Progress towards Great Barrier Reef water quality targets

Published Thursday, 30 May, 2024 at 01:15 PM

Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Innovation
The Honourable Leanne Linard


Minister for the Environment and Water

Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef

Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef

The Federal and Queensland Labor governments are making progress in improving the quality of water flowing from the land to the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s more work to be done, according to the latest Reef Water Quality Report Card.

The report card for 2021 and 2022 measures progress towards the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan targets up to June 2022.

The data was collected prior to the election of the Albanese Labor Government. In our first budget we increased federal investment in the Reef to a record $1.2 billion, including extra funding for improving water quality.

The report card shows that even while major water quality programs were in their infancy during the reporting period, progress was being made towards water quality targets, especially particulate nutrient targets.

This progress is mainly due to streambank repair projects, improved grazing land management, and changes in sugarcane practices that improve nitrogen fertiliser management.

The report recognises the ongoing efforts of landholders to make changes to reduce run-off.

It also highlights more work is required towards reaching the dissolved inorganic nitrogen targets and sediment targets.

Greater progress is expected in meeting these targets as significant, multi-year projects funded through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, as well as projects funded by the Queensland Government, are completed and reported.

Both governments have boosted their funding commitments since the period covered in the report card, with $945 million committed to improve Reef water quality and accelerate progress towards the water quality targets.

This takes the total water quality investment committed to close to $1.8 billion to 2030.

This funding is supporting a range of water quality improvement projects, including continued and expanded work with landholders, an expansion of wetland and catchment restoration projects, and continued partnership with Traditional Owners facilitating knowledge sharing and joint management.

Outcomes from this increased funding are expected to be reflected in future report cards.

The Reef Water Quality Report Card looks at multiple areas to report its findings. This includes water quality monitoring data, ground cover, riparian areas, wetlands, modelled pollutant run-off from the results of on-ground programs, and marine condition.

All results in the report card are reviewed by the Independent Science Panel.

Quotes attributable to the Australian Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek: 

“One of the most iconic things about the Great Barrier Reef is the crystal blue water that flows through it. Water so clear and perfect it’s like snorkelling through another world. 

“But this iconic water and the Great Barrier Reef itself are under threat from sediment and other run-off that is spilling into it. Poor water quality stops coral from regrowing, kills important seagrass, and blocks the sunlight needed for a healthy reef.

“That’s why I withdrew federal funds for Hell’s Gate and Urannah dams which would have worsened water quality, and rejected the Central Queensland coal mine.

“And it’s why I recently announced $200 million for the new Landscape Repair Program, which will improve water quality through projects such as revegetation, grazing management and gully stabilisation.

“This is part of our record investment of $1.2 billion to protect and restore the Great Barrier Reef. We want to make sure the beauty and majesty of the Reef can be enjoyed for future generations.”

Quotes attributable to the Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Innovation, Leanne Linard:

“Improving the quality of water flowing from the land to the reef is critical to reducing additional pressures and supporting Great Barrier Reef health. 

“That’s why our government has committed close to $290 million to the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. This funding is part of the more than $1 billion since 2015 to protect the Reef.

“While this latest report card shows us that there have been many successes with the efforts being made to protect our reef, there is also room for improvement, and we will be working with our partners and stakeholders to address these.

“We have worked closely with the agricultural sector to support practice change and will continue to do so, and we thank landholders for their efforts to improve water quality.

“The mass coral bleaching event on the Reef earlier this year serves as a reminder of the importance of taking strong action to protect the reef, and the Miles Labor Government is committed to taking that action.”

Quotes attributable to Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef, Senator Nita Green:

"In my role as Special Envoy, I spend as much time in paddocks across regional Queensland as I do in the water off the coast because I know that improving run-off is vital to improving water quality.

"Our Governments are committed to working with farmers and landowners, Landcare groups and traditional owners to ensure the quality of water flowing into the Reef is constantly improving.

"Our record investment in improving water quality is a testament to our commitment to ensuring the resilience of Great Barrier Reef now and for generations to come."

Quotes attributable to the Queensland Chief Scientist Professor, Kerrie Wilson: 

“Improving water quality flowing to the Great Barrier Reef is vital to preserving one of the world's most diverse and fragile ecosystems and we are committed to ensuring we use the best science available in our efforts towards this.

“Science provides invaluable insights into the complex interactions between various factors affecting water quality, such as pollution, sedimentation, and climate change impacts.

“Through scientific research and analysis, we have a better understanding of the specific threats to water quality and can now develop targeted interventions to mitigate them.

“Preserving water quality is crucial for sustaining the diverse marine life within the Great Barrier Reef, including coral species and associated organisms, which rely on clean and healthy water conditions for survival.

“This not only safeguards the ecological integrity of the reef but also ensures its resilience against external stressors, thereby safeguarding its economic and cultural value for current and future generations.

“The Queensland Government and its reef partners are committed to enhancing the quality of water flowing to the reef to ensure its survival.”

Further information:

The Reef Water Quality Report Card for 2021 and 2022 gives further details, including a standardised five-point “A” to “E” scoring system to assess progress towards the water quality and catchment management targets, wetland condition and inshore marine condition.

Findings from the Reef Water Quality Report Card for 2021 and 2022 include:

  • There was very good progress towards the particulate phosphorus target and moderate progress towards the particulate nitrogen target across the Great Barrier Reef catchments.
  • There was very poor progress towards the dissolved inorganic nitrogen target (0.7%) and poor progress towards the sediment target (0.8%) across the Great Barrier Reef catchment in 2021 and 2022.
  • Specific modelling results also show:
    • The Burdekin catchment recorded the greatest reduction (3%) in dissolved inorganic nitrogen due to improved practices in sugarcane.
    • The Murray catchment (Wet Tropics region) and the Endeavour catchment (Cape York region) had a 5.3% reduction in sediment, mainly due to investments in streambank repair projects and improved grazing land management.
  • Ground cover across the Great Barrier Reef grazing lands met the target for the first time since 2012 with all regions experiencing annual rainfall levels similar or above their long-term average.
  • The loss of natural wetlands slowed, with freshwater floodplain wetlands in a good state overall. Actions to protect and re-establish native vegetation and control pest animals will continue to help improve their condition.
  • Overall inshore marine condition remained moderate in 2022, although inshore coral remains in poor condition. Seagrass meadow condition improved to moderate while water quality declined to moderate (although this is highly variable from year-to-year).
  • The pesticide risk condition across most Great Barrier Reef catchments was similar to 2020 with the Murray catchment (Wet Tropics region) in particular improving from good to very good – possibly due to the very dry conditions and few run-off events in 2021-2022. 


Minister Plibersek’s office:
Lilly Hannock – 0417 202 513

Minister Linard’s office:

Scott Chandler – (07) 3719 7339