2019 Report Card
The 2019 report card (reporting on data from 1st July 2018 to 30th June 2019) has initiated a variety of updates to environmental indicators. For the second consecutive year, we are also releasing a second product in Spring 2020, where we will showcase the regional management efforts and response to improving water quality in our local waterways. When published, this report will be available in the ‘management response’ page of our website.
Key messages of the 2019 report card:
- We can now see the full impacts of Cyclone Debbie (28th March 2017) in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region, most notably in seagrass and coral habitat condition.
- There was above average rainfall in the northern section of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac region, between Bowen and Mackay, and below average rainfall recorded in the southern region during the 2018-19 reporting year.
- For the first time in the 2019 report card, estuary pesticide scores were based on monthly ambient monitoring plus additional data. This was obtained through a Partnership-funded monitoring program designed to supplement existing monitoring to increase the temporal representativeness of data. Due to the successful establishment of the locally funded pesticide monitoring program, estuary pesticide scores in the 2019 report card represent the most reliable estimate of pesticide condition to date.
- This was the first year that the proportional contributions of different pesticide types were quantified in the report card. By reporting the impact of each individual pesticide, we can get a clearer picture of the key pesticide contaminants contributing to the region’s waterways, and what species may be at the highest risk.
- Both coral and pesticides were reported on in the Southern inshore zone for the first time and present a baseline of condition in this area. This highlights the Partnership’s continued commitment to fill identified knowledge gaps in the region.
- Updated fish barrier assessments in the Don basin showed that the system in this area comprises large areas of connected stream habitat. The Don basin has now reported on water quality for three consecutive years.
- For the first time, the technical documents for this report card were released almost simultaneously with the report card. This highlights the Partnership’s commitment to striving for timely, relevant reporting of our regional waterway health.
- Water quality in the offshore zone remained in very good condition for the sixth consecutive year.
- Offshore juvenile coral density scored very good, indicating a greater potential for coral recovery.
- Vines Creek, the O’Connell River, the Gregory River, and Rocky Dam estuary all received grades of good for fish barrier scores, where systems comprise large areas of connected stream habitat upstream of the estuary mouth, with only a few fish barriers located on smaller tributaries and no low ‘passability’ barriers.
- Overall estuary grades in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac report card have remained relatively stable since the first full report card in 2015, ranging from moderate to good across reporting years.
- The condition of mangrove and saltmarsh extent in Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac estuaries was good and very good, with scores updated for the 2019 report card. No grades changed with respect to the previous reporting period (2014 – 2018 report cards).
- The further declines in scores for Whitsunday inshore reefs reflect the full capture of Tropical Cyclone Debbie impacts, with all reefs now surveyed following the cyclone’s passing. The low 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.
- Although overall marine grades for the Whitsunday and Central zones remained as poor, declines in the water quality index scores from poor to very poor, and moderate to poor occurred for Whitsunday and Central zones respectively.
- Pesticides continued to be the poorest scoring water quality indicator in both basins and estuaries, with the Proserpine and Plane basins scoring very poor.
The 2019 technical documents for environmental indicators are also available to view:
2018 Report Card
The 2018 report card (reporting on data from 1st July 2017 to 30th June 2018) is the most comprehensive report card released by the Partnership so far, and includes updates to our environmental, cultural heritage, social and economic indicators. We are also releasing a second product this year, where we will showcase the management efforts and response throughout our region to improving water quality in our local waterways. Stay tuned for this release later in the year.
Key messages of the 2018 report card:
- No tropical cyclones crossed the region’s coast during the 2018 reporting period, however the impacts of Cyclone Debbie (28th March 2017) can still be seen, most notably in seagrass and coral habitat condition.
- During this reporting period, below average rainfall was received across the region. Rainfall and climate can impact water quality indicators.
- 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.
- Pesticide data in estuaries was not available and was not included in overall estuary scores. This reduces our understanding of water quality in estuaries for 2018. A more extensive pesticide sampling program is now underway in these estuaries and will enable more confident reporting of up to 22 pesticides in the next report card.
- We are starting to tell the waterway story of the Don basin: water quality (which assess sediment, nutrients and pesticides) was in good condition in 2018 in the Don River.
- Two new freshwater 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. Water quality monitoring for the other basins only occurs at one site. Eventually, increased monitoring sites will help improve overall confidence in results.
- Water quality data was available in all marine zones for the first time.
- Freshwater fish community grades were good or very good for the four basins that were assessed (Proserpine basin, O’Connell basin, Pioneer basin and Plane basin), including the Proserpine which was scored for the first time. To maintain good scores, it is critical to prevent and manage the spread of pest fish entering Mackay-Whitsunday waterways. Freshwater fish has been reported before (in three out of the five basins), this is the first time that the fish indicator has been updated since the 2015 report card.
- This year sees our first score ever for the Southern Inshore Zone – the water quality indicator. Water quality in the Southern Inshore Zone scored a D. We have this important 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.
- In the Whitsunday zone, scores for new seagrass sites and locations were incorporated in the 2018 report card for the first time. Sites included those on Lindeman Island (Marine Monitoring Program (MMP)); 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.
- Offshore water quality remained in a very good condition for the fifth consecutive year.
- Coral in the offshore zone remained in a moderate condition for the fifth consecutive year.
- The region’s community showed a positive view towards the values and wellbeing delivered from the Great Barrier Reef, despite the negative perception of condition and management of the Reef and its connected waterways.
- No tropical cyclones crossed the region’s coast during the 2018 reporting period, however the impacts of Cyclone Debbie can still be seen. Tropical Cyclone Debbie was a significant weather event that affected the region on 28th March, 2017. While there has been slight improvement in water quality in the Whitsunday and Central inshore marine zones, seagrass and coral habitat condition have shown little improvement since Cyclone Debbie.
- The condition grade for the Northern inshore marine zone decreased from moderate to poor, owing largely to a drop in seagrass condition from moderate to poor.
- Seagrass condition was moderate to very poor in inshore marine zones. Cyclone Debbie is the most likely driver for seagrass condition declines recorded.
- Coral condition was moderate and poor across inshore and offshore zones for the 2018 report card, respectively.
- There was little evidence for early recovery in 2018 on inshore reefs. Low densities of juvenile corals, high cover of macroalgae and historically slow rates of change in coral cover all suggest recovery of coral communities will be slow.
- Three of the five monitored basins scored very poor for pesticides in the 2018 report card, confirming an on-going pesticide issue in the Mackay-Whitsunday region.
- For the third year running, super saturated concentrations of dissolved oxygen (DO) and high levels of chlorophyll-a were observed in the Carmila estuary. Further research is needed to understand the drivers behind these conditions and the ecological processes occurring in this system.
The 2018 technical documents for environmental and human dimension indicators are also available to view:
2017 report card
The 2017 report card (reporting on data for the 2016/17 period) had no paper report card produced, to account for the earlier than usual release of the next version – the 2018 report card in mid-2019. This report card covers the 2016/17 period for environmental data, and repeats stewardship (industry best practice) data from the previous report card (2016/17) to allow the reporting years to align in the 2018 report card. You can view the 2016/17 report card data via our interactive results page.
Key messages of the 2017 report card:
- The Mackay-Whitsunday region was brutally impacted by Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie when the Category 4 storm crossed the coast on 28 March 2017. The 2017 reporting period (July 2016 to June 2017) captures only three months of post-cyclone water quality condition. The 2018 report card will further reflect any impacts from TC Debbie.
- The 2017 report card year (July 2016 to June 2017) was wetter than the long-term average for the Mackay-Whitsunday Region and had the highest rainfall compared to all four previous reporting periods.
- The highest rainfall months were between March and April 2017, when Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie crossed the coast into the Region
- Water quality in most estuaries, except for Sandy and Carmilla Creek estuaries, were in good condition, despite including the period when TC Debbie crossed the coast.
- Good water quality scores in the estuary systems suggest that water quality returned to pre-cyclone conditions soon after the event. The Region’s estuaries are short systems that experience large tidal ranges, so that following large rainfall events pollutants are normally flushed out of the estuaries rapidly.
- Four out of the five reported basins were in moderate condition, similar to the 2017 report card.
- The Don basin scored very good for pesticides.
- Offshore marine water quality was very good for the fourth report card in a row.
- The Pioneer basin dropped from a C grade to a D grade due to decreases in water quality from a combination of nutrients and pesticides. This basin covers areas of Mackay city extending to the west, including Fairleigh, Walkerston, Marian, Mirani, Gargett, Pinnacle, Finch Hatton and Netherdale.
- There was a drop in water quality grade in the O’Connell basin from good to moderate between the 2016 and 2017 report cards, which was driven by the pesticide indicator.
- The Plane basin (south of Mackay) is in a very poor condition for the fourth consecutive year.
- In the Whitsunday and Central inshore marine zones, there was a drop in overall condition from moderate to poor, driven by declines in water quality, seagrass and coral.
- It is possible that the water quality scores for the inshore marine zones underestimate the full impacts of Cyclone Debbie as turbidity loggers at some sites were lost or damaged due to the cyclone.
- Marine debris clean-up effort across the Region was reduced in the 2017 report card reporting period compared to the 2016 report card. The overwhelming majority of debris collected from the Region’s beaches is made up of plastics, with about half coming from the land around populated areas, and around half from the sea.
- On-ground observations and aerial imagery in the Region identify substantial changes to stream banks and in-stream morphology at certain locations due to Cyclone Debbie. Habitat and hydrology scores use repeated data from the 2014-2016 report cards, so do not reflect the potential impacts of Cyclone Debbie. These scores will be due to be updated in the net report card.
- New data not previously available reveals insight into the Don and Proserpine basins. This is an important step towards filling data gaps and improving the understanding of water quality in the Mackay-Whitsunday Region.
- A monitoring program has now been funded and established for water quality, coral and seagrass in the southern inshore marine zone of the report card. The first scores for this zone will be water quality and released in the 2018 report card.
- Marine debris clean ups were reported in the Isaac Local Government Area (LGA) for the first time- on South Percy, Avoid Island and Digby Island. Most of the marine debris from these clean ups were plastic and were sourced from the sea.
- 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 the ecological condition of the Region’s local ecosystems.
2016 report card
The 2016 report card represents the third annual waterway health report card for the region and covers the 2015/16 period for environmental data, and the 2016/17 period for stewardship (industry best practice). Click the report card cover to view/download the document.
Key messages of the 2016 report card:
- Rainfall is a key driver of water quality and two years of below average rainfall means scores for water quality in freshwater and estuaries are similar to the previous year, with pesticides remaining a key issue in the Pioneer and Plane basins.
- In the Whitsunday inshore marine zone, water quality scores from sampling at long-term monitoring sites decreased from moderate to poor. Research is currently underway to help us understand this situation.
- For the Whitsunday inshore marine zone the improvement from a D to a C score reflects only a marginal overall increase. This is because two out of three indicators improved, however the third has declined.
- Urban stewardship scores have improved from the last report card due to improvements in implementing the planning and management guidelines for urban development.
2015 report card
The 2015 report card represented the Partnership’s first full waterway health report card for the Region. It covered the 2014/15 period for environmental data and the 2015/16 period for stewardship (industry best practice) and cultural heritage data. Since the release of the 2015 report card in October 2016, many improvements were made to methodologies and scoring of the report card’s environmental indicators. This has meant amendments to previously reported scores in the 2015 report card. These amendments allow for direct comparison of results between reporting years. These up-to-date scores can be viewed on our interactive results page.
These improvements reflect the Partnership’s commitment to continued improvement and use of the most up-to-date science. Please contact the Partnership if you are interested in seeing the original 2015 report card and technical reports for our environmental indicators.
You can still download our 2015 report card methods technical document for Stewardship and Cultural Heritage.
What was new in the 2015 report card?
- New fish community health and fish-barrier indicators were added and provided an important gauge for native fish health and diversity. A newly developed flow indicator in the 2017 report card will complete the picture.
- Cutting edge new cultural indicators showed Cape Hillsborough and islands of the Whitsundays are home to some very important cultural heritage sites.
- Stewardship scores across all industries in the Region were similar to the previous year.
2014 pilot report card
The Pilot report card was released in 2015, and covered the 2013/14 period for environmental data, and the 2014/15 period for social, economic and stewardship (industry best practice) data. After the release of the Mackay-Whitsunday 2014 pilot report card in October 2015, many improvements were made to methodologies and scoring of the report card’s environmental indicators. This has meant amendments to previously reported scores in the 2014 pilot report card and the 2015 report card. These amendments allow for direct comparison of results between reporting years. These up-to-date scores can be viewed on our interactive results page. This reflects the Partnership’s commitment to continued improvement and use of the most up-to-date science.
Please contact the Partnership if you are interested in seeing the original 2014 pilot report card and environmental indicators technical reports.