Hinchinbrook Passage, part of the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, Queensland, Australia.

Hinchinbrook Passage, part of the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, Queensland, Australia.

Great Barrier Reef catchment: safeguarding the Reef

The Water for a Healthy Country Flagship has been working in the Great Barrier Reef catchment to improve water quality, wetland integrity and fisheries while enhancing agricultural productivity.

  • 1 January 2008 | Updated 11 July 2013

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Protecting the reef for future generations

Damage to the near shore regions of the Great Barrier Reef due to declining water quality is an issue of national concern.

The region has also been subject to intense economic and social pressures from:

  • agricultural industries such as beef, sugar and horticulture which need to be optimised to retain economic and social viability
  • increasing coastal urbanisation, hobby farming and industrialisation which are placing greater pressure on water resources.

Recognition of this led the Australian Federal Government and the Queensland State Government to develop the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

Issues of concern to the region

Issues of major concern to the region were recognised as including:

  • increased nutrient, sediment and other chemical loads flowing to the Great Barrier Reef
  • loss of wetlands through clearing and drainage
  • loss of connectivity between rivers, wetlands and estuaries with consequent loss of fish habitat
  • loss of freshwater and tidal flow regimes
  • loss of irrigation potential due to irrigation-induced salinity, marine intrusion, and nutrient and other contamination in surface water and groundwater
  • loss of grazing potential due to land degradation.

Research teams to tackle critical issues

The Water for a Healthy Country Flagship addressed two broad questions:

Flagship research helps safeguard the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, supports sustainable communities and enhances agricultural productivity.

  • when and how could we best achieve an improvement in water quality to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef?
  • how could we support communities and industries to achieve their natural resource management goals while fostering further sustainable development?

These issues were tackled through the following research projects:

  • Great Barrier Reef floodplain renewal: research to improve floodplain productivity for coastal communities through sensitive farming approaches that improve water quality and protect the Reef

  • Great Barrier Reef sustainable grazing: research to support improved economic performance for grazing communities while reducing erosion and improving water quality

  • Reef catchment futures: research to inform decision making for a sustainable Reef through:
    • understanding the Great Barrier Reef catchment as a system
    • identifying key intervention points and the costs and benefits of different management actions leading to improved water quality in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

The research team worked with partners in government, industry and the community to inform policy and investment decisions.


Our partners and collaborators included:

  • Australian Department of the Environment and Heritage (Natural Heritage Trust)
  • Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
  • regional natural resource management (NRM) groups
  • Queensland State Government
  • local government
  • industry groups.

Find out more about our research in the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship.