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- 2018 Report card questions

What's new for the 2018 report card?

Great question! The 2018 report card is the most comprehensive report card released by the Partnership. We were also able to release our report card four months earlier than we have ever released a report card before. The Partnership are committed to the continuous improvement of the Mackay-Whitsunday waterway health report card!

List of firsts:

  • For the first time, up to 13 additional pesticides have been captured in reporting in freshwater basins and inshore marine zones. This is the most comprehensive understanding of the region’s pesticide challenges yet, with up to 22 pesticides now assessed in these areas. Two new freshwater water quality monitoring sites (one in the O’Connell Basin and one in the Plane Basin) provided data for scores for the first time this year. This improves our data set and increases the number of sites we receive information from. Eventually, increased monitoring sites will help improve overall confidence in results.
  • Freshwater flow is a positive indicator for habitat health and species diversity and was assessed for the first time in the O’Connell and Pioneer basins.
  • Water quality data was available in all marine zones for the first time.
  • Freshwater fish community grades were updated for the first time since 2015, reflecting its three-year reporting cycle. This included the Proserpine basin which was scored for the first time.
  • This year sees our first score ever for the Southern Inshore Zone – the water quality indicator. We have this information thanks to the successful development of a monitoring program established in the zone for water quality, coral and seagrass. This highlights the Partnership’s commitment to improve report card data and ultimately the understanding of ecosystem health in the Mackay-Whitsunday region. Coral and seagrass indicators are expected to be incorporated in future report cards.
  • Scores for new seagrass sites and locations were incorporated in the 2018 report card scores for the first time in the Whitsunday zone: Lindeman Island (Marine Monitoring Program (MMP)); and the central zone: Dudgeon Point (Queensland Ports Seagrass Monitoring Program (QPSMP)), St Bees Island (QPSMP), Keswick Island (QPSMP) and a citizen science Seagrass Watch site at St Helens.
  • Indigenous cultural heritage assessments were undertaken at 23 sites associated with waterways, which for the first time included sites at Cape Palmerston.

What was the climate like for the reporting period for the 2018 report card?

For the 2018 report card reporting period (1st July 2017 to 30th June 2018), below average rainfall was received across the region. No tropical cyclones crossed the region’s coast during the 2018 reporting period, however the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Debbie, which crossed the coast on the 28th March 2017, can still be seen, particularly in seagrass and coral habitats. Rainfall and climate can impact water quality indicators.

What are the additional pesticides that were included in the report card for the 2018 report card and why were they included?

Below are the 22 pesticides that have been included for freshwater pesticides in the 2018 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. At this stage, only 19 pesticides have been included in inshore marine reporting. Pesticides highlighted in orange have not been included in the 2018 report card for inshore marine pesticides, however these are expected to be included in future report cards.

Including additional pesticides in our reporting improves our understanding and eventually confidence of pesticide concentrations present in our local waterways.

Why are pesticides in Mackay-Whitsunday estuaries not reported on for the 2018 report card?

Unfortunately due to lack of data, we were not able to report on pesticides in Mackay-Whitsunday estuaries for the 2018 report card. It is expected that we will report on pesticides again for the 2019 report card (released in 2020).

Is there still evidence of damage from Tropical Cyclone Debbie in our region?

Tropical Cyclone Debbie caused considerable damage in the Mackay-Whitsunday region when it crossed the coast on March 28th 2017. It brought with it high rainfall, high wave action and ultimately flooding of many major rivers in our catchments. Our seagrass and coral habitats are continuing to show evidence of being impacted by Cyclone Debbie, and this is reflected in our report card scores in the inshore zones. Our scores for vegetation extent (riparian, wetland and mangrove/saltmarsh extent) are due to be updated for our 2019 report card (released in 2020). Currently, these scores do not capture impacts from the cyclone.

The full impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie in the offshore zone is yet to be realised for coral, as coral scores for several reefs are yet to be updated in monitoring to include post cyclone observations.

To see how the region responded to Cyclone Debbie, see our special feature on Cyclone Debbie.

Why are scores for freshwater fish 'good', even though pest fish have been found in some of our local waterways?

For our 2018 report card, four out of five basins were scored for freshwater fish (Proserpine, O’Connell, Pioneer and Plane basins). Scores are currently based off two indicator categories; native fish richness and pest fish abundance, which compare sampled data to modelled data.

Overall freshwater fish community grades for each basin assessed were good or very good for the 2018 report card. Scores are presented across a basin wide assessment for freshwater fish, and while pest fish are present in some of our local waterways, they are, at this point, currently patchily distributed. If we want to maintain these scores (and ultimately keep our freshwater fish populations healthy), it is critical that we continue to manage and prevent the spread of pest fish in our local waterways. Some of our Partners are working hard to prevent the spread of pest fish in some of our local waterways. The Partnership are releasing a second report card this year which will showcase the management efforts in the Mackay-Whitsunday region, so watch this space for more information on how the region is responding and what you can do to improve waterway health!

A grade for fish in the Don basin is expected in future report cards.

I want to know more about how the region is responding to improve all aspects of water quality in the region, where can I go?

Our Partners undertake a range of activities to help improve all aspects of waterway health, with examples including:

  • Increasing adoption of Best Management Practice in agriculture
  • Managing the spread of pest fish in our local waterways
  • Coral restoration trials in the Whitsundays
  • Streambank stabilisation works including fencing, revegetation and engineering works

We are releasing a second report card this year, which will showcase the activities and management response to improving water quality in our region. Stay tuned for this report card, to be released later in the year!

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 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 takes six to nine months, depending on the data set. 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 (TWG), and the Reef Independent Science Panel (ISP).

The Partnership is committed to reducing the time between data collection and report card release, to improve the timeliness and relevance of the report card. Our 2018 report card (released in 2019) has an improved release timeframe, cutting 4 months off the report card process.

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

An indicator is the measured feature in the ecosystem (e.g. particulate nitrogen); an indicator category is generated by combining one or more related indicators (e.g. the category ‘nutrients’ is made up of particulate nitrogen and particulate phosphorus); an index is generated by combining related categories (e.g. the index ‘water quality’ is made up of nutrients, water clarity, chlorophyll-a and pesticides); the overall score is generated by one or more index (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 demonstrate which indicators are aggregated to produce category and index scores.

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.

Why should some results be viewed with caution?

Where confidence is not high (a score of three or lower), results should be viewed with caution. An example of this is for water quality in the freshwater river basins, which has a confidence score of three. This is because the overall score for water quality is derived from only one site per river basin. Even though samples are taken monthly from these sites, caution should be used when interpreting 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 more information see our confidence page and the interactive results page, where confidence for each indicator is shown.

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

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. In some cases, data may be available on a particular indicator, but a significant body of work may still be required to ensure that is reported in a suitable format for the report card. In other circumstances, there might be multiple programs collecting data and work needs to be done to ensure data between programs is consistent and comparable (e.g. data gaps for fish across the Region). However, for a number of situations throughout the Mackay-Whitsunday Region, there are no monitoring programs in place and the condition of the indicators is completely unknown (e.g. fish community in the estuarine and marine zones).

The Partnership are continuously improving the report card by filling data gaps and ultimately the grey areas on the report card. This has included new water quality data for the Don, reporting on fish in the Proserpine, developing a method for reporting on freshwater flow, and establishing a monitoring program in the southern inshore zone.

Adding to our knowledge 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 in the cultural heritage assessments?

Cultural Heritage site assessments have been undertaken in 2016 and 2018 to report in the 2015 and 2018 report card respectively. Cultural heritage assessments evaluate 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, Hook and South Molle Islands zones. Assessments are undertaken for the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership, in collaboration of 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.

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 it’s 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 populations 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 report card. We define stewardship as “ the 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”.

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 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 report card aligns its agricultural 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”).  Farm management practice adoption benchmarks were revised for each agricultural industry practice for the 2018 GBR report card. These benchmarks are reviewed and revised every 5 years and annual change is based on data reported each year. 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.

Differences between Mackay-Whitsunday 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 reports on the entire GBR system and measures progress towards the goals and targets of the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (which replaces the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013). The Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card is just one of the regional report cards along the coast of the GBR that gathers datasets from various programs and can report 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 organisations that use the report card to help direct action and funding toward keeping our waterways and ecosystems healthy!

Watch our video to get further information on how our report card works, and we fit in amongst other Great Barrier Reef reporting.

Other regional report cards include the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership, Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, Dry Tropics Partnership for Healthy Waters and Wet Tropics Healthy Waters Partnership.

How does the geographical area of the Mackay-Whitsunday report card differ to the Mackay-Whitsunday 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 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 report card?

The Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program (Paddock to Reef) was established in 2009 and is a collaboration including 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 region level, but because the Mackay-Whitsunday report card includes the Don basin (meaning it is not the same as the Mackay-Whitsunday Natural Resource Management region), this can mean that management practice data may be different to the GBR report card. 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 for the GBR report card. However, horticulture is a key land use activity in the Don basin, which means it is included in the Mackay-Whitsunday 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 nor do they 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 completely integrate the data from the two programs so that the same indicators are used to report seagrass across the reporting zones in subsequent report cards.

Currently, the QPSMP, commissioned by North Queensland Bulk Ports, is combined with Paddock to Reef (GBR report card) seagrass, coral and water quality data to calculate condition scores for the four inshore zones in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card. Data is also separated differently to the GBR report card and reported in four separate inshore marine zones. This can mean that scores for seagrass, coral and water quality in the Mackay-Whitsunday report card do not always match the scores in 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 sometimes called catchments), the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card reports pollutants, includingsediment, and pesticides as one index, ‘water quality’, based on the annual concentration of these pollutants in the waterways. This is different to the GBR report card which reports these same pollutant groups as estimates of the annual average reduction in human caused nutrients, sediment and pesticide loads at the end of catchments (an annual load delivered to the marine environment), which is based on modelling. Catchment loads are an indication of the mass of pollutants entering the GBR over time, where as measuring the concentration of pollutants via water quality sampling gives a snapshot of waterway health at that one location at that time. Even though the same pollutants are being reported in catchments, the two report cards are not reporting them in the same way and therefore they cannot be expected to match, nor can they be directly compared.