As the latest set of Reef Regulations come into force on 1 June, the Australian Marine Conservation Society is encouraging farmers and graziers in northern Queensland to continue to embrace the new rules for the sake of our Great Barrier Reef.
The latest set of regulations, which began rolling out in 2019, allow for the expansion of agriculture in the Reef catchment while ensuring new activities don’t result in further degradation of Reef water quality.
Jaimi Webster, Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Manager at AMCS, said the Reef Regulations can provide farmers and graziers with opportunities to scale up their practices, while benefiting our Reef, its marine wildlife and the industries like tourism which rely on a healthy Reef.
“Improving water quality by reducing the amount of nitrogen and sediment that flows from the agricultural lands into inshore areas of our Reef is vital and will also bring benefits to farmers and graziers,” said Ms Webster.
“Adopting efficiencies that ensure less nitrogen is used on farms, or implementing solutions that mean less fertiliser escapes from crops and soils into catchments and out into the Reef, will ensure they save money while keeping the same or increasing yields.
“There is help and advice out there for farmers and graziers who are unsure of what they need to do to comply with the regulations while ensuring their businesses remain profitable.
“I would urge industry bodies to put their energies into helping their members meet the regulations because they are not going away.”
Some industry bodies have embraced the change and used the regulations to develop Best Management Practice programs that not only meet the needs of the industry, but also meet the regulations.
For those already accredited against a recognised Best Management Practice program, complying with the latest regulations will not be much extra work. For those not BMP accredited, scaling up to those standards will bring benefits to their farms and our Reef, Ms Webster said.
Inshore reef habitats like seagrass are increasingly threatened by the amounts of fertilisers and sediment flowing from agricultural lands in the adjacent catchments.
“Seagrass is essential habitat for vulnerable and threatened species like dugongs and turtles, many species important for commercial and recreational fishing and as a carbon store,” added Ms Webster.
“Sediment in the water reduces the sunlight available to seagrasses and inshore corals and can smother and kill them. Excess nutrients are an additional stress factor for many coral species and can result in harmful algal blooms, which is a food source for juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish.
“Inshore areas most impacted by water quality issues are also the places we like to visit and take tourists. The tourism industry is also an important industry for northern Queensland and the water quality laws indirectly support their future.
“As climate change drives the marine heatwaves that threaten the future of our Reef, it is essential we do all we can to improve water quality to help our Reef be as healthy and resilient as possible. Complying with the Reef Regulations will ensure farmers and graziers can do their bit to help.”
Ms Webster said advice on complying with the latest set of regulations, and reducing nitrogen and sediment loss on farms is available from the Queensland Government.