#Reef Water Quality

Climate change is the number one threat to coral reefs. But the science is clear: coral reefs need action both at the local and global level. Improving water quality is a critical and practical local pathway to improve Reef health. 

Declining water quality associated with run-off from the adjacent catchments is a major cause of the current poor state of many of the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef Trust Partnership includes $201 million to contribute to efforts aimed at addressing water quality issues. Improving water quality is expected to play an important role in improving ecosystem resilience.  

The Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan identifies priority catchments and targets for reducing pollution from catchments flowing to the Reef. Funding under the Reef Trust Partnership aims to deliver measurable progress towards those targets. 

#Where will the funding be allocated?

The first annual work plan sets out the priorities for investing funds over the next five years to address the three priority pollutants: dissolved inorganic nitrogen, fine sediments, and pesticides. Funding has been allocated across five separate workstreams. 

#1. Early Investment Water Quality Improvement Grant ($19.7m)

Eleven projects were awarded to maintain or build on-ground delivery capacity throughout regional Queensland. These projects were contracted in early 2019 and are currently being implemented. To find out more about these projects, go to the bottom of the page. 

#2. Traditional Owner-led protection initiatives ($20m)

Direct investment in Traditional Owner Country based planning and management for improved water quality outcomes; improved capacity and opportunity for Traditional Owner enterprises to become engaged in water quality programs; Cultural value recognised in protection and improvement efforts. Find out more about this component below.

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#3. Innovation and systems change ($10m)

There is a need for a transformational change in how water quality improvement activities are designed, funded, and implemented. The Reef Trust Partnership will support activities aimed at making this change a reality. Priority areas for investment will be:

Technology transformation

focused on applying new approaches to improving water quality that address the most critical needs and limitations in terms of lowering costs and/or improving the efficacy of interventions.

Sharing and management of industry and landholder-owned data

focused on technological challenges and opportunities associated with the breadth and resolution of the data needing to be collected, stored, curated, synthesised and utilised in a way that both protects and increases value across various sectors of industry and government.

Broad and local scale planning of future interventions

focused on Reef-wide, regional, and local planning and mapping to support prioritisation associated with future strategic investments, to assess the suitability of different interventions, and to guide the identification and implementation of specific on ground activities.

Innovative financing and funding initiatives

focused in increasing the potential sources of funding for water quality improvement activities, including through creating greater incentives to achieve an enduring improvement of land management practices.

#4. Conservation and protection of less-disturbed catchments ($10m)

Aims to avoid degradation of the quality of water entering the Reef, particularly from less-disturbed catchments, and contribution to land stewardship objectives.  

#5. Regionally focussed on-ground actions ($141.1m)

Funding will directly reduce nitrogen, sediment and pesticide loads from priority catchments through a series of regional water quality improvement programs. Target pollution load reductions have been set for each catchment, and regional programs and associated projects will need to demonstrate how they will contribute towards these targets.  

The priority catchments that make up the regional programs, as well as the level of investment, were guided by the priorities set out in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan, together with a detailed technical assessment to understand where investments would have the greatest impact. More information on the prioritisation process is available here.

#What happens next?

Phasing of activities is required to ensure adequate planning and consultation, and to maximise opportunities for alignment with existing programs. 

The first of the regional programs to be established will be the Mackay-Whitsunday Water Quality Program and the Fitzroy Water Quality Program. Engagement of organisations in all regions will be via open, competitive processes. Funding and timeframe at the catchment scale is shown in the map below.  

The first round of the innovation and system change program has opened to identify innovative new approaches to water quality improvement. 

Follow this link to know more about the current and closed calls for the water quality program.


Cane Changer 2.0

Cane Changer 2.0

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $1,413,500
Region: Wet Tropics, Mackay, Burdekin and Southern Reef catchment regions

This behaviour change program uses co-design principals to elicit improved practises through accreditation in the SmartCane Best Management Program and other forms of ‘commitment’ towards improved practices. This phase of the project will build on the existing program in the Wet Tropics and initiate new programs in Mackay, Burdekin and Southern Regions.

Cane to Creek 2.0

Cane to Creek 2.0

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $2,226,806
Region: Mossman, Mulgrave-Russell, Johnstone, Murray, Herbert and Haughton catchments

Works on farm with small cane grower groups to address nitrogen and pesticides. The program breaks down the barriers between scientists and growers, maximises peer-to-peer learning opportunities and improves understanding of the drivers of water quality impacts.

Early Career Extension Officers

Early Career Extension Officers

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $1,146,720
Region: Very high, high and moderate priority Reef catchments as outlined in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (from Burdekin to the Burnett Mary)

This project will increase the delivery capacity related to agronomic extension by training early career extension officers (agricultural experts) in practices relevant to addressing sediment, nitrogen and pesticide runoff. The project will involve a 12-month placement of up to eight early career extension officers.

Gully erosion control in the Mary River Catchment  ​

Gully erosion control in the Mary River Catchment ​

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $646,500
Region: Mary River catchment

Addresses sediment discharge to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon through gully restoration on grazing land. The project will also work with graziers to increase awareness and actively manage lands that are susceptible to erosion through the adoption of best land management practices.

Innovative Gully Project - Phase 3

Innovative Gully Project - Phase 3

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $2,092,040
Region: Lower Burdekin

This project aims to reduce the amount of sediment discharging to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon by approximately 3,200 tons per annum through remediation of alluvial gullies by using established techniques. In addition, the project will aim to pilot the Reef Credit system and investigate how Reef Credits could be used to fund gully remediation works and ongoing maintenance requirements.

Project Bluewater

Project Bluewater

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $1,243,500
Region: Haughton, Pioneer and O’Connell Rivers and Plane Creek catchment areas

This project reduces the runoff of pesticides into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon through the adoption of improved sugar cane farming practices. The project will directly engage over 70 growers, managing over 12,000 ha of land, in the catchments of Haughton, Pioneer, O’Connell Rivers, and Plane Creek identified as high priority in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.

An Evidence Based Approach to Improving Water Quality in Barratta Creek Catchment (Stage 2)

An Evidence Based Approach to Improving Water Quality in Barratta Creek Catchment (Stage 2)

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $950,520
Region: Barrata Creek System (Burdekin River Irrigation Area)

Farmer (cane) led project which raises awareness and drives practice change through improved fertiliser application, modifying pesticide type and quantity and improving irrigation efficiency.

Project Catalyst - Extension

Project Catalyst - Extension

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $2,407,751
Region: Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay/Whitsunday regions

Supports a network of cane farmers in the Reef catchments to improve farming practices to reduce nutrient run off to the Reef. This is achieved by focusing on soil testing, nutrient management plans and implementation of controlled traffic management systems (reducing soil compaction by confining heavy machinery to permanent traffic lanes).

Project Pioneer - Extension

Project Pioneer - Extension

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $2,899,500
Region: Very high, high and moderate priority Reef catchments as outlined in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan

Project Pioneer promotes the adoption of regenerative grazing operations to increase ground cover in grazing lands and reduce sediment in runoff to the Great Barrier Reef. In addition to the improved water quality entering the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, other environmental outcomes include reduction in carbon loss from soils, increased biodiversity on-farm, particularly soil and aquatic life, and increased landscape resilience to the effects of climate change.

Reef Alliance Project, Phase 2

Reef Alliance Project, Phase 2

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $3.5 million
Region: Very high, high and moderate priority Reef catchments as outlined in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay/Whitsundays, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary)

Supports cane farmers and graziers by using one-to-one agricultural experts (extension officers) to move 462 land holders, covering 209,750 ha, towards best practice to reduce sediment, nitrogen and pesticides.

NQ Dry Tropics

NQ Dry Tropics

Reef Trust Partnership funding: $659,984
Region: Burdekin

This project will produce dedicated and specific education, training, capacity building and incentives that will take 12 grazing landholders on a progressive journey towards techniques that proactively manage stock grazing pressure and minimise potential for declining land condition leading to reduced sediment runoff. The project will also result in a further 50 landholders using increased knowledge and skills to apply management changes to improve the quality of water discharged from their property.


How can I find out more information?

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How can I get involved?

You can submit a proposal to one of the open calls. To stay up to date with the opportunities, subscribe below.

I have a proposal for a new project. Can I submit it for funding?

The Foundation will only consider proposals as part of a formal open calls. If you have developed a proposal, you should determine the most appropriate open call, given the nature and location of your proposal. Detailed criteria will be released at the time of the relevant call. The Foundation will not accept proposals outside of the open calls.

Is water quality really an issue for the Reef?

The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement on Land Use Impacts on Great Barrier Reef Water Quality and Ecosystem Condition is the most comprehensive and authoritative work on the significance of water quality for the Reef. The Scientific Consensus Statement identifies the decline of marine water quality associated with run-off as a major cause of the poor state of many of the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Reef. The Foundation strongly supports the Scientific Consensus Statement.