Reef Catchments Annual report 2020 – 2021


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

Note from the Chair, Julie Boyd

Keeping a close eye on the impact that COVID-19 might have on Reef Catchments staff and projects, but still ensuring that the work continues on time and at a high standard, has been a major focus of this year. While there have been some restrictions to meeting with stakeholders, overall, it has been business as usual.

I’d really like to commend Katrina and the team for the way they have once again adapted to changing circumstances and ensured that the projects have kept pace with the funding milestones.

Reef Catchments continues to provide high quality project outcomes and has been successful in securing extra funding for projects that will make a difference to our community.

The Board and the team will soon start work on our new strategy for the future. To date, funding has not been an issue, but it may well be due to the impact of COVID-19 on budgets. As an organisation, we are mindful of that, and will continue to liaise and work with our funders to ensure that this region has access to resources to effectively manage our natural environment.

With a Federal election coming up, we are also putting together an election document that we will take to the candidates for our region.

I’d like to thank the Board for their ongoing support and passion and to Katrina and the team, you continue to make the Board very proud of the work that you do.

Reef Catchments Board

Julie Boyd

Julie Boyd was elected Chair of Reef Catchments Limited in 2016. As a former long-serving Mayor of Mackay, the role is an excellent fit for Julie, who has always had an interest and involvement in the natural resources sector.

Bill MacDonald

Bill MacDonald is a third-generation cane farmer at Sandy Creek. He has a very hands-on approach to the wellbeing of the environment and the water quality entering the Great Barrier Reef. He works with the Board for an outcome which will benefit the sustainability of the agricultural industries and community.

Kevin Kane

Kevin is the Senior Manager of Environment Planning for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation.

In his role at NQBP, Kevin has established one of Queensland’s most extensive coastal marine monitoring programs and is a strong supporter of the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership.

Lynda Pollock

Lynda has had an extensive working career including her present role with Anglo American Metallurgical Coal at Moranbah. She has a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Botany, an Associate Diploma of Rural Sciences, and a Master of Sustainable Regional Development.

Chris Wright

Chris Wright is a Mackay local who spent the first 25 years of his life on a cane farm on Homebush Road, Rosella. Chris has over 25 years’ experience in the accounting industry and is a registered company auditor.

Belinda Hassan

Cr Belinda Hassan was recently elected to her first term in local government. She is a fifth-generation Mackay region local with a proven passion for supporting the community through both her professional work and volunteer efforts.

Paul Fendley

Paul has a Bachelor of Applied Science and Masters in Business Administration. He also is a graduate of the Executive Leadership Program of the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. He is an experienced non-executive director on regional, state and national organisations and is currently also on the board of the Whitsunday Suicide Prevention Network and Whitsunday Chaplaincy.

Traci Ellwood

Board Secretary Traci is a CPA qualified accountant and holds a Bachelor of Accounting degree. For the 11 years prior to joining Reef Catchments, Traci held positions as a finance manager in the mining and construction industry with local Mackay companies. She has a very strong background with 20 years experience in finance and administration.

CEO update: A year in review – Katrina Dent

Thank you to the Reef Catchments team for paving the way by showing continued commitment to NRM outcomes and improvements over the past year and for continuing to share in our vision. As shown in our Strategic Plan, our team strives to Dream, Design, Develop and Deliver. This year our team has committed to Dreaming big, Designing programs relevant to the region, Developing funding proposals to address issues or concerns or gaps, and this is all Delivered to an extremely high standard, in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

Together as a team, we continue to influence attitudes and change through our projects, this ranges from on-ground actions to workshops, forums, newsletters and communication products. By focusing on priority outcomes specific to our region’s needs, we continue to support ongoing education opportunities that will provide enduring practice change and lasting benefits for future generations.

The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region is a beautiful, productive and diverse landscape, rich in natural resources. Our 2020-21 Annual Report showcases a snippet of the impact of the diverse range of activities that the Reef Catchments team has delivered and continues to deliver and the range of landholders, partners, stakeholders and collaborators we are engaging with. We pride ourselves on working closely with landholders and stakeholders in our region and understand that we can achieve more when we collaborate with the wealth of highly knowledgeable and experienced organisations, groups, landholders and individuals across the region.

I would like to congratulate the Reef Catchments team, Board, funders, partners, landholders and collaborators on supporting the meaningful outcomes that continue to be undertaken to ensure we have a Resilient Ecosystem and Engaged Community.

A huge thank you to our community members and volunteers for supporting Reef Catchments and the work we do, and lastly an acknowledgement to our region in which we all call home, the Mackay Whitsundays Isaac region, which continues to deliver stunning sunrises and sunsets and with our continued support, promises to be a striking landscape for future generations.

- Katrina Dent

Mackay Whitsunday Water Quality Program results begin to emerge

The Mackay Whitsunday Water Quality Program (MWWQP), funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, has entered its second year with encouraging results beginning to emerge. The MWWQP aims to contribute to the goals of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, and particularly to improve the quality of water flowing from the Pioneer and Plane Creek catchments.

Running until June 2024, the program will primarily support activities that aim to achieve an enduring improvement in sugarcane farming practices in the region, with the goal of reducing the end-of-catchment pollutant loads for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and pesticides.

Local industry bodies and agronomists have been engaged as delivery providers to provide agronomic advice and assistance to local growers in order to achieve positive water quality outcomes. Reef Catchments has developed strong relationships with the delivery providers – ensuring eligible growers are identified and approved in a timely manner.

While farmers have taken a considered approach in regard to embracing practice change to improve water quality, grower adoption has been positive and encouraging, with over 220 projects already in progress or completed. This demonstrates growers’ willingness to adopt practice change that also increases productivity and profitability.

It is anticipated that through increased local interest, the MWWQP will not only achieve expected water quality improvements within the Plane and Pioneer catchments but will exceed these targets.

Landholders key to improving waterways

The Reef Trust VII O’Connell Proserpine Water Quality program, funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, is currently in its formative stages, with delivery provider and landholder engagement being undertaken. The cane component of the program focuses on the reduction of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and pesticide loads through fertiliser and pesticide application practice change and irrigation management. Agritech adoption is included using EM mapping, assisting in identifying varying soil types, salinity, and soil moisture levels.

While the program is in its early stages, grower interest and participation is strong, indicating that the program outcome will be positive and successful.

Pictured: Prior works at the O'Connell River near Bloomsbury.

The Queensland Government Natural Resources Investment Program “addressing priority sub catchments water quality targets through grazing management interventions” project supports grazing landholders in the adoption of best management practices through the use of financial incentives to achieve water quality improvement.

The major focus for 2020-21 was on undertaking best management activities to protect priority grazing sub catchments through improved pasture (pictured) which was supported by activities such as weed control and establishment of 3P grasses (perennial, productive, palatable) that improve the quality and amount of groundcover and remediation of riparian areas through weed control and re-establishment of native vegetation.

Similarly, installation of riparian fencing and off-stream watering points (pictured) to protect and restore waterways within priority sub catchments, installation of land type fencing and watering points and gully remediation to protect and restore groundcover and reduce erosion were prioritised.

The latest from our Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitator

Juliane Kasiske is Reef Catchments’ Regional Agricultural Landcare Facilitator (RALF). Her position is funded by the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program.

The 2020-21 Financial Year saw a continuation of the focus on supporting the grazing sector, which accounts for more than 45% of the region’s land use and holds significant possibilities for sustainable and resilient growth.

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

This year's RALF highlights

The Healthy Soils Symposium and Field Day attracted close to 70 guests from sugarcane, grazing and horticulture, all keen to learn from keynote speaker Graeme Sait (pictured) on 26 and 27 November, 2020.

This was the 9th annual event with a high focus on soil mineral balancing to ensure fertile soils, rich plant growth, and adequate cattle nutrition.

The Innovative Grazing Forum and Field Day was postponed due to COVID-19, and was finally able to go ahead on 26 and 27 April 2021, attracting close to 65 delegates. With support from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the event inspired and motivated participants, with the field days providing practical demonstrations and per-to-peer learning engagements.

Working with sustainable agriculture officers, RALF contributed to the development and printing of Provenance Vol.2 magazine, which was published in February 2021. Since its release, 3000 copies have been distributed ensuring that practices and environmental constraints addressed by the agricultural community are shared across the region.

At the Isaac Regional Council’s St Lawrence Wetlands Weekend, the RALF program supported the Greater Whitsunday Food Network in the delivery of their luncheon, prepared by celebrity chef Matt Golinski. This is a showcase event that provides locals and visitors to the region with a rare opportunity to dine on the best local, seasonal produce created by some of the best in the business, including Nik Flack and supported by volunteer students from North Mackay High School’s catering department.

Landholders integrate holistic farm practice changes

During 2020-21, the Holistic Farm Management project continued to provide support to landholders who are eager to adopt an integrative systems approach to their farming management. Eleven eager landholders were onboarded throughout the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region and are beginning to implement practice changes that improve soil health, biodiversity and vegetation while increasing production. On-ground trials, with a focus on multispecies pastures and pasture dieback, built on the participants’ existing knowledge and skills, increasing confidence in adopting these practices. Funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program allows Reef Catchments to achieve a 'win-win' for farmers and the environment through this project.

Reef Catchments' Bring your Land to Life Field Day (pictured) was extremely well-received by the local community, with over 400 people flocking to the Pioneer Valley Showground in Finch Hatton in October 2020. Over 30 stallholders attended from a diverse section of the community, including Landcare groups, solar distributors, RACQ CQ rescue, animal husbandry groups and local, state and federal governments. Attendees learnt about weeds, river and soil health, growing fruit trees, irrigation and business diversification.

This was the first Reef Catchments event post COVID-19 and one of the first outdoor events of this size in the region under these restrictions. Despite the additional challenges posed by COVID-19, it was a substantial community engagement event for Reef Catchments and provided an opportunity to showcase the work the organisation is involved in across the community. The event would not have been possible without support from Glencore’s annual Community Invest program.

“Five to six years ago we started noticing changes in weather patterns throughout the year, and how grass was growing or not growing. The fruiting patterns in our mangoes were changing and we thought it might be climate change, and we may have to change the way we farm. The past four years have more than convinced me that climate change is real.” – Ken Ede, Cattle grazier and mango farmer

We remove barriers to fish migration

Many fish move between the fresh and saltwater environments for some aspect of their lifecycle. Such movement is considered crucial to the life cycle and breeding patterns of these fish, yet many man-made barriers can prevent this. Reef Catchments works towards removing fish barriers by establishing fishways in priority areas.

Fish barrier prioritisation

Fishway construction has shown great outcomes for increasing fish populations in our region, and a next-level fish barrier project being carried out by Reef Catchments and Catchment Solutions is investigating fish barriers in off-stream coastal wetlands and updating the fish barrier prioritisation report throughout our region. Latest satellite imagery has been analysed to determine barriers in the region and the final report is to be completed by the end of 2021. This update focuses on barriers to critical nursery habitats like wetlands.

The project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust. The project builds on the work following the 2015 Mackay Whitsunday Fish Barrier Prioritisation Report, which led to the development of a top 40 fish barrier sites for attention.

Fish barrier remediation in the Gregory River

As part of the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program, Reef Catchments worked with landholders and stakeholders to improve movement of fish through barriers at two Gregory River sites. These sites are a concrete weir crest fishway and a culvert crossing (pictured), that were both identified, and confirmed, as being barriers to fish passage. Fish passage and stream bed and stream bank stability was improved through the installation of rocks of an appropriate size, and scour protection. This activity effectively removes the highest priority fish barrier in the Gregory River sub-catchment.

Conservation and Communities team looks after the reef and islands

Engaging the region’s communities to participate in conservation is a critical part of improving our ecosystems. This year, Marine Classrooms, the Islands Project and the Whitsunday Water Quality Monitoring Blueprint for Tourism, brought youth, industry and the general community together to help conserve our marine ecosystems and the Great Barrier Reef.

Marine Classrooms

This year’s Marine Classroom took students from Sarina State High School on a three-day/two-night trip of a lifetime on a liveaboard vessel out to Scawfell Island. Students had the opportunity to snorkel and conduct reef health surveys, learn weed and native species identification and collect, sort and audit marine debris.

Marine Classrooms are a powerful way of improving students’ engagement with, and awareness of, the natural values of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. On-ground interactions help students build meaningful connections to the environment both locally and beyond, which is an important aspect in empowering people and generating behaviour change. The students also assisted to develop a video of their experiences. This project was funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry – Science, Energy and Resources Australian Heritage Grants.

Islands project

The Islands Project aims to ameliorate threats to remnant vegetation and keystone species within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Some of the activities we conducted this year include four Coastcare e-newsletters, marine turtle surveys across 11 islands, 10 seagrass surveys, four gross pollutant trap auditing events, 12 count-and-sort events from 12 marine debris removal trips to the Whitsunday Islands and weed control on Goldsmith Island. The Youth Ambassador program took students from Mackay Christian College to Goldsmith Island on a liveaboard vessel (pictured) to investigate and snorkel around mangroves. The students developed a video of this experience which they previewed at their Mangrove Art Expo. This project is supported by Reef Catchments, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Whitsunday Water Quality Blueprint for Tourism

The Whitsunday Water Quality Blueprint for Tourism project successfully established a citizen science component driven by a partnership between the tourism industry, ports, science and NRM. The project saw four tourism operators – Southern Cross Sailing Adventures, True Blue Sailing Adventures, Red Cat Adventures and Ocean Rafting, collect 11 water samples and maintain two continuous data loggers (pictured) at each of two sites – Cairn Beach and Tongue Bay. Together, they have contributed approximately 500,000 data points towards understanding the water quality story of the outer Whitsunday islands over the life of the project. James Cook University has provided scientific rigor to the project through the training of 17 crew members and the project has been showcased in the region’s annual waterway health report card. The partnership has thrived thanks to the commitment of the tourism industry, project partners and funding from the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and North Queensland Bulk Ports.

Traditional Owners preserve cultural heritage

This year has been a busy year for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG), undertaking cultural heritage assessments, minimum skills fire training and building networks and connections with Reef Catchments staff and stakeholders over five meetings.

A highlight of the year was in October 2020, when the TORG teamed up with the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership to assess the condition of cultural heritage sites with Ngaro, Gia, Barada Barna/Widi and Koinmerburra Traditional Owners. Seventeen sites were assessed on Country during a week-long trip. Cultural sites that were assessed included rock art, middens, shell scatters, artefact scatters, cultural trees and rock shelters.

This represents the third time the TORG has undertaken such an activity, with this assessment visiting 12 new sites (Proserpine and Airlie Beach, Lake Elphinstone and Mount Britton, and St Lawrence).

Other on-country work included sharing knowledge about beach scrub regeneration and the natural birdlife in local wetlands (pictured), with drone demonstrations at both sites.

This project is supported by Reef Catchments, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, with the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership jointly funding the cultural heritage assessments component.

Dealing with pests and weeds

Reef Catchments is continually working to control pests and weeds throughout the region.

Our involvement in the Mackay Regional Pest Management Group is to coordinate pest management across the region and support the delivery of best practice principles in a consistent and efficient manner. Quarterly stakeholder meetings are held across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.

These meetings offer an opportunity for representatives from local and state government departments, community groups, and industry bodies whose core business involves the provision of pest management information and expertise within their respective fields. This year has been a period of growth with the group working towards collaborative feral pig and fox control projects, biocontrols such as cochineal and cactoblastis for the control of prickly pear, and developing the group’s social media presence.

One pest project that Reef Catchments is delivering is the eradication of African big-headed ants (Pheidole megacephala) from Bushy Island (pictured). This is part of the ‘High priority coastal and island restoration for the protection of significant ecological communities and species project’ funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

Bushy Island is a small coral cay approximately 90km offshore from Mackay. It is a special place – one of the most significant green turtle rookeries in our region and home to a stand of Pisonia forest, of which there is less than 200 ha in Australia.

Unfortunately, for at least 11 years, African big-headed ants (ABHA) have been present on Bushy Island. These ants are highly competitive, excluding a range of native invertebrates and influencing the ecosystem from the bottom up.

Over the past year, we have almost completely eradicated ABHA from the island, and have seen the return of native ant species. The eradication of ABHA will also help to secure the Pisonia forest against the threat of a scale insect outbreak, since scale insects are cultivated by the ABHA for food.

The Bushy Island African big-headed ant eradication is well on the way to achieving its ultimate goal, an island free of these invasive pests. Cass and the project team are clearly committed to delivering the project in a manner which respects the natural values of this island National Park." – Stuart Johnson, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

Preparations made for bushfire season

Enhanced disaster preparedness and resilience outcomes have been achieved through engagement with rural fire brigades as a result of three separate projects delivered by Reef Catchments. Delivering on-ground hazard reduction activities, providing GIS and operational support, as well as delivering training events, rural fire brigades within the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region have increased resilience and capacity to respond to future fire events.

This year saw basic fire training delivered to Traditional Owners and community members to develop minimum skills required to assist rural fire brigades. Eleven Traditional Owners were trained throughout the year during three separate training events.

The knowledge, skills and networks that have been achieved through this training is just the start of the journey. Participants and collaborators are keen to build on the momentum and deliver on-country cultural burning workshops to share knowledge of assessing country and increase community knowledge and awareness of cultural burning.

These projects were jointly funded under the Commonwealth/State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements CQ Bushfires – Category C Flexible Funding Grant and The Queensland Government's Queensland Disaster Resilience Fund.

We look after biodiversity and threatened species

The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region is home to some unique biodiversity and supports a range of threatened species and communities (endangered eastern curlew, pictured). This year has seen a much-needed boost in funding enabling us to understand the status of these species and communities, and prioritise our efforts at improving their trajectories with the support of the regional community.

Marine turtles

Reef Catchments has been working closely with Mackay and District Turtle Watch Association (MDTW) to protect turtle nesting habitat. For the first time, we have equipped MDTW to measure nest temperatures so that if a nest is too hot, trained volunteers can intervene to protect the eggs. We also worked with MDTW and the Queensland Turtle Conservation Project to aerially survey all of the turtle nesting beaches and islands in our region (survey flight pictured). From this we get a good understanding of the most highly used – and therefore important to protect – turtle nesting areas.

The surveys identified both the number and species of nesting turtle tracks that had been made the previous night. Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and flatback turtles (Natator depressus) were found to be nesting on our beaches. While the green turtle has a global distribution, the flatback turtle only nests in Australia. The team also recorded the number of old nesting turtle tracks. Nesting hotspots for our region were also uncovered during this survey – an exciting result for turtle conservation.

This is part of the ‘High priority coastal and island restoration for the protection of significant ecological communities and species project’ funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

Threatened ecological communities

In April 2021, we were lucky enough to have the Queensland Herbarium travel to Mackay to create biocondition benchmarks and ecological condition profiles for one of our threatened ecological communities. Both form part of the assessment framework we use to quantifiably, repeatedly and objectively compare the condition of the vegetation.

We are about to begin our biocondition assessments to be able to determine the health and state of the two threatened ecological communities in our region: littoral rainforest and coastal vine thickets of eastern Australia (also known as beach scrub) and broad leaf tea-tree (Melaleuca viridiflora) woodlands in high rainfall coastal north Queensland (also known as broad leaf tea-tree woodlands – pictured). This will determine how well they are functioning for the maintenance of biodiversity values. Like our turtle project, this project is also funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.


This year, across the region, the Coastcare program ran five community engagement events delivering on-ground works and increasing community education and awareness in coastal management. Events covered a broad range of activities including weed control, plant propagation, revegetation and Coastcare school holiday programs (pictured). Activities focused on the protection and enhancement of coastal vegetation with flow on effects for endangered ecosystems, threatened marine turtles, migratory birds and other iconic Australian fauna. The Kids Coastcare program helps children learn and grow to appreciate and protect the environment, through hands-on activities such as the sustainable fishing game, what is a catchment, making native seed bombs and sorting marine plastics. This project is funded by the Communities Environment Program.

We look after our wetlands

Wetlands are diversity hotspots, connect animals and plants across the landscape, support primary industry, protect us from floods and keep our waterways healthy. So it is vital to look after our wetlands. Reef Catchments is working across three distinct areas to help protect our wetlands.

Sandringham Wetland Complex

Reef Catchments is delivering the 'High priority coastal and island restoration for the protection of significant ecological communities and species project' funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

This project is addressing regional priorities related to improvement of management practices which are important to improving water quality and protecting biodiversity, including the enhancement of the Sandringham Wetland Complex.

The Sandringham Wetland Complex is valued by graziers for providing water and feed for stock and security during the dry season and/or droughts. The impacts of grazing on wetlands can include reduced water quality from additional nutrient inputs and increased soil compaction, reduced native vegetation and subsequently reduced habitat for native species, and reduced capacity of the wetland to provide filtration and ecosystem services. This component of the Coastal Priorities project involves assisting landholders in the wetlands areas to better manage their land and practices to optimise the balance between production and ecosystem protection with improved connectivity between habitats.

This is the first year of the project and Reef Catchments delivered a Walking the Landscape workshop where local landholders and stakeholders provided invaluable feedback on the values and pressures of this sub-catchment to guide and prioritise the project work.

Additionally, we assisted landholders financially for the delivery of around 3 km of fencing and eight off-stream watering points for improving grazing management and reducing impacts on the Sandringham Wetlands Complex, enabling practice change for around 50 ha.

Rocky Dam Creek and Gregory River

As part of the Queensland Government’s Natural Resources Investment Program, Reef Catchments is improving the relative ecological condition of freshwater streams and wetland in the Rocky Dam Creek and Gregory River sub-catchments. In its third year, this project has seen us work 'hand-in-hand' with landholders to revegetate these areas with more than 3700 plants and control weeds in riparian corridors over 11 ha.

Installation of 11 off-stream watering points and protection of 2.9 ha of riparian vegetation through fencing has allowed landholders to adapt their seasonal rotational grazing regimes for stock along wetland and riparian areas. In particular, watering points and fencing provide for wet season spelling of wetlands. Reducing the time that stock spend in wetlands in the wet season (or entirely) allows for native plants to successfully germinate and flower, and reduces the amount of soil damage and erosion caused from livestock hooves.

The Reef Community Action Plan

The Reef Community Action Plan is a document that Reef Catchments compiled with input from more than 25 local community stakeholder groups as well as representatives of the broader community.

The aim of the CAP is to unite regional stakeholders in a collective vision for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region, provide strategic direction and empower them to take action to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The CAP provides a cohesive and clearly documented path forward for the many motivated and engaged citizens throughout our region. It identifies high priority/common goals for action held by the community and provides the platform for new collaborations to enhance and progress existing projects, identify new opportunities, and importantly, develop a meaningful way forward to promote and advance the action that is happening region-wide to reduce local and Reef impacts. Harnessing community energy and bringing people together in this way, to work on a common set of actions will result in community empowerment and accelerate grass-roots action.

Reef Catchments ran a series of workshops with community representatives to identify what the most important Reef values to our community are, and what threats we should be acting on right now, as a community.

The most important values are:

  • Coral reefs
  • Catchments and estuaries
  • Mangroves

And the most important threats that our community want to address are:

  • Climate change
  • Land-based run-off
  • Litter and marine debris
  • Lack of community education and awareness

The output of the CAP is a list of ten “roadmaps” or projects which were ultimately brainstormed, developed and refined by the community for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. These roadmaps then went through a prioritisation process, and the top three were further workshopped into mini-project proposals, and compiled into a project prospectus. This prospectus is available to our community to help seek funding for implementing CAP projects, and can be used to help guide funding applications or approach potential investors.

Looking to the next year, Reef Catchments is excited to continue in our role as CAP leader. We will be overseeing the refinement of the CAP and prospectus documents, and assisting CAP project leaders to implement CAP roadmap projects.

This project was funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Reef Assist brings training and employment

Reef Catchments has implemented an employment stimulus program to assist the community impacted by COVID-19 to receive training and employment opportunities that will result in a range of on ground activities resulting in rehabilitation, restoration, and preservation of natural habitat within the catchments. This was funded through the Queensland Government’s Reef Assist Program.

The overall objective of the project is to create immediate jobs and income support to deliver priority land management projects in Great Barrier Reef catchments in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region. The program is focused on projects that create practical, on-ground jobs, working on projects such as streambank rehabilitation, gully remediation, wetland restoration, tree planting, landscaping and pest and weed management. It is also to develop training and employment opportunities for First Nations communities.

The program has provided funding to Pioneer Catchment and Landcare Group, Whitsunday Catchment Landcare and Sarina Landcare Catchment Management Association, as well as three local businesses who specialise in conservation works throughout the region. This funding has employed two field officers for each Landcare group and one staff member for each of the businesses. The program has also provided a wide range of training opportunities. Staff have completed first aid, Agricultural Chemicals Distribution Control (ACDC) application, Chainsaw Level 2 and eight have either completed or will complete their Certificate 3 in Conservation Land Management.

The Reef Assist Program also provides training and upskilling directly to Traditional Owners within the region. This has included planning, managing, maintaining, and protecting Land and Sea Country, implementing disaster resilience as well as conservation and land management training. Practical training, for example chainsaw training, are skills that can be utilised in emergency response and general everyday work in natural resource management careers.

“Since our Reef Assist staff member started with us, he has grown in his career with SPH, taking leadership over sites and working alongside other contractors and progressing well, leading into a management role." – Glenn Croxford, Strathdickie Plant Hire

The Reef Assist program is a unique opportunity to engage the Whitsunday marine tourism industry in island and coastal environmental protection and rehabilitation works – creating economic stimulus and providing a legacy of stewardship for the natural capital that underpins tourism in the Whitsundays.

Whitsunday charter vessel operators have been undertaking:

  • GBRMPA Eye on the Reef coral monitoring
  • Marine debris collection, removal and auditing through the Tangaroa Blue program
  • Foreshore weed identification and removal
  • Beach surveys for nesting sea turtles’ tracks
  • Island and mangrove ecology interpretive training
  • Supporting coral larval seeding projects
  • Bait Reef coral reef re-establishment projects
  • Traditional Owners back to country charters
  • School Marine Classroom and Youth Ambassador expeditions
  • St Bees Island Turtle Beach foreshore vegetation restoration

Water quality targeted in Sandy Creek

Throughout the 2020-21 period, the Sandy Creek Project aimed to improve farm management practices for a positive water quality outcome in Sandy Creek. Delivery partners Farmacist and MAPS worked with 28 growers across the Sandy Creek catchment to provide one-on-one agronomic support and assist implementation of best management practices. Growers received farming equipment upgrades, in the form of improved nozzle heads, control boxes and boom replacements among other upgrades.

This phase of the project focused on the Brightly sub-catchment to closely monitor any improvements in water quality resulting from a farming practice change. Creek water was sampled using an autosampler placed at the end of the Brightly sub-catchment, as well as on-farm samples collected by participating landholders. By having landholders collect their own samples, there was a greater sense of grower ownership and involvement with the water quality monitoring campaign. This resulted in greater engagement at shed meetings, as participants were keen to see how landholder efforts translated into a positive water quality outcome. While more statistical analysis still needs to be done, the water quality results at face value show decreases in a range of chemicals reaching Sandy Creek.

Farmacist was contracted to work with the Brightly growers, and all eight growers received a boom spray assessment, equipment upgrades and a pesticide management plan tailored specifically to their farm. Furthermore, Farmacist undertook seven field trials to quantitatively demonstrate the crop production and water quality benefits of implementing best management practice. Pictured: Charlie Vassallo.

“I’m getting good results, so the benefit is that the practices that I am implementing is to industry standard or better. It’s reassurance that what I am doing is right. Before, without the sampling, you could read as much literature as you like about best practice, but with the water run-off results, you can see that what you are doing is correct and is working.” – Andrew Vassallo, Brightly grower

Working to improve the condition of waterways

Reef Catchments has continued to work to improve the condition of waterways throughout the region during the past financial year.

The Reef Trust IV program uses a range of management interventions to reduce streambank erosion including hard engineering options like pile fields, rock toes and timber groynes. These are complimented with soft approaches like vegetation management, weed control, revegetation and stock management through riparian fencing and off-stream watering points. These activities have wider benefits to the environment such as improved biodiversity, connected wildlife corridors, healthy aquatic ecosystems and improved riparian vegetation structure throughout the catchments.

Programs such as Reef Trust IV have worked with landholders to implement projects across the O’Connell basin in St Helens and Murray Creeks and along the O’Connell River. In total, the program stretches along more than 40 km of the waterways with 36 project sites involving 29 landholders.

Reef Trust IV is in its final year, 31 of the projects are completed and in the maintenance phase. Modelling based on all Reef Trust IV projects across all three catchments shows that 9565.8 tonnes of fine sediment will be prevented from reaching the GBR lagoon per annum. In addition to the sediment savings, the project is also delivering on multiple and varied environmental benefits.

To date, the project has planted more than 43,200 local native species across 19 ha of waterways in the O’Connell basin to assist in stabilising streambanks. Contractors and landholders have carried out over 40 ha of invasive species control along 16 km of riparian zone.

Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership

Launched in 2014, the Partnership is a collaboration between the community, Traditional Owners, farmers and fishers, industry, science, tourism, and government, who recognise that more can be achieved by working together. The Partnership’s vision is for “healthy rivers and reef contributing to a prosperous region where people visit, live, work, and play”. The Partnership’s primary purpose is to develop an annual integrated waterway health report card for the region.

The 2020 Report Card was the partnership’s seventh and contained more citizen science data than ever before, incorporating Reef Check Australia coral cover data collected in the Whitsunday and Offshore Zones for the first time. Seagrass Watch data has also now been included in the Northern Zone from sites at Bowen.

For the first time, litter was reported in the region, with most sites graded as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. Pioneer Bay in Airlie Beach was the poorest scoring site, meaning that litter is putting ‘high pressure’ on the environment in this area.

To look at grades for the 2020 Report Card and compare across years, check out the interactive results page.

On 3 December 2020, the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership officially unveiled the 2020 Stewardship Report – Above and Beyond at the Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens. This was the second annual stewardship report which outlines what activities are being undertaken by partners to improve water quality outcomes.

In 2020 Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal Pty Ltd and Dalrymple Bay Infrastructure committed to investing $393,092 across a further three-year program (21- 23 FY). Details on the Southern Inshore Program can be found here.

Urban Water Stewardship Framework

The Partnership has implemented the Urban Water Stewardship Framework (UWSF), a novel tool for assessing and reporting on urban water management practice with the local community, including the Whitsunday Regional Council within the Reef catchment. The framework developed by the Office of the Great Barrier Reef was implemented by the Partnerships in collaboration with regional councils. Mackay, Whitsunday, and Isaac Councils have been involved in the assessment. The UWSF is set to be re-assessed biennially to add new value to the regional report cards by creating a mechanism for demonstrable management practice change while strengthening linkages between councils and communities.

We rebuild after disasters

The far north and North Queensland 2019 monsoon trough produced an extended period of rainfall, leading to widespread flooding and damage, this event damaged habitat, reduced biodiversity and exported sediments along riverine and coastal areas. In response, the Disaster Recovery Funding Assistance package was developed to help restore and rehabilitate these affected areas.

In the last 12 months, the Waterways team finalised the completion of Stage 1. Stage 1 consisted of seven sites across the region. Works involved engineered structures such as pile fields, rock chutes, rock groynes and rock revetment. The role of engineered structures is to protect and stabilise the bank, redirect flow where needed, and encourage scour and sediment drop. Our engineers work tirelessly to ensure our designs also provide opportunities for fish habitat.

These works couldn’t succeed without natures environmental engineers, trees. Trees provide a valuable sub surface root structure interface that reinforces our engineered works and is key to ensuring each sites long term success. By promoting and maintaining a healthy riparian buffer, we can ensure our riverine systems are more resilient to extreme weather events in the future.

The Waterways team also rolled out three (of the remaining four) Stage 2 sites during the 2020-21 period. Works are much the same in design and intent as Stage 1 and with the help of our sub-contractors we’ve refined the process of delivery to ensure local landholders are comfortable being part of the program.

Reef Islands Initiative protects and restores

The Reef Islands Initiative is a $14 million, 10-year collaboration between the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Lendlease, Australian Government’s Reef Trust, Queensland Government and the Fitzgerald Family Foundation, that aims to protect and restore critical island values and habitats in the face of a changing climate.

The Whitsunday islands have been selected as the second site for the RII. The RII Whitsundays project will be designed to deliver a well-integrated set of restoration actions across the four themes of the RII. These themes are:

  1. Knowledge to support resilience-based management
  2. On-ground and in-water adaptation and restoration actions
  3. Education, engagement and stewardship
  4. Reducing carbon emissions and improving sustainability.

Early Investment Outcomes 2020 (July-December)

  • Hundreds of coral colonies outplanted on reefs around Daydream Island, Hayman Island and Hook Island using a range of methodologies
  • Trialing emerging techniques for coral restoration using all-natural coral materials. High survivorship of coral outplants during trials at Hook Island and Daydream Island
  • Inflatable spawn catchers and larval pools (pictured) deployed by tourism operators over reef north of Stonehaven Bay and Black Island Reef, to collect spawn slick for larval rearing. Over 20 tourism industry representatives across four operators were trained by Boats4Corals project staff and volunteers to actively participate in field work including deployment of equipment, locating and harvesting coral spawn slicks and delivery of larvae onto target areas of damaged reefs with low live coral cover.

Achievements 2021 (January – June)

  • Coral baseline mapping report submitted, and priority sites selected (Blue Pearl Bay, Black Island, Luncheon Bay)
  • Tourism operators participated in a coral restoration workshop to discuss site selection and preferred coral restoration methods to be used as part of the Whitsunday Reef Island Initiative. Sites and coral restoration methodology were selected
  • Seagrass baseline mapping report submitted, and priority sites selected (Pioneer Bay)
  • Healthy Heart Program, led by Whitsunday Regional Council, launched in April 2021 with steering committee/green group formed to help drive sustainable practices in the region.

We are committed to good management planning

Reef Catchments is committed to maintaining the currency of natural resource management (NRM) planning and the prioritisation of management actions for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac (MWI) region. The objective of the project is to review and revise the NRM Plan by mid-2023.

This year, work has focused on the preparation of an addendum to the current NRM Plan by February 2022. The addendum will be used as a “stepping off point” for wider consultations to be undertaken prior to its completion in mid-2023. The planning process commenced in 2021 through liaison with key stakeholders. This work included:

  • A series of scoping meetings with key collaborators involved in the preparation of the current NRM Plan to discuss their involvement in NRM, how they have used the current plan, how they would like to use a new plan, an appropriate planning process for developing the new plan, the content and duration of the new plan, the inclusion of Climate in the new plan, formatting the plan as a living plan presented online as a hierarchy of documents, and the purpose and activities of an oversight group that would help manage its implementation.
  • Commencing the process of documentation and mapping including the establishment of a GIS framework for the review.
  • Initiation of work on the legal and policy frameworks and the identification of the investment priorities for the MWI region.
  • A map-based assessment of the MWI region’s native vegetation in terms of its status and intrinsic values, including threatened ecological framework for the review.
  • Initiation of work on the legal and policy frameworks and the identification of the investment priorities for the MWI region.
  • A map-based assessment of the MWI region’s native vegetation in terms of its status and intrinsic values, including threatened ecological communities as defined by both the Australian and Queensland governments.
  • Outlining a whole of system approach to wetland management.
  • Preparation of two case studies on climate variability and risk concerning wildfire and the implications of heat stress for agricultural production.
  • A case study of the regions fire history, revealing that most the Clarke-Connors Ranges have been burnt during the life of the current NRM Plan and scopes its implications for biodiversity, carbon stocks and water resources as a basis for further stakeholder consultation.
  • A case study of heat stress in agriculture that outlines its impacts on plant photosynthesis and implications for plant productivity in agriculture.
  • Drafting of a table of contents for the addendum.

In October 2021, Reef Catchments will hold an inception workshop which will present key aspects of work-to-date, consult with key stakeholder on the proposed planning process and discuss.

  • Stakeholder aspirations for what the plan should deliver
  • Alignment of stakeholder interests with the Australian Government’s five-year outcomes and other investment priorities
  • Frameworks for undertaking NRM planning
  • The inclusion of climate variability and risk in the plan

The results of the workshop will be used to:

  • Inform the addendum to the current NRM plan to identify opportunities to maintain the currency of NRM planning
  • Develop the full work plan for the further consultation on the identification and clarification of planning issues and the design of responses to them, on evidence-based approaches, over the next two years.

Members bus tour heads north

The annual Reef Catchments members' bus tour was held in May. This is always an exciting day where we fill a bus with members and stakeholders, then head out into the field to look at some of the work being done on the ground. This year we headed north towards Proserpine, stopping at streambank revegetation sites along Murray Creek and the O'Connell River, and at a fishway site on the Gregory River. We also stopped in at two farms in the Proserpine area which are running sustainable agriculture operations.

Thanks to everyone who helped make the bus tour such a great success – members, landholders, and staff for all making the effort to come along.

Members bus tour feedback

"Being a member of Reef Catchments I look forward each year to the annual bus trip. It is a golden opportunity to see first hand some of the projects that Reef Catchments undertake. From here I can pass on some of the good work Reef Catchments do to help our environment. Meeting the landholders and hearing their views on their projects is particularly important to me. Meeting and networking with some of the staff is an added bonus. I feel that being able to show off all the work done on some of these projects would be a great morale boost after the efforts that they have put into their projects." – Allan McLean, CQSHS
"Very well organised, ran on time, very informative. Great and very enthusiastic staff who explained their projects thoroughly and with great passion. The MC for the day* did an amazing job and should be strongly acknowledged for her knowledge, fun and enthusiasm. Only opportunity for improvement would be more members, partners and public participating so you can spread the word further." – Chris Norman, NRM Regions Queensland

* MC for the day was Cass Hayward

Looking forward – Reef Trust VII

Targeted support to maximise soil, biodiversity and vegetation outcomes in the O'Connell and Proserpine basins of the Mackay Whitsunday NRM region

The Reef Trust VII (RT7) program will deliver targeted support to maximise soil, biodiversity and vegetation outcomes in the O'Connell and Proserpine basins of the Mackay Whitsunday NRM region.

Reef Catchments will partner with local industry and community to deliver the on-ground outcomes of the program. There are several different components, all of which aim to improve local productivity and land management practices while simultaneously improving environmental outcomes for the region.

The program will address streambank erosion and improve the condition of grazing land in the O’Connell Basin to reduce fine sediment loads entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

Sugar cane farmers in both the O’Connell and Proserpine Basins will receive one-on-one agronomy support to improve current practices and efficiencies, which will increase productivity and reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff.

The RT7 program will support landholders to continuously improve land management practices and increase knowledge and understanding ensuring legacy outcomes to improve and protect the condition of the soil, biodiversity and vegetation within the O'Connell and Proserpine Basins.

This project will engage a significant cohort of farmers in the O'Connell and Proserpine catchments, these areas were chosen as they are very high on the list of priority catchments in the Queensland Governments Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan. The project will address streambank erosion and improve the condition of grazing land to reduce fine sediment loads entering the Great Barrier Reef. The project will also support sugarcane farmers to implement more efficient and sustainable farming practices to increase productivity and reduce fertiliser runoff to the Reef.

The project will reduce sediment, dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and pesticide losses in runoff, and improve vegetation and connectivity through increased awareness and adoption of land management practices that enhance the condition of soil, biodiversity and vegetation for the O'Connell and Proserpine catchments.

The project will ensure long term outcomes and progress towards water quality targets of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan:

  1. Reduce fine sediment loss from streambank erosion
  2. Improve the condition of grazing land to reduce fine sediment loss
  3. Reduce losses of DIN through precision agriculture
  4. Effective irrigation for water quality and productivity
  5. Priority support to accelerate practice adoption and system repair outcomes
  6. Modifying pesticide application to reduce losses/impact to the environment.

Cultural burning

This project is aimed at working with Traditional Owners in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region to increase skill in cultural burning and move towards agreements with land managers around cultural burns.

The project is a result of the momentum from the basic fire skills training provided to Traditional Owners in 2020-21 financial year. This new project will focus on training in cultural site monitoring, and identifying vegetation types and soil types. It will progress the region towards the overarching vision of improved burning practices and an active Indigenous fire crew.

The Reef Catchments Board has funded the Cultural Burning project, this reflects to Boards strong desire to invest in opportunities for the RCL team and the community.

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.