By Jaimi Webster, Australian Marine Conservation Society
Recently I spent an inspirational day with canegrower Tony near the Mulgrave River. I was in my element as Tony showed me all the initiatives he’s introduced to clean up the quality of water flowing from his farm to do his bit for the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s not been easy for Tony or other farmers and graziers throughout the Reef catchments who are working hard to comply with the Reef Regulations.
They are changing their land management practices, improving soil health and introducing innovations like fallow crop compost and sediment detention ponds, which ensure they use less fertiliser on their crops and prevent sediment from flowing from their farms out into the Reef.
Farmers and graziers trying to do the right thing could do with more support from industry bodies like AgForce, which need to accept the scientific consensus informing the Reef Regulations. If these industry bodies were to join forces with us in advocating for more funding and support for farmers and graziers from the Queensland and Australian governments, perhaps this transition would be easier and smoother for everyone.
The scientific, peer reviewed consensus from researchers at AIMS, GBRMPA, JCU, TropWater and many other centres over the last 30 years has been that the health of inshore Reef ecosystems have been significantly impacted by land use change in the Reef catchments. This has resulted in increased sediment and nutrient loads from the land running off into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Nutrients from fertiliser are linked to harmful algal blooms and sediments reduce the amount of light available for seagrasses to grow and reproduce which, in turn impacts the marine wildlife like dugongs and turtles which rely on this habitat, and makes the Reef less resilient to the pressures from global heating. This isn’t emotional rhetoric, it is scientific fact.
It is for this reason that we were pleased to see the Katter’s Reef Regulation Reversal Bill fail to gain support in the Queensland Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee recently. This was a win for the Reef and the farmers and graziers working hard to do the right thing for their lands and the Reef.
We hope these agriculture groups and certain politicians will come round to the reality that the Reef Regulations and water quality targets will not be going away. Their support for farmers and graziers to adapt and innovate would be invaluable.
A version of this opinion piece was published on the letters page of Queensland Country Life on Thursday 11 November 2021, in response to a column in that media outlet by AgForce Reef Taskforce Chair