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Great Barrier Reef-wide summary

This Second Report Card measures progress from the 2009 baseline towards Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Reef Plan) goals and targets. It assesses the combined results of all Reef Plan actions up to June 2010.

Key findings

  • Overall, progress towards Reef Plan targets has been encouraging; however, it will take time for these achievements to translate into improved marine condition.
  • There was significant discharge from rivers in 2009–2010 particularly in the Burnett Mary and Fitzroy regions and this subsequently affected reef health.
  • The condition of the marine environment remained moderate overall in 2009–2010. This ranking comprises moderate scores for water quality and coral and a poor score for seagrass which has declined over the past four years.
  • Major positive change has been observed in the catchments. Overall, across the Great Barrier Reef region, there has been good progress by land managers towards Reef Plan targets. 20% of sugarcane growers, 11% of graziers and 18% of horticulture producers have adopted improved management practices.
  • As a result of this change, the estimated average annual pollutant loads entering the reef have reduced—nitrogen by 4%, phosphorus by 2%, sediment by 2% and pesticides by 8%.
  • The greatest proportional catchment load reduction leaving reef catchments was the pesticide load with an estimated 1254kg (8%) less.
  • Loss of wetlands and riparian areas has also slowed in recent years. It is expected that the cessation of broad scale clearing under the Vegetation Management Act 1999 at the end of 2006 and the protection of wetlands under the State Planning Policy in 2011 will lead to further reductions in loss when subsequent periods are reported on.
  • There were moderate to poor results for wetlands and riparian indicators in the Burnett Mary region. This was mainly due to conversion of swamps for agriculture and some urban use.
  • The significant progress has been driven primarily by the Australian Government’s Reef Rescue program along with Queensland Government and industry-led initiatives.

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest and best-known coral reef ecosystem in the world, spanning 2300km along the Queensland coast. The coral reefs—almost 3000 in total—represent about 10% of all the coral reef areas in the world. The Great Barrier Reef receives runoff from 35 major catchments which drain 424,000km² of coastal Queensland. These catchments are spread from the Cape York region in the north to the Burnett Mary region in the south. Poor water quality from catchment runoff affects the health of the reef, causing degradation of inshore reefs and is thought to be contributing to crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. This decreases the Great Barrier Reef’s ability to withstand and recover from other impacts caused by climate change, such as coral bleaching and damage from increased storm intensity. Climate and soil characteristics vary across the catchments. Grazing (77%) is the dominant agricultural land use. Sugarcane (1.4%) and horticultural crops (0.2%) are more prevalent in areas with high rainfall and coastal irrigation. Grain crops and irrigated cotton are prevalent in the inland areas of the Fitzroy region.

Reef Plan

The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan is a joint commitment of the Australian and Queensland Governments to minimise the risk to the reef ecosystem from a decline in the quality of water entering the reef from adjacent catchments. It has been established to galvanise and target the collective actions of governments and the community for the protection of the reef. Reef Plan focuses on reducing the impacts of diffuse source agricultural pollution on the health and resilience of the reef.

Paddock to Reef program

The Paddock to Reef program, funded jointly by the Australian and Queensland Governments, is a highly innovative approach to integrating monitoring and modelling information on management practices, catchment indicators, catchment loads and the health of the reef. This program integrates the best available information, recognising that data confidence varies across the indicators and regions. The quality of data is continually improving; however it is expected that some data may be updated as new methodologies are applied and more information becomes available. Significant changes as a result of improved information will be clearly explained.

Regional snapshot

The following table provides a Great Barrier Reef-wide and regional snapshot of progress and status against Reef Plan targets. More information can be found in the summaries for each region.

Table: Great Barrier Reef regional snapshot

Progress towards targets 2009–2010


Implementation of the Paddock to Reef program is a collaborative effort involving the Queensland Government, Australian Government, AgForce Queensland, Canegrowers, Growcom, Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Reef Catchments Natural Resource Management, Fitzroy Basin Association, Terrain Natural Resource Management, NQ Dry Tropics, Burnett Mary Regional Group, Cape York Natural Resource Management, CSIRO, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), Australian Institute of Marine Science, the University of Queensland and the University of Maryland, United States of America.

Last updated:
27 August, 2014
Last reviewed:
18 April, 2013

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