We have compiled some answers for our annual report card and other frequently asked questions. If you have any further questions, please get in touch. To view report card scores head to our online interactive report card.

Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card FAQ- 2019 Report card questions

What's new for the 2019 report card?

  • Signs of ecosystem repair from Tropical Cyclone Debbie are starting to show in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region’s seagrass meadows, demonstrating that ecosystem recovery takes time.
  • For the first time, estuary pesticide scores were based on monthly ambient monitoring plus additional data. This additional data was gathered through a Partnership-funded monitoring program designed to supplement existing monitoring to increase the temporal representativeness of data. Due to the successful establishment of this estuary monitoring program, estuary pesticide scores in the 2019 report card represent the most reliable estimate of pesticide condition to date.
  • The fish barrier indicator for freshwater and estuaries was updated for the 2019 report card. Updated fish barrier assessments in the Don freshwater basin showed that this catchment system comprises large areas of connected stream habitat. This on-ground work resulted in a better understanding of fish barriers in this basin and an improvement in grade compared to the last assessment.
  • The wetland extent indicator was updated for the 2019 report card, which is updated every four years. Whilst no natural or modified wetlands have been lost since the previous assessment, the scores reflect the significant historical loss estimated in regional wetlands.
  • This year the report card reports on both coral and pesticides for the first time in the Southern Inshore marine zone (the area south of Mackay), thanks to funding from one of our Partners, Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal. The Southern Inshore Monitoring Program has been running since 2017.

What was the climate like for the reporting period for the 2019 report card?

There was above average rainfall in the northern section of our region (between Bowen and Mackay) and below average rainfall recorded in the southern region during the 2018/19 reporting year. Some months throughout 2018/19 recorded above average rainfall, whilst others recorded much below average rainfall, highlighting the annual variability in rainfall patterns across our region.  This resulted in some of our regions having a higher-than-average annual rainfall (see below).

Monthly rainfall deciles and annual average decile for basin areas for the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac. (Data source: Bureau of Meteorology Regional Water Information http://www.bom.gov.au/water/rwi/#ra_pa/048/2019)

What impact does climate have on water quality?

Rainfall is a climate indicator and key driver of the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Periods of high rainfall cause land-based run-off to enter our waterways (rivers, creeks and estuaries) which eventually lead to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Pollutants such as sediments, nutrients and pesticides are transported in surface water run-off coming from a variety of land uses, including agricultural (sugar cane farms, grazing properties and horticultural operations) and urban (our towns, roads and wastewater treatment systems). Check out our conceptual model animation.

Do we finally understand the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Debbie?

Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie crossed the Queensland coastline near Airlie Beach on Tuesday 28th March 2017. It had a devastating and lasting impact to a number of communities and ecosystems, notably inshore coral and seagrass systems along the Mackay-Whitsunday coast.

We now understand the full extent of the cyclone’s damage on coral that are monitored in the Mackay-Whitsunday region, as all reefs have now been surveyed following the cyclone’s passing. This is highlighted in the further declines in coral scores for the Whitsunday Inshore Marine Zone for the 2019 report card. The low coral cover change and juvenile indicator scores (which assess the level of coral cover, the change in coral cover and the density of juvenile corals respectively) in the Whitsunday Inshore Marine Zone demonstrate poor recovery potential for these reefs.

Seagrass condition at monitored sites ranged from moderate to poor across North, Whitsunday and Central inshore marine zones, however there have been improvements since the declines in condition subsequent to the cyclone’s passing.

I want to know more about how Partners are responding to improve or maintain waterway health. Where can I go?

Our Partners undertake a range of activities to help improve all aspects of waterway health. We report on these in our management response to the Waterway Health report card, which is released around October of each year. The 2019 Stewardship Report will include many examples of Partners’ efforts to improve or maintain waterway health. Examples include:

  • Increasing adoption of best management practice in agriculture
  • Managing the spread of pest fish in our local waterways
  • Coral restoration projects in the Whitsundays
  • Working with tourism operators in the Whitsundays to collect water quality data
  • Streambank stabilisation works including fencing, revegetation and engineering.
  • Collaborative community marine debris clean-up activities
Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Report Card FAQ- General questions

Why do we produce an annual waterway health report card?

Watch our video to see why we produce a report card, how our report card works and where we fit in amongst other Great Barrier Reef reporting.

How is a report card score developed?

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Issac report card, launched in 2014, is a collaboration between community, Traditional Owners, farmers, fishers, industry, science, tourism, natural resource management groups and Government, who recognise that more can be delivered by working together. The report card uses the best independent science and integrates a range of Great Barrier Reef (GBR) wide and regional monitoring programs to measure waterway health in an environmental, social, economic and cultural context.

To arrive at report card indicators, priority aquatic ecosystem indicators that are suitable for measuring waterway health were selected for the report card based on relevant values and pressures in the Region. Each indicator has a relevant benchmark (for example, a water quality guideline) that signals if it is in very good or very poor condition. Regional data for each indicator is compared to benchmarks using a specific methodology to produce a score. Scores correspond to one of five condition grades: Very Good (A), Good (B), Moderate (C), Poor (D), Very Poor (E). Scores for each indicator are rolled up into categories and indices, and these scores are used to produce an overall score for an individual reporting zone in the Region.

The report card’s Technical Working Group (TWG) has worked to ensure the report card indicators and scoring methods are based on the best available science, are locally relevant, reflect changes to waterway health, and are consistent with other report card programs across Queensland where applicable.

The Partnership have also developed a 5-year report card program design to outline the frameworks used to develop the report cards between 2017 and 2022. It outlines that which has been established in previous report cards, as well as the plan for improving report cards over the 2017-2022 timeframe.

What is the difference between an indicator, indicator category and index?

An indicator is the measured feature in the ecosystem (e.g. particulate nitrogen). By combining one or more related indicators, we can produce an indicator category (e.g. the category ‘nutrients’ is made up of particulate nitrogen and particulate phosphorus). Similarly, an index is generated by combining related indicator categories (e.g. the index ‘water quality’ is made up of nutrients, water clarity, chlorophyll-a and pesticides). Lastly, the overall score is generated by one or more indices (e.g. water quality, coral, seagrass and fish indices can make up an inshore marine zone score).

Indicators, categories and indices are displayed in a ‘coaster’ to display which indicators are aggregated to produce category and index scores.

What period of time do the report cards cover?

Annual reporting covers a full financial year stretching from July of one year to June of the next. This timeline for annual reporting has been selected because it takes into account the dry and wet season cycle, ensuring that each wet season is included in one reporting period.

Why is there a delay between the data collection and the release of the report card?

In preparation for a report card, data needs be collated and validated, and undergoes comprehensive analysis before it is ready to be released in the report card. This process takes six to nine months, depending on the type of data. Time is also needed to review the processes for collecting data, along with the data itself. This process is undertaken by both the Technical Working Group, and the Reef Independent Science Panel.

The Partnership is committed to reducing the time between data collection and report card release in order to improve the timeliness and relevance of the report card. Our 2018 report card (released in 2019) was the first of our report cards with an improved release timeframe, cutting 4 months off the report card process. Our 2019 report card (released July 2020) followed that new timeline. We are continually exploring new ways to further improve our reporting timeliness in the future.

We aim to release the accompanying Technical Reports to the report card within the same 12 month timeframe from the 2019 report card (released 2020) onwards.

Are there minimum data rules for the report card?

At the indicator level, the amount of data (sample size) needed to obtain an indicator score is considered on a case-by-case basis by data providers and the experts in the report card’s Technical Working Group (TWG). If the sample size is considered inadequate the indicator will not be scored.

To aggregate indicators into category and index scores, decision rules were developed for the minimum proportion of information required:

  • ≥ 50% of measured indicators to generate the indicator category score (where relevant)
  • ≥ 60% of indicator categories to generate an index score *

Overall scores for reporting zones are presented in the report card, even if not all indices are available.

*Due to the interim approach for reporting the seagrass index, which incorporates two separate programs (each reporting three of their own specific indicators), there needed to be a separate decision rule for generating seagrass index scores. For more information please refer to the technical reports

What is data confidence and how is it scored?

Every time an observation is made (data is collected) or a score is calculated, there is potential for error. Data confidence helps to describe how confident managers and experts are in the methods of data collection and analysis that are used to produce an indicator score reported in the report card. Confidence surrounding the report card grades is measured on a five-point scale. This tells us how confident we are, from very low to very high, that the calculated grade reflects the true condition of the indicator. Click here for more information on data confidence.

Why should some results be viewed with caution?

Where confidence is not high (a score of three dots or lower), results should be interpreted with caution. An example of this is for water quality results in the freshwater river basins, which has a confidence score of three. This is because the overall score for water quality for many of the basins is derived from only one site per river basin (for example the Pioneer basin) . Even though samples are taken monthly from these sites, caution should be used when interpreting the results, as the site sampled might not represent the rest of the waterways in the basin (for example, water quality in the upper sections of a waterway may be in better condition than in the lower section where a sample site is located and vice versa). For the first time, additional water quality sites were included in the O’Connell and Plane basins, which were reported in our 2018 report card. These additional sites have also been included in the 2019 report card, with 2 sites in both the O’Connell and Plane basins making up the overall score. For more information, see our confidence page and the interactive results page, where confidence for each indicator is shown.

Why are there grey areas in the coasters of the report card?

Grey areas indicate where there is a data gap. There are a number of reasons why there are data gaps in the report card. Importantly, data used for the report card must be collected and analysed in a scientifically robust manner. This could mean that data is available on a particular indicator, but a significant body of work may still be required to ensure that the indicator is reported in a suitable format for the report card. In other circumstances, there might be multiple programs collecting data, and additional analyses must be done make sure that data between programs is consistent and comparable (e.g. data gaps for fish across the Region). However, in earlier report cards (2014-2017) there were no monitoring programs in some parts of the region, and the condition of the indicators was completely unknown (e.g. in the southern inshore marine zone). The report card process has helped to identify these significant knowledge gaps and the Partnership has led the establishment of monitoring in the southern inshore zone, so that we will start to understand the condition of the indicators in this zone.

The Partnership is continuously improving the report card by filling data gaps and ultimately the grey areas on the report card.  Recently, this has included new water quality data for the Don, reporting on fish community health in the Proserpine, developing a method for reporting on freshwater flow and establishing a monitoring program in the southern inshore zone. This demonstrates the Partnership’s commitment to improving the Region’s report card by filling data gaps and subsequently providing a better understanding of regional waterway health.

What is measured to produce the score for the pesticides indicator?

Pesticides in the report card are developed using the Pesticide Risk Metric (see Technical documents for further information). The aim of this approach is to quantify the ecological risk associated with exposure to a mixture of pesticides.

Below are the 22 pesticides that are measured in freshwater and estuary zones in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card. Pesticide data is collected as part of the great Barrier Reef Catchment Loads Monitoring Program (GBRCLMP) water quality program run through the Queensland Government’s Department of Environment and Science. The Partnership also fund an Estuary Pesticide Monitoring Program to supplement existing data that was included in the 2019 report card for the first time.

19 pesticides are included in the inshore marine zone. Pesticides highlighted in orange in the table were not captured for the inshore marine zones for the 2019 report card.

Including additional pesticides in our report cards improves our understanding, leading to an eventual increase in confidence of pesticide concentrations in our local water ways.

What is measured in the cultural heritage assessments?

Cultural Heritage site assessments were reported in the 2015 and 2018 report card. Cultural Heritage assessments evaluated the value and condition of Indigenous cultural heritage sites associated with waterways throughout the region. Site types that were assessed included shell middens and scatters, rock shelters, paintings, engravings, stone artefacts, quarries, stone resources and fish traps.


Assessments have been undertaken in the St Helens, Cape Hillsborough , Cape Palmerston and Whitsunday Islands zones. Assessments are undertaken for the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership, in collaboration with the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG) who represent the Yuwibura, Koinjmal/Koinmerburra, Barada/Widi, and Ngaro/Gia/Juru Traditional Owners of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region.


The next update for Cultural Heritage site assessments will be for the 2020 report card (released in 2021).


For more information on cultural heritage assessments, see our Cultural heritage page.

What are social and economic indicators and why do we measure them?

Social and Economic indicators have been developed to understand the dynamic relationship between people and the natural environment such as the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This relationship is described as the ‘human dimension’ of environmental management, acknowledging that people value, depend on and interact with the Reef.  The social component of the report card aims to represent the perceptions held by local residents regarding the condition and management of the GBR and its associated waterways and, importantly, their individual capacity to take action that will influence positive environmental change in these systems. The indicators also assess the value and wellbeing benefits that community derive from the GBR.  The economic component of the report card assesses perceptions of economic opportunity provided by the GBR.

It is important to measure perceptions of social and economic indicators over time, to identify changes in the way the community perceive and value the Reef. In turn, this helps Reef managers to align the Marine Park priorities with that of the community. Social and economic indicators are measured using data derived from the Social and Economic Long Term Monitoring Program (SELTMP), which surveys local residents and tourists in population centres along the GBR coastline.

What is Stewardship and how do we measure it?

We assess both agricultural and non-agricultural stewardship in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card. We define stewardship as “responsible and sustainable use and protection of our water resources, waterways and catchments to enhance the social, cultural, environmental and economic values of the Region”.

The Partnership currently assesses annually how our regional industries are performing against stewardship criteria. Stewardship is important to include in our annual report cards as it provides information on the actions that landholders and organisations in the Region are implementing that will provide benefits to ecosystems.

Each year we assess management efforts by our major non-agricultural industries that maintain or improve the condition of our waterways. These efforts are scored across three activity groups (administration, operations, and development) and across three management themes (planning, implementation, and outcome). Data is collected via questionnaires to a series of organisations/companies from each industry. Information in the public domain such as management plans, as well as compliance data (with confidential information removed) is also added to the data pool for each industry. A stewardship score is then calculated for each management theme and activity group for each industry across four categories: ineffective, partially effective, effective and very effective management practices.

For the agriculture assessment, the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card aligns its stewardship reporting with the GBR report card, which are reported through the Paddock to Reef (P2R) program. Frameworks that have been developed, reviewed, and endorsed by industry are currently available for grazing, sugarcane, and horticulture and are based on the joint Australian and Queensland Government’s Paddock to Reef reporting that uses “Water Quality Risk frameworks” (previously “ABCD Frameworks”).

How is fish community health measured in our freshwater basins?

Two separate indicators of fish community health are measured to provide a condition score:

  • Native species richness (number of native fish species in a sample); and
  • Abundance of pest fish (proportion of a sample that is pest fish)

Fish are sampled by electrofishing. To derive a fish score, samples from the 2015/16 year were compared to what is ‘expected’ in a minimally disturbed reference stream with similar landscape attributes. The ‘expected’ fish scores are modelled from fish sampling data provided by Catchment Solutions, Reef Catchments, as well as the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation from reference waterways.

Currently, the diversity of species (composition) that are observed during the sampling are not considered when determining a condition score. More work will be undertaken in the future to improve the ‘expected’ model and examine how fish community health can incorporate species composition in the overall score.

What improvements have been made to fill data gaps in the report card?

A number of projects are underway to fill current data gaps or to expand on existing programs:

  • A project designed to develop appropriate indicators and methodology for freshwater and estuarine flows in our freshwater basins and estuaries, in collaboration with the Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership, has been completed. This allowed the flow indicator, reported in the habitat and hydrology index, to be reported for the first time in the 2018 report card.
  • The Partnership established a new annual monitoring program for water quality, seagrass and coral in the southern marine inshore zone in September 2017. This program resulted in the following changes in the 2019 report card:
    • Water quality data from this monitoring program contributed to the first scores for the southern marine zone in the 2018 report card.
    • Coral survey data contributes to scores in the southern marine inshore zone in the 2019 report card.
    • Seagrass survey data will contribute to scores in the southern marine inshore zone in the 2022 report card.
    • Pesticides, which form part of the water quality index, contributes to the score in the 2019 report card for the first time.
  • Additional end-of-system water quality monitoring sites at the Don River, Proserpine River, O’Connell River and Plane Creek have been established since December 2016 as part of the expansion of the DES Great Barrier Reef Catchment Loads Monitoring Program. This program expansion resulted in the following changes in the 2019 report card:
    • Water quality data was reported for the first time in the Don basin and pesticide data in the Proserpine basins in the 2017 report card.
    • An additional Proserpine water quality site, funded by the Partnership, will be established in the 20/21 FY.
  • Additional pesticide monitoring (funded by the Partnership) in estuaries was established in 2018. This means that pesticide scores in our estuaries are based on 18 wet season samples (compared to just 4 wet season samples previously). This has improved our confidence in estuary reporting.
  • The Partnership is working with relevant citizen science organisations and initiatives to include relevant datasets in future report cards. For more information about citizen science organisations in the GBR Region, click here.
  • The Partnership is working within a number of the Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Modelling Reporting Program’s (RIMMReP) working groups, including the Human Dimensions group, to develop suitable indicators and monitoring programs that can be used in future report cards. The Human Dimensions group covers social, economic, governance and cultural heritage components of the Reef 2050 Plan. For more information on RIMMRep, click here.
  • A pilot Urban Stewardship project was undertaken in 2019 in the MWI region. The project benchmarks the level of management practice being applied to urban development, stormwater management and sewage treatment. The project will be initiated across the region in the 2020-21 Financial Year onwards.
  • A marine debris indicator will be developed in collaboration with other Partnerships within the GBR report card network in the 2020-21 Financial Year onwards.
Differences between Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card and Great Barrier Reef report card

What are the differences between the Great Barrier Reef and Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report cards?

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) report card addresses the entire GBR system and measures progress towards the goals and targets of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (replacing the 2013 Reef Water Quality Protection Plan). The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card is just one of the regional report cards along the coast of the GBR that reports on the health of our waterways and ecosystems at a local level. Being able to understand the health of local ecosystems alongside local community values enables management priorities and actions to occur at a regional scale. Our Partnership is a group of 31 organisations that use the report card to help direct action and funding to keeping our waterways and ecosystems healthy!

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card reports on a number of different ecosystem health indicators as compared with other regional report cards in Queensland. Indicators are tailored to each region and are chosen by each Partnership. This report card explainer highlights the indicators that each Partnership uses in their report cards.

How does the geographical area of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card differ to the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region in the Great Barrier Reef report card?

The geographical area of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card includes the Don, Proserpine, O’Connell, Pioneer, and Plane river basins. The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card also reports on offshore and inshore waters separately and divides the inshore area into four separate zones (the Northern, Whitsunday, Central and Southern zones). In comparison, the GBR report card does not include the Don basin nor offshore waters when referring to the Mackay-Whitsunday region, and reports on the inshore zone as a whole.

What is Paddock to Reef and what Paddock to Reef data sets are used in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card?

The Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef, established in 2009) is a collaboration between governments, industry bodies, regional natural resource management bodies, landholders and research organisations. The program collects and integrates data on agricultural management practices, catchment indicators, catchment loads and the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card draws on data from the Paddock to Reef Program to report on seagrass, coral and water quality in our inshore marine zones, water quality in our catchments, and management practice of our sugarcane, grazing and horticulture industries.

Why might there be differences in management practice scores for sugarcane, grazing and horticulture compared to the GBR report card?

Management practice data is reported at the Natural Resource Management (NRM) region level. However, because the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card includes the Don basin (meaning it is not the same as the Mackay-Whitsunday NRM region), this means that management practice data may be different to the GBR report card.

One example of these regional reporting differences is that the GBR report card does not include the Don basin when reporting the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region. This is particularly relevant to grazing and horticulture management practice reporting. Because there is minimal horticulture in the Proserpine, O’Connell, Pioneer, and Plane basins, horticulture is not reported in the Mackay-Whitsunday region in the GBR report card. However, horticulture is a key land use activity in the Don basin, which means that it is included in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card.

Why might there be differences in scores for seagrass, coral and water quality in the inshore marine zone for the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card compared to scores in the GBR report card, even though the same data is used?

There are currently two different seagrass monitoring programs in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region: the Marine Monitoring Program (MMP) and the Queensland Ports Seagrass Monitoring Program (QPSMP). The two programs have different aims, which means that they do not measure the same seagrass attributes or use the same methodologies. Data from both of these programs are utilised to produce a seagrass score for the four inshore marine zones. Work is underway to integrate the data from both programs so that the same indicators are used to report seagrass across the reporting zones in the future.

Condition scores for the four inshore zones in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card are calculated from seagrass, coral and water quality data. The data is obtained through the QPSMP (commissioned by North Queensland Bulk Ports) and Paddock to Reef (GBR report card). Data in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card is also assessed differently to the GBR report card as they are reported in four separate inshore marine zones. As a result, this can mean that scores for seagrass, coral and water quality in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card do not always match the scores for the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region in the GBR report card.

What is the difference in reporting pollutants (nutrients, sediment and pesticides) in catchments, between the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card and the GBR report card?

In river basins (also known as catchments), the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card reports pollutants, including nutrients, sediment, and pesticides as one index titled ‘water quality’. This index is based on the annual concentrations of these pollutants in the waterways.

This method is different to the GBR report card in a couple ways. While the GBR report card reports the same pollutant groups as the MWI report card, it reports them as estimates of the annual average reduction in a) human-caused nutrients, b) sediment and c) pesticide loads at the end of catchments (an annual load delivered to the marine environment), which is based on modelling. These catchment loads are an indication of the total mass of pollutants entering the GBR over a period of time, whereas measuring the concentration of pollutants via water quality sampling (done in the MWI report card) gives a snapshot of waterway health at that one location at that time.

Therefore, even though the same pollutants are being reported in our catchments, the two report cards actually report two different sides of waterway health. Because of this, they cannot be expected to match, nor can they be directly compared.