Stewardship assessments in the Mackay-Whitsunday report card

Stewardship is assessed in the annual Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report cards in both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors within the region. Stewardship is defined as:

‘Actions taken by individuals, groups or networks, with various motivations and levels of capacity, to protect, care for or responsibly use the environment in pursuit of environmental and/or social outcomes in diverse social-ecological contexts’.


Non-agricultural stewardship

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region’s non-agricultural sector ranges from tourism, aquaculture and urban, to heavy industry and Ports. Stewardship for non-agricultural sectors/industry is reported on by assessing the percent of the sector/industry that is operating at different management practice levels relating to management practise frameworks specific to each industry. Non-agricultural stewardship is currently assessed by the region’s major sectors/industries annually via a survey with Environmental Managers and review of compliance data.

Agricultural stewardship

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region has a diverse agricultural sector, with important commodities being grazing, sugarcane and horticulture. Many North Queensland farmers are improving the profitability and long-term sustainability of their farms by adopting best management practices. Through these practices, they are also improving the quality of the water entering the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card aligns its agricultural stewardship reporting with the GBR report card, which are reported through the Paddock to Reef (P2R) program. Farm management practice adoption benchmarks were revised for each agricultural industry practice for the 2018 GBR report card (released in 2019). As the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card aligns its agricultural stewardship reporting baselines with the GBR report card, the revised agricultural management practice baselines were utilised for the 2018 report card.

Scores for agriculture and non-agricultural stewardship for 2018 are presented below.

The Partnership released the 2018 Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac stewardship report in October 2019, a brand new initiative released by the Partnership for the first time, with a focus on stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region and community and industry response to waterway health issues in our region. This product can be read in conjunction with the 2018 report card. 

Heavy Industry

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region has a large diversity of heavy industry activities, including coal export terminals, sugar mills, meat processing facilities and storage areas for commodities such as mineral sands, petroleum products and grain. These industries are highly regulated and have effective environmental practices in place to protect ecosystem health and water quality.

The overall result for heavy industry stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region 2018 report card was effective. This was similar to the 2016, 2015 and 2014 report cards.


The aquaculture industry in the Mackay-Whitsunday Region is comprised of a small number of prawn, barramundi, and red-claw crayfish farms. The industry is highly regulated, primarily in relation to waste water discharges and the management of biosecurity issues such as disease.

The overall result for aquaculture in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region 2018 report card was very effective.


One port authority (North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation) operates the Ports of Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point within the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region and is a highly regulated industry. The region’s ports account for approximately 50 per cent of Queensland’s total export sea trade.

The overall result for ports stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac 2018 report card was very effective. 


The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region is a hub for tourism operations, with approximately 45% of tourists visiting the Great Barrier Reef participating in activities in the region. The commercial marine tourism industry of the region is comprised of a number of operations and activities, including reef cruises and boat tours, organised diving and snorkelling, boat charters, air charters, and water-based sports. The industry is closely regulated, primarily in relation to access and operations within Marine Park and National Park islands.

The overall result for tourism stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac 2018 report card was effective.


Urban development within the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region is concentrated along the coastal zone. Urban land uses occur predominantly within cities such as Mackay and large regional centres. Several small towns are also located inland and along the coast.
Urban stewardship results are currently generated from a range of information sources, including surveys completed by companies involved in urban development, commercial airport facilities, local governments, compliance data from the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP), and a range of relevant studies and publications (e.g. council annual reports).

A new urban stewardship framework is currently being developed, led by the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland Department of Environment and Science, with the main purpose of the framework to assess and report the level of urban water stewardship in Reef water quality and regional report cards to demonstrate the degree to which urban water managers are contributing to improving water quality in GBR catchments. It is expected that this new framework will be incorporated into the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card in future years.

The overall results for urban stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac 2018 report card was effective. 


Sugarcane is an important agricultural industry for the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region and currently accounts for 20% of land use in the region. The Central Region Sugar Industry is located to the north and south of Mackay and is organised around 2 milling groups in the region. Stewardship in the sugarcane industry is reported against a specific sugarcane water quality risk framework.

For the 2018 report card, approximately 6.0% of sugarcane farming land was being managed using best practice management for practices relating to pesticides, 7.1% for nutrients and 2.3% for soil.

Management area2016 BenchmarkSugarcane under best practice management (%) for 2017-18 reporting year

Grazing is an important and valuable industry in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region, and accounts for 42% of land use. Graziers in the region face unique challenges as beef producers being situated in a coastal and Central Queensland climate. Stewardship in the grazing industry is reported against a specific grazing water quality risk framework.

For the 2018 report card, approximately 37.9% of grazing land was being managed using best management practice systems for practices related to pasture (hillslope) erosion, 33.7% for practices relating to streambank erosion and 31.9% for practices relating to gully erosion.

Management area2016 BenchmarkGrazing under best practice (%) for 2017-18 reporting year

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region has a well-established and strong horticulture industry, with the most significant area under horticulture found in the Don basin, near Bowen. The region has a vibrant and growing fruit and vegetable community producing mangoes, citrus fruits, pineapples, passion fruit, strawberries and avocados, seasonal vegetables, as well as manufacturing value-added products with sauces, jams and pickles. Stewardship in the horticulture industry is reported against a specific horticulture water quality risk framework.

For the 2018 report card, approximately 41.2% of horticulture land was being managed by best management practice for soil, 4.2% for nutrients and 61.3% for pesticides.

Management area2016 BenchmarkHorticulture under best practice (%) for 2017-18 reporting year