Media Release Fight For Our Reef

Great Barrier Reef set to benefit as laws tackling water pollution continue to roll out

December 1, 2021

The latest set of laws that will help reduce water pollution flowing from grazing and cane farms into inshore areas of the Great Barrier Reef are welcome, marine conservationists say. 

Introduced from today (December 1), the laws put limits on the amounts of nutrients that sugar cane farms in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and the Mackay Whitsundays regions can use. They also limit the run-off of sediment from grazing properties in the Fitzroy. These laws target the high impact regions first, and will continue to roll-out for other regions on 1 December 2022.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said, “One of the most significant immediate actions we can take to ensure the long-term health of the Reef is to stop pollution from agriculture damaging its vulnerable ecosystems.

“The majority of farmers recognise their responsibility as Reef custodians, do the right thing and follow water pollution laws. However, a small minority have not changed their practices. This latest roll out of laws will help to bring farmers and graziers into line and will contribute to a healthier reef for the good of all Queensland communities.”

In June this year, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called on the Australian Government to accelerate efforts to reduce water pollution entering the Reef. Next year the World Heritage Committee will again assess Australia’s performance in protecting the Reef. To avoid an “in danger” listing next year these water quality laws must be coupled with strong compliance action. 

“Together, we can help keep the Reef healthy but we need farmers to do the right thing by adopting cleaner practices, and for those who don’t change, we need to enforce pollution laws,” Dr Schindler said.




These laws form part of the roll-out of the Reef protection regulations that first commenced in 2019 and will continue through to December 2024, targeting the high-risk agricultural land practices first.

The staged roll-out has allowed plenty of time for landholders to familiarise themselves with the laws and how to improve their practices to reduce water pollution from harming the Reef.

Excess nutrients from fertiliser used on farms run off into inshore Reef waters, causing algal blooms which reduce sunlight for seagrasses and coral to grow.

Excess sediments can smother and destroy corals and seagrasses in inshore areas. This in turn impacts the marine wildlife like dugongs and turtles that rely on this habitat, and makes the Reef less resilient to other pressures, like poor fishing practices and global heating.