Signs of repair from Tropical Cyclone Debbie are starting to show in the region’s seagrass meadows, demonstrating that ecosystem recovery takes time. The latest waterway health scores for the region were released today, with half of the sites scoring a B or “good” grade.
The annual waterway health report card is produced annually by the 31 partner organisations in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership. The Partnership is a collective that includes local, state and federal government, conservation, ports and coal, tourism, agriculture, Traditional Owners and more.
The latest report card shows overall scores across our region, ranging from D (poor) to B (good) for freshwater, estuary (where rivers meet the sea) and marine areas. The grades are made up of a wide range of waterway health indicators scored in the region’s annual waterway health report card including freshwater fish community health, water quality, seagrass and coral.
Overall waterway health scores have remained relatively consistent, with 14 of the 18 zones scoring the same as the 2018 report, which was released last year. Two scores have lifted (northern Inshore Marine Zone and, Murray and St. Helens Creek Estuaries) and two have decreased (Gregory Estuary and Vines Estuary). Pesticides continue to be the poorest scoring water quality indicator, with the Proserpine and Plane basins scoring very poor.
“This is the sixth consecutive year that we are telling the story of our waterways through report cards. Every year we are collecting more information and the picture is becoming clearer”, said Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership Chair, Julie Boyd.
A Partnership-funded Estuary Pesticide Monitoring Program across the region has been introduced this year, designed to supplement existing water quality monitoring. As a result of this monitoring program, scores in the 2019 report card represent the most reliable estuary pesticide data to date.
This year we also report on coral for the first time in the southern inshore marine zone of our report card, thanks to funding from one of our Partners, Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT). The Southern Inshore Monitoring Program has been running since 2017.
“These report cards mean that regional decision-making can be backed by science, and that our partner organisations and community leaders can direct their activities and investment where it is most needed. Improvements by our Partner organisations take time to show improvements in these ecosystems and their scores, and that is another reason why long-term monitoring of our waterways is so important”, said Executive Officer of the Partnership, Charlie Morgan.
Partner comment has been provided below for media use as needed. Please attribute to the relevant spokesperson.
CANEGROWERS Mackay CEO Kerry Latter said cane growers were continuing along a path of farm practice improvement as technologies and knowledge advanced.
“Many cane growers work and live along local waterways and take their roles as local custodians of their land and water seriously. They genuinely care about the wildlife they experience daily on their farms and many are keen fishers.
“The sugar industry has invested heavily into research areas such as the incorporation of inputs and soil health. Yes, growers unapologetically use fertiliser and agricultural chemicals for their crops to ensure yields provide the financial returns needed to run a sustainable farming business. But these inputs are very expensive and growers’ focus remains on maximising the retention of all inputs on the farm, maximising their incorporation in the soil and optimising their up-take by the crop.
“We are proud of the fact that Smartcane BMP, our voluntary best practices program in the sugar industry has the highest rate of grower uptake in the Mackay/Plane Creek region of all districts. A total of 131 growers on 20,185.9 ha have been accredited. In addition, 577 growers have been benchmarked (the start of their accreditation journey) on 75,000 ha.
“I have no doubt that future report cards developed by the Partnership will show us the progress the industry is making in its endeavours to keep inputs on farms so that water quality continues to improve” Mr Latter said.
CANEGROWERS Mackay is a founding member of the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnerships, recognising the benefits of having all sectors of the community represented around the table to be kept informed of the status concerning the human environmental footprint across waterways and reefs in the region.
Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal
DBCT Manager Safety, Risk and Environment, Ricci Churchill, said the increase to southern inshore marine monitoring was a great example of how industry can provide a leadership role through supporting the local partnerships to achieve their goals.
“For the past three years we’ve provided specific funding for the Southern Inshore monitoring, which has allowed for data gaps to be addressed and for the partnership to be able to realise their full objectives.
“I’m extremely proud of DBCT for funding such important research to make sure our Great Barrier Reef remains great for our generation and those to come,” Ms Churchill said.
Isaac Regional Council
“Anne Barker, Mayor of Isaac Regional Council said, “The report card provides a great snapshot on how our region is progressing toward our environmental outcomes”.
“Our sustainable natural asset management is critical to the region’s economic and social prosperity.
“The Isaac region is unique in that we cover an area the size of Tasmania, and part of our responsibility includes thriving coastal wetlands and reefs, rivers that play an integral part in the region’s catchments and a diverse range of native plants and animals”, Mayor Barker said.
North Queensland Bulk Ports
Queensland Government-owned North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation’s longstanding and extensive marine monitoring program with the James Cook University (JCU) Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Research (TropWATER) contributes valuable data to the report card.
“NQBP is proud to be among this partnership’s 31 members who all share the same interest and passion for the health of our region’s rivers and the reef,” NQBP CEO Nicolas Fertin said.
“Last year, we were delighted our partnerships with James Cook University and the Health Rivers to Reef Partnership were recognised by winning the Outstanding Collaboration for National Benefit category at the 2019 Business Higher Education Round Table (BHERT) awards.
“We look forward to building on this success by implementing new innovative research methods and technologies for the benefit of science in the near future.”
Sugar Research Australia
Molly O’Dea, Adoption Officer with Sugar Research Australia said, “As a new partner, SRA has appreciated the opportunity to be involved in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership”.
“It has been valuable working in collaboration with the other partners to help understand and improve waterway health. Being part of this Partnership helps put our farm scale water quality work into the bigger catchment picture and allows us to see how farm scale practices can impact on the whole catchment,” Ms O’Dea said.
Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association
Sharon Smallwood, Executive Secretary, Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association said “Tourism operators are often the first to become acutely aware of changes in water quality around the Whitsunday islands and corresponding reefs”.
“Being a part of the Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership helps us analyse and better understand the causes and effects.
“Report Card data is essential when advocating for policies and programs that will better protect our World Heritage waterways and the share of the $6.3 Billion industry they represent. It also helps us to collaborate successfully and meaningfully on management actions.
“The WCBIA is proud to be a Healthy Rivers to Reef Partner and we look forward to achieving many more stewardship results”, Sharon Smallwood said.