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Reef Catchments Annual Report 2018 – 2019

reefcatchments.com.au

Suite 1/85 Gordon Street, Mackay and 45 Main Street, Proserpine

Note from the Chair, Julie Boyd

Late last year, Reef Catchments launched our 2018-22 Strategic Plan. The Board and the team confirmed our purpose of enabling sustainable resource management in the region for the benefit of all. We said that we would achieve our purpose by dreaming big, developing collaborative relationships, designing solutions to ensure long term investment and delivering practical outcomes.

Since the launch, I believe that we have started extremely well to deliver on this plan. Reef Catchments was successful in securing funding for projects that will have a lasting impact on the region. In keeping with our profit for purpose aim, we ended the year with extra funds that can be channelled into strategic reserves to invest in essential projects.

The CEO and I met with our Local, State and Federal Government representatives. This ensured that we had the opportunity to discuss projects that were critical to the region and also allowed our Government representatives the opportunity to assist us in seeking extra funds. Reef Catchments has worked collaboratively with both the agricultural sector and the business and industry sectors. We continue to have excellent working relationships in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

Katrina Dent, our CEO, and all the team have worked extremely hard to ensure that Reef Catchments had a secure future. Thanks also to our members for your strong commitment to ensuring that our natural resource assets are well managed.

Thank you to all directors, whom I am delighted to have the privilege of working with. Stability of the Board has been paramount to our success along with their continued commitment and passion.

We have a vision

CEO update: A year in review – Katrina Dent

Keeping with the Strategic Plan theme, Reef Catchments Vision is: Resilient Ecosystems, Engaged Community.

The values that drive our action and behaviour are:

  • Results – Motivated to achieve high quality outcomes
  • Integrity – Act with honesty, transparency and accountability
  • Respect – Show respect for ourselves, each other and our environment
  • Collaboration – Be inclusive and collaborative
  • Innovation – Display initiative and creativity
  • Stewardship – Value and use knowledge to leave a lasting legacy

The team displayed these values when we closed out two major projects; being the Reef Trust 3 project, and disaster recovery. Both projects are exemplary examples of the team working hard to realise results and being motivated to achieve high quality outcomes.

Working to collaborate

The team has also worked on new collaborative arrangements, including more regular meetings with State Government Departments, such as the Department of Transport and Main Roads, and Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, and investigating new collaborative opportunities for the Traditional Owner Reference Group. We are pursuing new collaborative partnerships which we hope to report on next year.

The team continues to identify new opportunities for maintenance of revegetation to ensure the vegetation has the best possible chance to bind, hold and stabilise stream banks. Significant funds have been spent on the stream bank restoration projects, and we are working hard to ensure the works leave a lasting legacy.

Congratulations and thanks to the team for continuing to go above and beyond to improve our ecosystems’ resilience to threats and to ensure our community is engaged and aware of issues and what they can do to champion the vision for sustainable natural resource management across the Mackay Whitsunday and Isaac region.

Regional impact map

The Regional Impact map represents many significant projects undertaken in the Mackay and Whitsunday region since 2014, providing an overview of the geographic footprint and reach of Reef Catchments. It shows that Reef Catchments has a strong presence in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac NRM region and community, with projects covering over 650,000 hectares. Darker shaded areas on the map indicate areas in which Reef Catchments has delivered multiple projects. These areas of impact reflect the prioritised and targeted approach which directs NRM effort to where it is most needed and effective in the region. Projects represented include:

  • Coastal and island works
  • Grazing
  • Queensland Natural Resources Investment Program projects
  • Pest and weed control areas
  • Water quality monitoring sites
  • Reef Trust 3 and 4 projects
  • Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA)

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Disaster recovery works reach completion

This year the Disaster Recovery program focused on completing works at sites funded under Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) in response to widespread destruction caused in March 2017 by Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie. Works focused on restoring and increasing the resilience of our region’s waterways to the impact of natural disasters.

  • Additional funding of over $500,000 was won to complete works at one additional site on West Hill Creek, to reinstate the Forbes Road fish ladder, and for rehabilitation of two sites on the Gregory River
  • Works at over 35 sites in eight waterways were completed using a combination of bank reprofiling, rock reinforcement, pile fields, large woody debris and revegetation to stabilise sites
  • Over 35,000 native plants were installed which will increase resilience, improve biodiversity and enhance the riparian corridors within the region
  • Valuable agricultural land was saved from erosion and infrastructure and past investment sites protected.
“Seeing the pile fields taking the impact of the recent rain events [February] this year was very satisfying and thanks to the effort from all involved from design to implementation. Big thanks must go out to the Reef Catchments team for their help and support during the projects." – Ryan McDermott (Macca), Landholder along St Helens Creek
"Since we purchased this property in 1975, the creek has been substantially eroding the northern bank and claiming a large area of our valuable cane growing land. With our limited resources, we have tried to protect the bank and stop this happening but with minimal success. To have had Reef Catchments provide funding and resources to carry out such a project is of untold value to us. We are extremely grateful. Hopefully, in future, we won’t lay awake at night, wondering how much of the bank has been claimed when there is a heavy rainfall event.” – Pauline Creber, Landholder

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Reef Trust 3 – supporting cane growers

2018/19 was the third and final year of the Reef Trust 3 (RT3) Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Sustainable Agriculture Cane project funded by the Australian Government and delivered through the Reef Trust.

Over the three years, 244 cane growers farming 34,800 hectares across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region took part in the project. The project provided growers with extension support to improve their herbicide and nutrient management practices, striving for better quality water leaving the farm, combined with increased crop production efficiency.

Reef Trust 3 provided growers with the support, agronomic advice and resources to implement on-farm improvements and adapt their farming operations in a changing agricultural environment.

The Reef Trust 3 program was project-managed by Reef Catchments with on-ground extension services provided by Mackay Area Productivity Services, Plane Creek Productivity Services Ltd, Farmacist and Soil and Land Surveys.

The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Cane Regional Working Group provided the project with appropriate industry input and guidance.

A strong regional collaborative effort played an integral role in assuring the project’s success.

  • 244 growers farming 34,800 hectares of cane took part in planning and extension activities to improve their herbicide and nutrient management practices, striving for better quality water leaving the farm, combined with increased crop production efficiency
  • $311,382 in small grant funding was provided to growers for activities related to improved nutrient and herbicide application
  • 92 major grants to the value of $804,111 were provided to growers to upgrade their equipment and accelerate practice change to improve water quality and farm production efficiencies. This was supported by a $1,537,540 grower cash-in kind contribution
  • Five cane extension positions funded over the life of the project to provide one-on-one planning and extension services to growers
“The program has helped us introduce a system where we can reduce the losses in fertiliser and improve the placement of herbicides and pesticides.” – Stephen Fordyce RT3 Canegrower

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The value of cultural heritage – Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG)

Reef Catchments and the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG) is committed to making the region a leader in proactive cultural heritage, and environmental management through active roles in managing, maintaining and protecting tribal lands, sea and waters within the region.

Reef Catchments has worked closely with the TORG for over 12 years. The TORG includes representatives from each of the seven tribes across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region – Yuwibara, Koinjmal/Koinmerburra, Barada/Widi and Ngaro/Gia/Juru.

The TORG continues to work towards protecting cultural heritage by increasing awareness and knowledge of culturally significant sites throughout the region. An example of this is when the group showcased the results of condition assessments of culturally significant sites to members of the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership and other key stakeholders, including outlining recommendations for management of the sites that could lead to improved results in the future. This also involved taking members of the Partnership on country at Cape Hillsborough, giving members the opportunity to see first hand one of the sites that was assessed (pictured).

“What a valuable experience to connect with Country and learn the history of our Traditional Owner groups, can’t wait for the next one.” – Mark Svaikauskas - Environmental Specialist, Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and member of the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership

The TORG also worked hard throughout this period to develop the region’s Indigenous Participation Plan, ensuring it aligned with the Strategic Plan that the TORG developed in 2017. The Indigenous Participation Plan is the crucial planning foundation for the Australian Government’s Regional Land Partnerships Program, with plans also developed for other regions across the state.

Part of this plan includes establishing a database for managing cultural information. When complete, the database will provide an organised structure for recording traditional knowledge and cultural assets, including sites, as a means to influence and prioritise on-ground work and monitoring activities.

The TORG engaged with the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership by:

  • Presenting to the members of the Partnership the results of the cultural heritage assessments undertaken for the report card, showcased culturally significant sites, and discussed their recommendations on how the condition of the sites could be improved in future years
  • The TORG took members from the Partnership on country at Cape Hillsborough, providing a guided tour of the mangrove boardwalk and one of the sites assessed for the report card, a large shell midden
  • The region’s Indigenous Participation Plan was developed with the TORG, ensuring it aligned with the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac TORG Strategic Plan 2017-2022. Indigenous Participation Plans are being developed for each NRM region across the state, to increase participation of Traditional Owners in the natural resource management sector across Queensland
  • The TORG extended its network by meeting with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and North Queensland Bulk Ports, establishing relationships to ensure collaboration in the future.

We manage marine debris and island health

Working to promote coasts and biodiversity

The Coasts and Biodiversity Team has been busy implementing a range of projects over the past year. Two of the big ones are our Islands project, and the development of Local Coastal Plans.

Islands project

The Team is currently one year into delivering the five-year Islands Project, funded through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. There are five major components to this project:

  • Weed control on Goldsmith Island – Reef Catchments have a goal of completely eradicating high priority target weeds from Goldsmith Island. 30ha of weed control has been delivered, focusing on the high-use areas of the islands (e.g. camping grounds), which are the highest risk areas for transportation of seeds etc
  • Marine debris removal – In the Whitsundays, Eco Barge Clean Seas is making a huge impact on marine debris. Through the islands project, Reef Catchments has supported Eco Barge to deliver five marine debris removal trips this year
  • Seagrass monitoring – The purpose of seagrass monitoring is to fill information gaps and continue monitoring of long-term sites for the broader state-wide seagrass monitoring program. Seagrasses are important habitat for shorebirds, marine turtles, dugongs and fish, so it is important that we monitor condition and extent. This information will help us to make informed management decisions
  • Turtle monitoring – Little is known about nesting populations of marine turtles on the islands off Mackay. The last study was done in 2001. Three islands were visited during nesting season to gather new information related to nesting success and associated threats
  • Youth Ambassadors – Each year of the project a group of young people will be selected to represent Reef Catchments as Youth Ambassadors. The Youth Ambassadors are supported/mentored through designing and delivering their very own conservation project. The 2018-19 Youth Ambassadors were from Silkwood School, and their project was to produce a video about island biosecurity.

Local Coastal Plans

Reef Catchments has worked with Mackay Regional Council to draft Local Coastal Plans for McEwens (pictured) and St Helens beaches. These plans describe the issues and values of these local coastal areas and prioritise management activities aimed at protecting coastal resources and improving recreational opportunities for our community. Development of these plans relies on community consultation and feedback, a process that consistently demonstrates how passionate local communities are about their beaches. The drafts for these documents are available online.

“Seagrass habitat is critical for dugongs and Green Sea Turtles, it is also a highly productive nursery for many species of fish and invertebrates, including many prized seafood species. It helps to maintain coastal water quality and is a highly effective carbon sink. Seagrass meadows are sensitive to environmental change and we need to monitor their health over time to keep track of human impacts and of the effectiveness of our stewardship of these important habitats. The Whitsunday Region was one of the first regions to start volunteer seagrass monitoring when Seagrass Watch was first established back in 1998. Monitoring has been carried out at the core site, Pioneer Bay, consistently for over 20 years. The Whitsunday Seagrass Volunteers are currently monitoring 3 sites in the Whitsunday region; Pioneer Bay, Hydeaway Bay and Bowen Main Beach. We have adjusted the location and timing of our monitoring to complement the Healthy Rivers to Reef reporting cycle, and data that we collect contributes to the Healthy Rivers to Reef report cards. We monitored over three consecutive days in May to capture wet season impacts and then again in September, to capture Spring growth and flowering. We recently adopted the inactive Bowen Main Beach site to improve the coverage of seagrass monitoring in our region. We follow the established Seagrass Watch monitoring protocols, and quality control and the main database are managed by Seagrass Watch HQ.” – Jacquie Sheils, Whitsunday Seagrass Watch Volunteers

We partner with community and industry

2018/19 saw the release of not one, but two waterway health report cards for the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region. The 2017 annual waterway health report card was released in December 2018 on the updated interactive report card results platform: www.healthyriverstoreef.org.au/report-card-results. A few short months later, the 2018 report card was released in July 2019. The success of releasing two report cards in the one year was only made possible through the Partnership, Partnership staff and Technical Working Group representatives working hard to reduce the lag time for data collection. Reducing the time from 18 months down to 12 months. The 2018 report card is the most comprehensive report card released to date, filling a record number of data gaps and including the most comprehensive environmental, economic, social and cultural assessments of waterway health. Key messages from the report card include:

  • Freshwater fish community grades were good to very good for the four basins that were assessed in the 17/18 period, including the Proserpine basin, which was assessed for the first time during this report card period. To maintain good grades, it is critical to prevent and manage the spread of pest fish entering our local waterways
  • Water quality data for the Southern Inshore reporting zone (south of Mackay) was available for the first time – meaning water quality data is now available for all marine reporting zones in the region
  • The waterway story for the Don basin is starting to be told: water quality was in good condition in 2018
  • Pesticides remained a key issue in the region’s waterways, with three out of five basins in very poor condition (Proserpine, Pioneer and Plane basins)
  • The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac community showed a positive view from the values and wellbeing delivered from the Great Barrier Reef despite the negative perception of condition and management of the Reef and its connected waterways

Key achievements

  • Reduction in time lag of data collection to report card release – now 12 months between last data collected and production/release of the annual report card
  • Interactive report card results platform makes browsing report card data by indicator or reporting zone a user-friendly experience. Introduction of trend function in the report card results platform also means users can look at data from the last five years on a wide range of waterway health data. More info here: https://healthyriverstoreef.org.au/report-card-results/
  • Inclusion of estuarine and freshwater flow data into the report card for the first time (2018 report card). This indicator helps to tell the overall story of waterway health in the context of habitat and hydrology
  • A second round of cultural heritage assessments in the region, in collaboration with the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group. This round of assessments included an improved, streamlined methodology as well as more sites assessed (inclusion of Cape Palmerston). More info here: https://healthyriverstoreef.org.au/report-card/cultural-heritage-assessments/
  • As part of the International Year of the Reef Celebrations, 21 Partners pledged a wide range of actions to benefit the environment via tackling climate change (carbon footprint reduction activities and climate mitigation planning) to reducing single use plastic, working with landholders to improve water quality outcomes, to environmental education actions and contribution to reef health science and research. More here: https://healthyriverstoreef.org.au/report-card-results/

We focus on fish health

Constructing fishways

We often think of the reef as being very separate to freshwater rivers and inland wetlands. In reality the two are often intrinsically linked; diadromous fish such as the iconic barramundi (Lates calcarifer) need to move from estuarine and marine waters to fresh water at different stages of their lifecycle. Of Australia’s 130 freshwater fish species, almost all of them need to move within rivers and creeks to complete their life cycle. That’s why Reef Catchments, with funding from the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program, is removing barriers to fish passage as part of the wetlands project. The barriers include roads, bunds and weed chokes in wetlands listed on the Directory of Important Wetlands in Australia. One of the fishways is a rock-ramp fishway in Koumala that connects a substantial freshwater wetland to adjacent estuaries and wetlands. At the time of construction, a number of juvenile barramundi were found at the bottom of the barrier, unable to move further upstream. The new rock-ramp fishway will promote passage for the juvenile barramundi that utilize the freshwater wetlands as nursery habitats.

When we undertake fish surveys, Reef Catchments is be able to determine if the removal of barriers has improved stream connectivity. Fish such as the Jungle Perch (Kuhlia rupestris) are great indicators of stream connectivity. If one is caught in an upstream freshwater spot it is likely that the system has good overall connectivity. Next year we’ll update you on the success of the rock-ramp fishway by reporting on the results from the fish surveys.

Repairs were also made to two fishways that were damaged during Cyclone Debbie. These works were funded through the Queensland and Australian Government’s Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. Fish movement into the Bakers Creek treatment train wetland has been reconnected to downstream estuarine habitats through the construction of a 38-ridge rock ramp fishway.

  • Construction of a rock-ramp fishway connecting an ecologically significant freshwater wetland to adjacent estuaries and wetlands at Tedlands Wetland (pictured)
  • Removal of weed chokes that act as biological barriers to fish passage
  • Electrofishing surveys undertaken to ascertain the success of fish barrier removal
  • Fish movement into the Bakers Creek treatment train wetland was reconnected to downstream estuarine habitats through the construction of a 38 ridge rock ramp fish ladder

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Improving local waterways – Janes Creek project

In a first for the Mackay region, Reef Catchments is proudly delivering a multifaceted integrated project taking a whole of system approach to improving water quality in the Janes Creek sub-catchment.

The catchment (~1700 hectares) lies in the Pioneer Basin and flows into Janes Creek before entering the Gooseponds in urban Mackay.

The Janes Creek project aligns with the key objectives of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, being the reduction of water pollution in reef catchments through better land management and governance and an increased culture of stewardship.

Reef Catchments, in partnership with Mackay Area Productivity Services (MAPS), provides one on one extension with cane growers, harvesting contractors and graziers within the catchment. This helps build confidence in understanding the need for practice change, economically and environmentally, thereby increasing stakeholder adoption and implementation of best practice methodologies.

To further drive practice change, the Janes Creek Project provides access to grants for improvements in nutrient and pesticide applications, modification of existing equipment, improved spray nozzles /tanks, weather monitoring equipment, EM mapping, leaf analysis, soil testing and moisture monitoring.

With the primary focus of improving water quality, Reef Catchments has taken a range of approaches to develop a better understanding of catchment conditions including:

  • Establishing the Janes Creek Catchment group
  • Establishing “before” and “after” benchmarking for farming practices within the catchment (see pictures)
  • Training and assisting three landholders to collect event-based water sampling for the duration of the project
  • Providing one-on-one extension with 8 cane growers, 5 cane harvester contractors and 5 graziers to increase landholder adoption of best management practice
  • Encouraging systems repair of natural or partly modified systems to maintain or reinstate values
  • Encouraging landholders to implement treatment solutions (e.g. establishing high efficiency treatment trains to remove contaminants)
  • Construction of a high efficiency treatment train (ponding technology)
  • Sampling urban runoff in the Gooseponds downstream to assess the impact of the urban footprint
  • Communicating outcomes, achievements and results of the project through Reef Catchments website, meetings, social media and bi-monthly newsletters
  • Estimating sugar cane harvester efficiency - Cane loss assessment

Working across agricultural land uses and collecting samples of urban runoff creates significant opportunities to positively influence local agriculture communities and urban communities to improve water quality management practices and activities. This integrated whole-of-system approach increases understanding of catchment conditions and the need for practice change both economically and environmentally; it also identifies opportunity for continual improvement.

We get on-ground with graziers

Developing grazing strategies

The initial focus of the Grazing Water Quality project, funded by the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program, was on developing, finalising and seeking approval of the project work plan. From that point, landholders were able to sign up to the project to undertake on-ground works, with 20 landholders taking part in the first round of funding. By June 2019, all participating landholders had been identified with on-ground works initiated. The on-ground activities being undertaken have previously proven to provide positive water quality benefits. This funding has been highly sought after by landholders who otherwise would not be able to afford the capital costs associated with these activities.

During the 2018/19 financial year, Grassroots participants attended their first two training programs through RCS. They were also provided with farm maps, pasture monitoring advice and technical support as they developed their targeted grazing strategies. The project has focussed on the implementation of holistic grazing techniques and business management skills. Both aspects combine to improve environmental and economic outcomes for grazing participants.

“We believe that, because we are close to the coast, our managed grazing will be much better as a result of this project." – Felicity Hamlyn-Hill, grazier, Mt Ossa
"The funding has allowed us to strategically fence to enable us to restore the country and graze it without it being flogged. Without the funding, we probably wouldn't have done a lot of this work due to the cost." – Ross and Angela Bailey, graziers, Sarina

We engage and connect landholders

Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator

2018/19 saw Reef Catchments Regional Landcare Facilitator (RLF), Juliane Kasiske (left) gain a stronger agricultural focus and a change of title to RALF – Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator for the Mackay Whitsunday Region.

The position, funded by the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program (phase two), saw the RALF role identify new opportunities to move towards a more facilitating role engaging, informing, and planning agricultural activities across the region with multi-stakeholder input to provide a streamlined and holistic approach to addressing agricultural needs.

Reef Catchments continued the delivery of popular key annual events like the annual Grazing Forum in March and the Healthy Soil Symposium in November each year as we recognise the strong demand for agricultural extension and community engagement in the region. Additional funding from the Queensland Government – Water Quality Program, further assisted the ongoing delivery of workshops and peer-to-peer learning activities for grazing to aid in providing extension advice across the region’s livestock sector.

Maintaining relationships with diverse networks on a local, regional, and national level allowed the program to tailor training and awareness rising activities to be of relevance to landholders and their needs. It is understood that farm productivity and the management of land condition are interrelated and cannot be explored in isolation.

The RALF's overarching focus lies on water quality, farm productivity and sustainable farm resource management. This saw the RALF addressing hot topics like stocking rates, genetics, fertility, disease control, climate change adaptation, soil improvements, vegetation management, biodiversity, and economics assisting landholders to move confidently forward in their business.

The RALF assists the agricultural sector to protect, conserve and provide for the productive use of water, soil, plants and animals and the ecosystem in which they live and interact, in partnership with governments, industry and communities.

  • RALF assisted Mackay Regional Council with the program design of the National SEGRA (Sustainable Economic Growth in Regional Australia) Conference in October 2018. In addition, an industry bus tour looking at the diversification of the sugarcane industry was also facilitated by the RALF
  • The Soil Symposium held in November 2018 had Dr Andre Leu headline the high calibre of speakers for the day. This was another annual achievement with soil health at its focus, sharing local, national and international success stories of regenerative, biological and organic farming methods
  • A Grazing Forum was held in March 2019 with Dr Charlie Massey addressing the failures, successes and opportunities within Australia’s agricultural industry. This was followed by a field day, the field day allows landholders to observe the locally implemented practices that drive productivity while maintaining natural ecosystem cycles
  • The region’s Innovative grazing network expanded, encouraging peer-to-peer learning and networking. The Group meet in February and May, key topics and activities were producer farm walks, guest speakers, and engaging activities encouraging supportive industry networks in the region
  • The St Lawrence Wetland lunch was held in early June. It was a celebration of local produce prepared by celebrity chef Matt Golinski. The event raised awareness about where and how produce is created while allowing networking between all members involved along the food supply chain from farmer, to processor, distributer, cook or consumer
“Set objectives, follow your plan, do homework on bull selection, small steps and things will move forward.” – Vicky Smythe, farmer.
“Management practices are vital to performance and production of cattle.” – Peter Muscat, farmer.
“I will definitely make changes to management practices – positive change is achievable.” – Jane Lindner, farmer.

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Building water treatment systems

Treatment systems for improving water quality are engineered and designed to intercept, slow down and remove pollutants from surface or groundwater. Pollutants such as sediments, nutrients and pesticides generated from urban, industrial and agricultural land uses can degrade the condition and function of wetlands and coastal or marine environments. Improving water quality, from catchment land uses, is essential to maintain or improve the health and resilience of these ecosystems. Treatment systems, when used in conjunction with best practice land management, can improve water quality on a catchment scale.

For the past two years, Reef Catchments has been improving water quality of two different constructed wetlands (treatment trains), a sediment basin and a traditional cane drain. With one more year of monitoring remaining, this project will be able to provide reliable scientific evidence of this system’s capacity to reduce pollutants.

The team has been busy working across priority sub-catchments at both the northern and southern ends of the NRM region. Areas of intervention and management options were identified through a “walking the landscape” workshop facilitated by the Queensland Wetlands Program. Works that are being delivered include the removal of fish barriers, riparian fencing, and the installation of off-stream watering points, revegetation of streambanks and riparian weed control. Works are also being carried out to repair fishways in ecologically significant wetlands. This multi-faceted and whole-of-system approach to systems repair will see improved aquatic connectivity, more native vegetation, fewer pest species, less erosion and ultimately improved condition of freshwater wetlands and streams. Works include the improvement and protection of areas of very high ecological significance and endangered remnant vegetation.

  • First end of wet season nutrient and sediment analyses for a constructed wetland in Australia with technical support and additional funds from JCU Tropwater
  • Due to additional monitoring equipment installed at Bakers Creek treatment train (pictured) the team was able to capture the first flushes leaving the structure and also capture the event last July. The additional instruments loaned from JCU Tropwater have improved the captured data set, facilitating the interpretation of the results
  • Walking the landscape workshops were held in partnership with the Queensland Wetlands program to identify priority sites and management interventions. In attendance were local landholders and experts in a range of fields including hydrology, vegetation, soils and geology

We monitor biodiversity

Working to preserve natural habitat

The team is working hard to preserve high quality habitat for biodiversity in our region. Through the Wetlands and Islands projects, high-priority habitats are being monitored and the condition improved through weed control, revegetation and other restorative activities.

One of the key outcomes of the Islands project is turning Goldsmith Island into an “Island Ark” for biodiversity. An Island Ark is essentially a haven for native species, and provides a safe stepping stone for migration through the landscape. The ultimate goal is to have the island completely free of habitat altering weeds, so that turtle nesting, shorebird roosting and other natural processes can occur unimpeded. In addition to this, important information gaps are being filled through seagrass and turtle monitoring activities.

The Gregory River and Tedlands (pictured) wetland ecosystems have also been identified as high priority areas for improving biodiversity values. Improvement of these systems through cattle exclusion fencing, feral pig control, removal of barriers to fish migration, weed control and revegetation will have positive impacts on both aquatic and terrestrial wildlife in these important wetland areas. These outcomes are being monitored through an exciting array of biodiversity indicators. This monitoring includes electrofishing and macroinvertebrate sampling. Both methods can be indicative of waterway health and habitat quality as well as aquatic connectivity.

There are a range of other areas throughout the region that Reef Catchments is actively revegetating, including streambanks in the St Helens, O’Connell River (pictured), Sandy Creek, Carmila Creek and Plane Creek sub-catchments. Improving riparian vegetation connectivity is important for creating a corridor of vegetation to facilitate movement of biodiversity throughout a highly altered landscape. Streambank vegetation is also important for cooling water and protecting banks from erosion, both of which are important habitat components for aquatic species.

Reef Catchments has also been actively involved in supporting biodiversity projects delivered by other partners throughout the region. The Reef Catchments team has provided in-kind support for Operation Target Tilapia pest fishing competition and Pioneer Catchment Landcare’s mangrove mouse monitoring project.

  • 81 species of birds identified at a priority wetland site by Birdlife Mackay
  • Five seagrass and two turtle monitoring events
  • High priority weed control throughout Tedlands and Gregory River wetlands, and Goldsmith Island
  • 19 fish species identified in two priority wetlands – no pest species identified
  • On-ground activities undertaken to protect non-riverine wetlands of very high ecological significance and endangered remnant vegetation

We target invasive species

Pests and weeds

During the past financial year, the two focus locations for controlling pest and weeds has been the Gregory River and Rocky Dam Creek catchment areas. Controlling pests and weeds has been achieved through on-site activities such as:

  • Aerial feral animal shoots: two shoots were conducted in the Rocky Dam Creek catchment covering an area of 519 km² with a total of 180 pigs culled. Activities such as this reduce the number of feral pigs in the catchment area which, in turn, leads to a reduction in soil degradation and erosion
  • Aerial weed spraying: one aerial spray was conducted in order to control Hymenachne growing within the Tedlands wetland near Koumala (pictured). Approximately 30 hectares was covered during the flight. Controlling this aquatic weed is essential in order to prevent the wetland being overtaken by Hymenachne and will assist in promoting fish passage and improving the dissolved oxygen concentration throughout the wetland
  • On-ground weed spraying and removal: Multiple riparian areas in both river systems (approximate total area of 0.9 ha) were identified as priority areas for weed. Priority weeds include - lantana, Easter cassia, sicklepod and red joyweed. The control of weeds in these riparian areas is essential in order to allow for the revegetation of the streambanks with native species. Once established, the native plants and trees provide structural stability for the streambank, helping to prevent erosion and sediment run-off. Furthermore, riparian vegetation can filter, trap and absorb nutrients before they flow into waterways and out to the reef
  • Electrofishing for pest fish: Electrofishing was undertaken in both rivers in order to ascertain the approximate numbers of pest fish within each system and fortunately, only native species were found. This is great news as the presence of pest fish within a river system can lead to the decline of native species through effects such as increased water turbidity, over competition for resources, and the introduction of exotic diseases.

Reef Catchments coordinates the Mackay Regional Pest Management Group (MRPMG). The group has been working to identify and address pest and weed issues throughout the Mackay, Whitsunday and Isaac regions. Currently, the MRPMG is working under the 2011 – 2014 strategy, which has allowed for the efficient prioritization of pest and weed projects in the region through its Pest Management Prioritization Tool, in addition to stakeholder knowledge. The committee also started working on the Mackay Regional Pest Management Group Strategy for the 2019 to 2023 period, which will outline the group’s aim and objectives for the future.

We are driven by water quality

Monitoring our waterways

Reef Catchments undertakes a range of waterways projects to monitor and report on the quality of the water draining from the catchments. Over the past year, Reef Catchments has continued to undertake catchment loads monitoring, support the delivery of grower lead waterway monitoring through the Janes and Sandy Creek projects, monitor the water quality associated to the Pioneer Valley irrigation scheme on behalf of Pioneer Valley Water. This year Reef Catchments has supported the additional sampling of seven estuaries throughout the region from the Gregory River to Carmilla Creek for the Healthy River to Reef Partnership. Additional to this, Reef Catchments has begun to undertake monitoring of an urban waterway to understand the impact of the urban footprint on the receiving environment, as urban water quality is an identified knowledge gap.

These projects collectively support an increase in understanding of the regions waterways and the impacts relating to human use and industry.

We implement innovative business solutions

Business report: Traci Ellwood

2018/19 was a successful year for the Reef Catchments Corporate Shared Services Team, and as I celebrate my first year with a wonderful team, I reflect back over what made this year great. The team has shown to be extremely flexible and innovative in their thinking in this past twelve months, bringing about dramatic change within the operations of the shared services team to improve workplace practices, job satisfaction and improve work/life balance. Many wonderful improvements across a diverse range of business operations – administration, finance, communications, IT, workplace health & safety and board support have made 2018/19 a fast paced and exciting year.

Much time and research has gone into identifying organisational improvement using the skills and experience of the Corporate Shared Services Team with still many more improvement opportunities to come. The focus this year has been to improve our internal business systems and we have delivered a number of extremely successful improvements with a focus on “value for money”.

Initiatives such as the implementation of a paperless office to drive change to reduce waste and costs has been embraced by the Corporate Shared Services Team and the wider Reef Catchments team. Also, a strong focus on improving internal controls, improving clarity and visibility and providing more information, more regularly to staff.

This year also saw a number of Reef Catchments staff supporting local community events such as the BMA Mackay Marina Run and the Mackay Inflatable Boat Race, both raising money for extremely deserving causes. A fun time was held by all.

On behalf of the entire Corporate Shared Services Team, along with the Executive Team, I extend my personal ‘thank you’ to all the supportive landowners, community and local business organisations, along with the Reef Catchments Project Teams who enable us to come together to provide such a valuable service to our community and to set the stage for the future.

As I think back to the past year and each and every person who truly makes Reef Catchments such a unique organisation, I am filled with pride!

Congratulations on a year well done!!!

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Trees planted at John Breen Park

Reef Catchments planted approximately 15 trees at John Breen park in November 2018. The reasons we planted the trees were:

  • We needed to make time to stop and celebrate our achievements, giving everyone at Reef Catchments the reward and recognition for achievements made
  • To deliver on our pledge to offset our paper use annually by one tree for every 17 reams of paper used
  • To provide shade to gym equipment installed at John Breen park by Mackay Regional Council.

Thanks to Mackay Regional Council for providing the trees, and guiding us through the planting process, to ensure we were safe using the machinery, and the trees had the best chance of survival.

We look to the future

Looking forward

Reef Catchments will work towards facilitating accelerated positive change in regional natural resource management through:

  • Educating and building capacity within the community to identify natural resource areas of concern and develop and implement both proactive and remedial actions for improvement
  • Identifying natural resource management priorities for the region, including identifying funding opportunities and Partners to address the priorities
  • Improving community knowledge of NRM issues along with improving community capacity to deal with these issues
  • Facilitating engagement and collaboration between highly diverse stakeholders (i.e. business, industry, community groups, indigenous people, science, research, and government) for regional NRM outcomes
  • Increasing our public profile to assist in raising the profile and importance of NRM across the region

Government programs

Australian Government Regional Land Partnerships Program

Funded projects / areas include:

  • Encouraging farmers to take a holistic approach to farm management, primarily to improve soil carbon to benefit farm productivity and provide ecological services in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region
  • Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator - ensuring the effective and efficient delivery of agricultural projects in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac (MWI) region
  • Communications and engagement
  • Traditional Owner participation
  • Management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Islands)

Queensland Government Natural Resources Investment Program

Funded projects / areas include:

  • Paddock to Reef program - regional support
  • Addressing priority subcatchment water quality targets through grazing management interventions
  • Improving the relative ecological condition of freshwater
  • Reef Catchments regional coordination and evaluation

Resilient ecosystems, engaged community

Reef Catchments is your Natural Resource Management (NRM) group for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.