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:

‘The responsible and sustainable use, and protection of water resources, waterways and catchments to enhance the social, cultural, environmental and economic values of the region’.

The Partnership have now released two highly successful stewardship reports (read the most recent one here). This initiative focuses on stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region, including community and industry responses to waterway health issues in our region. Stay tuned for the release of this product, which can be read in conjunction with the latest Report Card, later in 2022.


Non-agricultural Stewardship

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region’s non-agricultural sector ranges from tourism, aquaculture and urban, to heavy industry and Ports. The Report Card has previously reported stewardship for non-agricultural sectors and industry by assessing different management practice proportions relating to management practise frameworks specific to each industry. The new Urban Water Stewardship Framework was reported in the 2021 Stewardship Report and the 2021 Report Card (released in August 2022). This process has been led by the Office of the Great Barrier Reef and can be applied across all regional report cards in the Great Barrier Reef. The Partnership are also releasing their fourth stewardship report later in 2022, which will showcase the many stewardship projects that are occurring in the region to improve waterway health and our local ecosystems.


Agricultural Stewardship

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region has a diverse agricultural sector, with the most prominent 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.

Agricultural stewardship could not be reported in 2021 due to a review of the Management Practice Adoption targets by the Queensland Government. It is anticipated that results will be updated again in the 2022 Report Card. The 2019 agricultural scores for sugarcane, grazing and horticulture are presented below.

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 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.


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 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.


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 water stewardship framework (led by the Office of the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland Department of Environment and Science) was developed 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.


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 2019 Report Card, there was an increase of sugarcane farming land being managed by best practice of approximately 1.1% relating to soil, 2.2% for nutrients and 0.6% for pesticides from the 2018 Report Card in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region.

Sugarcane under best practice (%)


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 2019 Report Card, approximately 38.1% of grazing land was being managed using best management practice systems related to pasture (hillslope) erosion, 33.7% for practices relating to streambank erosion and 31.9% for practices relating to gully erosion.

There was an increase of 0.2% in the area managed for pasture management when compared to the 2018 Report Card. There was no increase in the area of gullies or streambanks managed using best practice.

Grazing under best practice (%)


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 2019 Report Card, horticulture land managed under best management practice was approximately 41.2% for soil, 4.2% for nutrients and 61.3% for pesticides. This was similar for the 2018 Report Card, resulting in no practice change adopted between the reporting years.

Horticulture under best practice (%)