The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Reef Community Action Plan is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.


Reef Catchments would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners past and present. We acknowledge their spiritual and cultural connection and their responsibility as Traditional Owners to maintain and care for Country. Reef Catchments recognises the important role Traditional Owners play in natural resource management, in particular the unique connection and understanding they have to Land, Sea and Waters. Traditional knowledge in land, sea and water management practices will direct future pathways in maintaining and enhancing sustainable landscapes (MWI Traditional Owner Strategic Plan 2017-2027).


As Traditional Owners we have a spiritual and cultural connection to the land and sea – our Country. The management of Country is important, we have been doing it all our lives and our ancestors have before us. We have a spiritual connection to the land, that is where we come from, it is everything out there, it is significant to Aboriginal people. For thousands of years Mother Earth has provided for us giving us bush tucker, medicine, fresh water, shelter and much more so we have to look after her. You have to see it through our eyes. The sustainability of our environment ensures that our cultural practices are maintained and continued on our Land (including Waters) and Sea Country now and into the future.

The Community Action Plan shows us ways in which we can all come together as a community to change behaviours and manage Country. We need to look after Country for our children and grandchildren, not just ourselves.

“We would like our ideas and deep understanding of Country to be included in planning for the future of the region. This will help us to work together to look after Country and teach all of our children to do the same, so our values, culture, and heritage is protected” (Aunty Carol Pryor, Ngaro Elder).

We encourage the whole community to be involved in the delivery of the Community Action Plan, and work together for positive outcomes.

– Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group


The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Reef Community Action Plan (CAP) has been developed through review of existing NRM and community plans relevant to the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region, a survey of key community stakeholders, and interactive community workshops held with key community stakeholders in October and November 2020.

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. This 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.

The community workshops used these areas of interest as a starting point for identifying priority strategies. The community then built ‘roadmaps’ to outline how these strategies would protect Reef values, identifying the steps and associated outcomes that were expected along the way. The CAP draws from this process and previous work outlined in existing documents, to identify several key projects which could feasibly be carried out by community stakeholders and lead to meaningful outcomes for the Reef. These key projects have been developed into a prospectus for potential funders and collaborators.


The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Reef Community Action Plan (CAP) has been developed through review of existing NRM and community plans relevant to the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region, a survey of key community stakeholders, and interactive community workshops held with key community stakeholders in October and November 2020.

The CAP documents the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac community’s collective priorities in relation to protecting the Reef and provides a shared plan for implementing community-scale strategies that will lead to improving Reef values.

The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region is one of five regions along the Great Barrier Reef to develop a Community Action Plan. This Reef-wide initiative aimed to galvanise communities and increase community action for Reef protection outcomes by developing CAPs. The CAPs improve community engagement in strategically planning, implementing, monitoring and celebrating Reef resilience actions. CAPs bridge the gap in scale, by pulling down strategies and ideas from existing high-level strategic documents, then working with the community to mould these into localised, relevant and community-scale actions.



The Traditional Owners of the Land, Sea and Waters of the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region include the Yuwi, Koinmerburra, Ngaro, Gia, Juru, Barada Barna and Wiri peoples. The region is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and surrounding islands, drawing visitors from all over the world. Our productive agricultural land comprises sugar cane, cattle grazing and horticulture, which has supported and shaped our economy, culture and heritage since the 19th Century. More recently the surrounding Central Queensland coalfields have influenced our region through the provision of vital infrastructure to support the mining industry, including one of the world’s largest coal terminals at Hay Point. Our region is home to an abundance of iconic species and landscapes, with the Clarke Connors Range providing habitat for many endemic terrestrial species, and the coastline a key habitat for migratory shorebirds and turtles.

In the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region, the Reef is intrinsically linked with local economy and culture. Our region has a population of more than 152,000 people, but this often swells further with domestic and international tourists, with 248,000 international tourists visiting the region from March 2018 - March 2019 (Tourism & Events Queensland, 2020), and it’s likely that much of this was related to the Great Barrier Reef.


The Great Barrier Reef is facing a plethora of pressures at a range of scales, and there are many existing documents governing and informing the management of the marine park. Historically, existing management plans or action plans have been written at a Reef-wide scale and are therefore often too high-level for community-scale actions. The purpose of the CAP is not to supersede these documents or revisit known knowledge but to work with the community to identify which parts of existing documents are prioritised the highest by the local community, and make a plan for implementing localised, community-scale actions to address these high priorities.

Across the five regions developing CAPs, a synthesis of existing local, regional, state and federal plans was delivered. From these documents a list of common values, pressures and strategies was developed (Appendix 1). Importantly, these documents have also assisted with ranking community priorities.

Some of the key documents at a Great Barrier Reef-wide scale include:

Key documents from a regional scale include:


The project team at Reef Catchments identified stakeholders from a broad cross section of the regional community. Representatives included those from the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG), the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, local government, local industry groups, non-government organisations, research organisations, community volunteers, local residents and local school students. A list of organisations engaged can be found in Appendix 2.


The Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region’s community can be roughly separated into two groups, largely split between Mackay, Isaac and surrounds and Airlie Beach/Proserpine and surrounds. The Mackay and Isaac area generally relies on mining and agriculture industries as the main contributors to the local economy. In the Whitsundays, the local economy is significantly more reliant on tourism. For this reason, in developing the CAP we have been conscious of engaging and representing the views from all parts of the region.

The first step to community engagement was administering a survey to our key community stakeholders. The survey was administered to 50 Mackay Whitsunday Isaac community members.

The response rate from the community was excellent, with a rate of 82%. The results from these surveys were used to guide community workshops. Two community-wide workshops were held in October 2020. The first was held with key community stakeholders from the Mackay and Isaac areas. The second was held with key community stakeholders from the Whitsunday area. Traditional Owners and youth (people 25 years and under) were also engaged, with two additional workshops run specifically for the Reef Catchments Youth Ambassadors (2020 - 2021 cohort) and the TORG. The TORG workshop was held last. This was done strategically, as it also allowed the TORG to provide feedback on, and find alignments with, the outcomes of the previous workshops.

Each workshop focussed on refining the priority strategies and developing them into ‘roadmaps’, which are visual diagrams demonstrating the steps involved in implementing the strategy.


Vision for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Community Action Plan:


The top three values within the Great Barrier Reef that are most important to the community personally were:

  1. Coral reefs
  2. Catchments and estuaries
  3. Mangroves

Other Great Barrier Reef values that ranked highly by the community were predominantly natural and intrinsic values, including coasts, seagrass and whales, turtles and dugongs (Figure 1). Socio-economic ecosystem services that the Reef provides ranked much lower to the community. Therefore, altruism may be an important driver for community action in this region.

Traditional Owners ranked their top values of the Great Barrier Reef slightly differently to the wider community, with mangroves, coming out as the most important value, followed by ‘catchments and estuaries’, ‘whales, turtles and dugongs’, ‘seagrass’ and ‘wetlands’, which were all considered equally as important as each other. Traditional Owners explained that these values were critical to traditional food staples and that maintaining these areas meant maintaining their way of life.


The community recognised that pressures on Great Barrier Reef values were well documented in existing strategic documents. Ranking of pressures from a community perspective was not undertaken specifically, however when the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac community identified actions the community should be taking right now to protect the Reef, via the survey, responses could be categorised as addressing four key pressures (Appendix 3):

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

Interestingly these four pressures are not the same four that are identified as being the main threats at a Reef-wide scale in the Reef 2050 Plan:

  • Climate change
  • Land-based run-off
  • Coastal land use change
  • Direct use.

Notably there were no trends in survey responses which related to coastal land use change or the direct use of the marine park.

Two possible explanations for this are that the community:

a) Don’t feel empowered to take action on coastal development or direct-use threatening processes.

b) Don’t believe that coastal development or direct-use are high priority issues in the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.


The actions that the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac community identified in the survey that they should be acting on right now to protect the Reef were grouped into similar categories and these functioned as the starting point for identifying potential community-led strategies for development (Appendix 4). Participants at engagement events voted on which of these strategies were of highest priority to them. The highest rated strategies were workshopped further and developed into visual project ideas in the form of ‘roadmaps’.

The Youth Ambassadors and the TORG each developed a separate strategy that addressed one of the actions identified from the survey by youth and Traditional Owners, respectively. The Youth Ambassadors developed 'Working with schools to reduce litter and waste' to address waste and recycling in schools, and the TORG developed ‘Traditional Owner led protection of foreshore vegetation and turtles’ to address light reaching beach nesting turtles.

The ten strategies workshopped by the community into ‘roadmaps’ are summarised in Tables 1 and 2 below, and the complete set of roadmaps developed are listed in Appendix 4. These roadmaps identified potential indicators as well as high level workplan components including potential lead agencies and partners. As the process of developing a roadmap was followed, the community identified a number of other strategies that would link directly with those originally identified. These were captured in the roadmaps as additional strategies.

Throughout the CAP workshops and during other community engagement events over recent years, an overarching theme has commonly linked many Reef-focused strategies. This theme is the community’s desire for the establishment of ‘science hub’ located in the region. The community envisage that such a science hub would enable more region-focused Reef research and monitoring to be undertaken, build the capacity of the region’s science and broader community and contribute to economic growth in the region. While it is important to the community to highlight this common theme, it was also recognised that the establishment of a science hub was outside the scope of a community-level action plan.


Following the development of the ten strategies into roadmaps, a final prioritisation process was undertaken to select the most feasible and high impact community-led strategies for presentation in this CAP and for immediate funding.

The prioritisation process factored in four key criteria:

  1. Alignment. Strategies were scored according to how many regional plans and strategic documents that the project aligned with.
  2. Readiness to commence. Strategies were scored according to whether locations, project leads and partners, methodology and funding were known.
  3. Feasibility. Strategies were scored according to their cost, capacity of the lead to deliver the project and the estimated timeframe for achieving outcomes.
  4. Impact. Strategies were scored according to how directly pressures would be addressed by the project, the spatial scale of the impact, the potential for ongoing/legacy impacts and the potential for community and Traditional Owner engagement.

The combination of the above scores informed the overall prioritisation of strategies. The four most-highly scored community-led strategies are summarised below. These top four priority strategies were communicated back to the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac community.


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DETAIL: In this strategy council and key local organisations work together to identify a key behaviour relating to food waste and work with a local hero to identify and overcome barriers to behaviour change before the program is rolled out to other families and food waste is reduced in the Whitsundays.

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DETAIL: In this strategy local school students work with their tuck shop to swap common plastic items for more sustainable options, while simultaneously establishing their own self-funding scheme through the containers for change program. This strategy would be piloted at one school before it is promoted and rolled out to other schools.

DETAIL: This strategy would have Landcare groups and Central Queensland Soil Health Systems work with graziers to increase the variety of pasture species used in grazing. Through targeted engagement and demonstration sites, pasture would be re-seeded with a wider diversity of specifically selected species achieving a greater range of root depths and resulting in an increase in soil carbon capture and contributing to atmospheric carbon reduction.

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DETAIL: This strategy would enable the region wide coordination of citizen science by establishing a citizen science coordinator. The citizen science coordinator would assist existing regional citizen science groups to address key barriers that would enable an increase in their capacity and therefore participation in citizen science.


DETAIL: Strategic, targeted revegetation and a native plant policy in council areas are proposed in this strategy, with the ultimate goal of reducing sediment entering waterways and therefore improving water quality. Revegetation would be community and Traditional Owner led. These works would be complemented by establishing a native plant policy in council, whereby more native species are planted in council areas.

DETAIL: This strategy involves facilitating revegetation of high priority coastal zones by Traditional Owners. Traditional Owner-led revegetation would result in increased bush tucker, site rehabilitation, connection to Country and a reduction of light reaching the beach and therefore impacting turtles.

DETAIL: Reducing carbon emissions has been identified as critical to protecting the Great Barrier Reef. This strategy would see the implementation of a Community Based Social Marketing project to drive behaviour change in the region. For example, specific behaviours that could be targeted include promotion of greener transport and painting roofs white.

DETAIL: This strategy would assist in increasing the number of young people volunteering in the community through establishing volunteer projects within schools, led by community organisations. Ultimately this increase in the number and viability of volunteers would lead to an increase in on ground action.

DETAIL: The intent of this strategy is to improve and expand existing water quality regimes within the Whitsunday Islands area, with a focus on utilising the services of the tourism industry to deliver this monitoring as an ecotourism product. The outcome of this project would be more efficient water quality monitoring and a diversified tourism industry. Improvements in the understanding of water quality would in turn lead to more targeted water quality improvements.

DETAIL: This strategy takes two approaches, both with the aim of improving water quality. The first approach would be to increase the scientific literacy within the Whitsundays community through strategic promotion of the Healthy Rivers to Reef Report Card, and engagement of local people by the Whitsunday Local Marine Advisory Committee. The second approach would be to establish a ‘Reef Carer’ program, wherein participants agree to a Code of Conduct. This Code of Conduct will target common household behaviours which contribute to poor water quality.


The top four priority strategies showed a good mix of opportunities for citizen science outcomes, involvement of local residents in climate action and key community stakeholder-led actions. Each of the four strategies will be further scoped to develop a prospectus that can be used by the key stakeholders to secure further support for strategy implementation. Special focus will be given to ensure integration of cultural perspectives into project development and implementation.

It is recommended that these strategies also be included in the update of the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Natural Recourse Management Plan, which is due for review in the 2021-22 Financial Year. Community stakeholders are also encouraged to incorporate the priority strategies in relevant future planning processes.


Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland Government., Department of the Environment and Energy, Commonwealth Government. (2016). Reef 2050 Plan: policy guideline for decision makers. Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland Government.

Reef Catchments. (2014). Natural Resource Management Plan Mackay Whitsunday Isaac 2014 - 2024. Mackay: Reef Catchments.

Tourism & Events Queensland. (2020). International Tourism Snapshot - Year ending March 2020.