Collaboration the key to water quality work in the Wet Tropics

With an increasing amount of work being done on water quality in the Wet Tropics, the ABGC’s Industry Strategy Manager, Michelle McKinlay looks at the collaborative approach underway that will spark future improvements.

There is a lot of water quality activity happening in the Wet Tropics – and it isn’t likely to stop any time soon.


The Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC), on behalf of banana growers, has been involved in designing the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project (MIP) that will see significant Queensland Government funding invested in the region to deliver water quality improvements. There is a consortium of over 40 organisations covering agricultural, community, science and NRM interests as well as community members that are designing this reef water quality project – that will be built up from the “grass roots”.


The design incorporates the 550 water quality improvement ideas that were generated by 300 community and industry representatives during the four workshops held in Tully and Innisfail earlier this year.


It has been a massive task to collate the ideas and design strategies that will turn ideas into solutions. The MIP project is a unique opportunity for the local community to demonstrate water quality leadership and show that local participation, collaboration and knowledge is an effective combination that will deliver very visible results.


One of the strengths of the project is that it has a truly integrated approach to improving water quality. It is the first time that a government has allocated a significant amount of money to look at the mix of potential contributors to poor water quality – agricultural, industrial, urban development, natural erosion –  and then giving the community the responsibility for designing the fix.

Investing in hot spots 


In 2016, the Great Barrier reef Water Science Taskforce, an independent advisory body,  recommended that the Queensland Government stimulate a transformational approach to water quality improvements on the Great Barrier Reef. To do this the taskforce recommended the Queensland Government should invest significant funding in two “hot spots” known for their high contribution of sediment and nutrients that impact the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.


It further recommended that an integrated mix of activities focus on the water quality and production benefits that can be derived from improved collaborative extension, increased monitoring, trialling innovation and improving land management – to name but a few. The Wet Tropics and the Burdekin were selected to trial this approach initially with the aim that the learnings could be applied to other regions in close proximity to the Reef over time.

While it sounds like a very sensible, collaborative approach, it hasn’t been as well resourced or done to this scale before. That is what makes this project so exciting.


This project is a bit of a risk for the Queensland Government because it involves a lot of money being directed into specific locations and there is so much domestic and international interest in the health of the Reef.


The Government has a lot riding on the success of the project. It is very positive that the government is  trusting the industries and communities to deliver measurable improvements.


The design phase of the project has just ended and the roll out of the implementation plan for the first year is about to start.


What’s ahead?

Over the next three years, the MIP will invest up to $4.6 million to install 20 different treatments including bioreactors, wetlands, high efficiency sediment basins and riparian buffer zones.


It will trial and monitor the effectiveness of these repair and treatment systems as potential methods for reducing pollutant loads entering the Great Barrier Reef in the Wet Tropics.


These will be delivered in collaboration with farmers and landholders in optimal locations.


The project will also accelerate practice change by investing up to $4.7 million to increase the delivery of extension services, performance-based incentives and technical support for landholders.


It will invest nearly $3 million over three years to design and deliver local scale water monitoring across 14 new sites.Working closely with farmers and the community, it will ensure industry and community have ownership and oversight, and that land managers receive rapid, timely, targeted water quality information.


Grower feedback has been ‘show me that it’s my problem and I will solve it’, and the MIP will help build connections between science and farmers on the impacts and causes of reduced water quality.


There is also a focus on non-agricultural improvements with the MIP investing up to $1.5 million over three years. And finally there will be just over $500,000 in funding that will explore innovative financing and investment opportunities with underpinning principles similar to the current carbon credit schemes. If such a scheme can be successfully implemented, it could see banana growers being paid to change (and then maintain) some of their land management practices. This type of system is being used in many countries and is particularly effective in repairing environmental damage.


Rob Mayers, ABGC Extension Officer is also a member of the Panel overseeing this project. “We’re on track to deliver a great MIP, and going forward I think growers will embrace water quality improvements not only on their own farms but on the landscape around them,” he said.


The residents of the Wet Tropics region now have the opportunity to lead the challenge to improve the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef. If you want to get involved in the ‘pollution solution’, call Rob Mayers on 044700020 or Michelle McKinlay on 0427 987499.