ambitious targets in the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan) to reduce pollutants in key reef catchments by 2025 (up to 50% reduction in sediment run-off and up to 80% reduction in nitrogen).
The Queensland and Australian governments also released a new Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan in July this year that comprises a revised set of catchment targets.
The water quality targets for dissolved inorganic nitrogen, fine sediment (which is measured as total suspended solids), particulate phosphorus and particulate nitrogen provide an unprecedented level of scientific understanding into what is required from the catchments to support Reef health.
The targets are shown for the catchment, region and whole-of-reef scales.

Table 1. Regional water quality targets

Dissolved inorganic nitrogen
Fine sediment
Particulate nutrients
Particulate phosphorus
Particulate nitrogen
% reduction
% reduction
% reduction
% reduction
Cape York MCL MCL>/td> 23 5 14 5 48 5
Wet Tropics 1700 60 240 25 360 30 850 25
Burdekin 820 60 890 30 490 25 800 25
Mackay Whitsunday 630 70 130 20 150 20 310 20
Fitzroy MCL MCL 410 25 430 20 760 15
Burnett Mary 470 55 240 20 210 20 590 20

Queensland local governments are preparing a proposal of priority actions in response to the plans.
The Reef Councils MIP is in the final stages of drafting and will be circulated to all Reef councils for final consultation.
Read the outcomes of the Joint Ministerial Forum here.
As one of its recommendations to address the pollutant reduction challenge, the GBR Water Science Taskforce recommended the implementation of two Major Integrated Projects (MIPs), in each of the Wet and Dry Tropics, to concentrate interventions and management efforts at a catchment scale and fully evaluate their effectiveness in improving water quality.
The MIPs are exploring and testing the efficacy of a more integrated and comprehensive engagement and behavioural change process. They are also piloting land management and repair approaches within selected target catchments, with the aim of developing a self-sustaining package of interventions and tools transferable to other GBR catchments.
Landholders Driving Change is one of those MIPs, concentrating efforts in the Dry Tropics (Bowen, Broken, Bogie (BBB catchment) near Bowen and Collinsville.
Read the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan here.

Overarching objectives of the Landholders Driving Change Project

The bulk of fine sediment delivered from the Burdekin River basin to the GBR is derived from a small proportion of the basin area, primarily within the Broken-Bowen-Bogie (BBB) catchments (43%) and Upper Burdekin catchments (27%) with a large proportion of this load from grazing lands.
The NQ Dry Tropics Major Integrated Project – Landholders Driving Change, is focused on engaging with graziers in the BBB catchment to reduce sediment runoff.
The program aims to:

  1. Achieve knowledge, attitude, skills and aspiration improvements with all land managers in the BBB.
  2. Increase the capability and capacity to deliver both extension and technical skills and knowledge in the region.
  3. Increase adoption and implementation of best practices on BBB grazing properties to reduce sediment loss.
  4. Provide proven, transferable and scalable approaches to improved grazing and land management practices for application in other locations.


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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