Reef Water Quality

#Reef Water Quality

Climate change is the greatest 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.

#Current opportunities

​The Foundation is seeking to establish two regionally focussed water quality improvement programs under the Reef Trust Partnership, one for the Mulgrave-Russell catchment (value $6.2m) and one in the Tully-Johnstone catchment (value $11.6m). Applicants are invited to submit expressions of interest for the provision of cost-effective solutions to substantially reduce the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen leaving these catchments. We are also seeking professional services related to program management and partnership coordination for these regional programs.

#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)

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

Significant on-ground resources are required to deliver activities to make progress towards water quality targets.

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

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

Direct investment in Traditional Owner Country based planning and management for improved water quality outcomes.

3. Innovation and systems change ($10m)

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.

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

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

This funding aims to avoid degradation of the quality of water entering the Reef, particularly from less-disturbed catchments.

Work under this theme is in an early scoping phase.

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

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

A total of $141 million has been committed to a series of regional water quality programs that will directly reduce nitrogen, sediment and pesticide loads from priority catchments.

Next steps

#Next steps

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

The majority of the regional programs have been initiated, and on-ground projects have commenced in a number of catchments with most of these programs running until June 2024. The majority of funding under the Water Quality Innovation Program has also been committed, with more than 20 projects now underway.

For more information on the status of each of the programs and future opportunities, follow the links above. Follow this link to know more about the current and closed calls for the water quality program.

#Technical support

The Foundation has established a panel of technical experts to support the work on water quality improvement. The panel includes expertise in water and catchment science, agriculture, environmental engineering, economics, and behavioural science. We welcome expressions of interest from suitably qualified experts for inclusion on the panel.


How can I find out more information?

Subscribe to receive updates about the Reef Trust Partnership.

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.