2021 Report Card
What’s in the 2021 Report Card?
The 2021 Report Card (reporting on data from 1st July 2020 to 30th June 2021) reports on a variety of environmental indicators in our region’s freshwater, estuarine, and marine environments.
To dive deeper into the Report Card scores visit our interactive results page.
If you would like physical copies of the Report Card for your business, school or organisation, please enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Rainfall patterns and climate significantly influence waterway grades. In 2020–21, rainfall was under the long-term average throughout the MWI region, a trend that has held for most of the past eight years of reporting.
- In 2020–21, a lack of major disturbances, such as prolonged high temperatures or major cyclones, led to favourable conditions for marine habitat recovery. However, since the reporting period for this report card, another marine heatwave occurred in March 2022.
See our Report Card FAQs for more information.
- This is the Partnership’s eighth report card, reporting on regional environmental indicators and the interaction with human dimensions. Included for the first time are Urban Stewardship Grades, Seagrass scores for Southern Inshore Zone and fish scores for the Don Basin. Also featured are new grades from the most recent cultural heritage assessments.
- The report card has a new layout this year which includes a spread for three areas within our reporting region. The new booklet layout allows for greater detail on environmental indicators while also incorporating the expansion of human dimension reporting.
- Partnership-funded programs such as Southern Inshore Monitoring Program and estuary pesticide monitoring program continue to increase data confidence in the report card. This highlights the Partnership’s continued commitment to fill identified knowledge gaps in the region.
- Cultural Heritage scores are included for the third time and are based on assessments that monitor the state of culturally important places and identify areas requiring maintenance and preservation. The overall 2021 grade was ‘moderate’.
- Urban Water Stewardship grade is included in the Report Card for the first time. The urban stewardship grade assesses how regional councils manage urban water across the Great Barrier Reef region. Councils across the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac Region received a ‘moderate’ grade.
- Water quality has remained relatively consistent in freshwater basins and estuaries throughout reporting years, with 11 out of 13 grades remaining unchanged from the 2019-2020 reporting period.
- Seagrass reporting in the Southern Inshore Marine Zone is included for the first time this year, after five years of baseline data collection. Seagrass scores have improved every year since Cyclone Debbie, in the Northern Inshore Marine Zone.
- Coral scores improved in the Central Zone due to increased juvenile recruitment and reduced macroalgae coverage. In the Whitsunday Zone, the decline of coral health following Cyclone Debbie reversed for the first time. This indicates the potential for ongoing recovery providing conditions remain favourable.
- Scores for freshwater fish were included in the Don Basin for the first time, receiving the highest grade of all basins. The freshwater fish index is a way to measure the number of indigenous and non-indigenous fish (including non-Australian and translocated Australian species) in the fish community of the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac basins.
- Pesticides remain the poorest scoring water quality indicator in both freshwater and estuarine systems. Imidacloprid and diuron were the key contributors which are used to suppress pest insects and weeds.
- Water clarity in the Whitsunday Inshore Zone remains an ongoing issue. Read more about the context and causes of water quality decline in the Whitsunday region in our report here.
- Coral Scores declined in the Southern Inshore Marine Zone driven by residual impacts of the February 2020 marine heat wave.
See the 2021 Methods Report for detailed sampling and scoring methodology, and Results Report for detailed results for each indicator and site.
2020 Report Card
What’s in the 2020 Report Card?
The 2020 Report Card (reporting on data from 1st July 2019 to 30th June 2020) reports on a variety of environmental indicators in our region’s freshwater, estuarine, and marine environments. To dive deeper into the Report Card scores visit our interactive results page.
If you would like physical copies of the Report Card for your business, school or organisation, please enquire at email@example.com.
For the third consecutive year, we are releasing our ‘Above and Beyond’ Report in Spring 2021, 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 from the ‘Management Response’ page on our website.
- The climate in the 2019-20 year was drier than recent years across the MWI Region. As the Report Card presents a picture of the annual condition of the region, this means that water quality grades in at least some waterways were likely impacted by this change. See our Report Card FAQs for more information.
- This is the Partnership’s seventh year reporting on environmental indicators in the region. To look at grades for the 2020 Report Card and compare across years, check out our interactive results page. To learn more about the data that goes into the report card, look at our new report card data sources page.
- The 2020 Report Card contains more citizen science data than ever before. This year the Report Card utilises Reef Check Australia coral cover data collected in the Whitsunday and Offshore Zones for the first time. Seagrass Watch data have also now been included in the Northern Zone from sites at Bowen.
- For the first time, litter was reported in the region, with most sites graded as ‘very good’ or ‘good’. Pioneer Bay in Airlie Beach was the poorest scoring site, meaning that litter is putting ‘high pressure’ on the environment in this area.
- Although COVID-19 impacted estuarine sampling between April – June 2020, most water quality sampling that contributes to the Report Card was able to continue uninterrupted.
- For the first time, the Partnership are developing a free-standing executive summary separate to our technical reports. This will provide partners, stakeholders and the community with additional detail about Report Card methods and results in an easy-to-read format.
- Water quality in the Offshore Marine Zone remained in ‘very good’ condition for the seventh consecutive year.
- While the grade for coral in the Offshore Marine Zone remained at ‘moderate’, juvenile coral density continues to be ‘very good’. This suggests that we may see improvement in the condition of these coral reefs in the future.
- Seagrass scores improved in all three monitored inshore marine zones, showing recovery after impacts from Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017. Reduced freshwater output from local rivers in 2019-20 positively impacted seagrass meadows across the region.
- Pesticide grades in the Central Marine Zone improved from three consecutive years of ‘moderate’ to ‘good’ for the first time. This was likely due to low rainfall and reduced freshwater discharge into the marine environment.
- Overall estuary condition grades in the Mackay-Whitsunday-Isaac (MWI) Report Card have remained relatively stable since 2015, ranging from ‘moderate’ to ‘good’ across reporting years.
- Pesticides graded ‘very poor’ in several of the region’s waterways, indicating a high risk to local aquatic species. Imidacloprid and Diuron (commonly used for agricultural pest management) were the key contributors to pesticide risk across most of the region.
- Coral scores were ‘poor’ for all inshore marine zones in the region, with macroalgae and juvenile coral density continuing to be an issue. Reefs across the region were affected by a major marine heatwave in early 2020 and are still showing severe impacts from Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017.
- Sediment levels in the region’s basins remain an issue with ‘moderate’ to ‘very poor’ grades seen in the Don, O’Connell and Plane basins for four or more consecutive years.
- The Pioneer Basin saw a large decline in flow indicator category grade, declining from ‘good’ in the 2018 and 2019 Report Cards to ‘moderate’ in 2020. This was heavily impacted by periods of no flow in late 2019 at the Dumbleton Weir Tailwater site due to high water demands for urban and sugar mill activities.
See the 2020 Methods Report for detailed sampling and scoring methodology, and Results Report for detailed results for each indicator and site.
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 Tropical 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.
- The O’Connell River, Gregory River, Vines Creek and Rocky Dam Creek estuaries 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 ‘very 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 Card).
- 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 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 reports 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, O’Connell, Pioneer and Plane basins), 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-Isaac 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’ (‘poor’). 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-Isaac 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 ‘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 Zones, seagrass and coral habitat condition have shown little improvement since Cyclone Debbie.
- The condition grade for the Northern Inshore 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-Isaac Region.
- For the third year running, super saturated concentrations of dissolved oxygen (DO) and high levels of chlorophyll-a were observed in the Carmila Creek estuary. Further research is needed to understand the drivers behind these conditions and the ecological processes occurring in this system.
The 2018 technical reports for environmental and human dimension indicators are also available to view:
2018 Methods (1/2)
2018 Results (1/2)
2018 Methods (2/2)
2018 Results (2/2)
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 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 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.