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Mackay Whitsunday

The Mackay Whitsunday region covers an area of 9000 square kilometres. In 2010-2011, the region received well above median rainfall. The main agricultural land uses are grazing and sugarcane. The 2013 risk assessment rated the Mackay Whitsunday region as presenting a moderate risk to water quality with the main pollutants being pesticides from sugarcane.

The Mackay Whitsunday's marine condition declined from moderate to poor. Inshore water quality also declined from moderate to poor, inshore seagrass meadows declined from poor to very poor and coral reefs remained in moderate condition

Mackay Whitsunday marine condition graph

On this page:

Marine data (.csv, 1 KB)


Mackay Whitsunday snapshot

Results—colour coding
Very goodGoodModerate
PoorVery Poor 

Management practices

Grazing Sugarcane Horticulture
Proportion of graziers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2011. Target: 50 per cent by 2013 Proportion of growers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2011. Target: 80 per cent by 2013 Proportion of producers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2011. Target: 80 per cent by 2013
Grazing 36% Sugarcane 30% Horticulture 47%

Catchment indicators

Groundcover Nitrogen Sediment Pesticides
Late dry season groundcover as at 2010-2011. Target: 50 per cent by 2013. Reduction in annual average total nitogren load between 2009 and 2011. Target: 50 per cent Reduction in annual average sediment load between 2009 and 2011. Target: 20 per cent by 2020 Reduction in annual average pesticide load between 2009 and 2011. Target: 50 per cent by 2013
Groundcover 92% Nitrogen 13% Sediment 6% Pesticides 31%

Management practices

Sugarcane

Sugarcane 30% - Good resultTarget: 80 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2011, 30 per cent of sugarcane growers (418) adopted improved land management practices.

There are 1380 growers managing 1362 square kilometres of land in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

By June 2011, cutting-edge (A) or best management (B) practice systems were used by 40 per cent of sugarcane growers for nutrients, 35 per cent for herbicides and 22 per cent for soil.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

All 418 growers implemented improved practices with the support of Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants facilitated by Reef Catchments. A total of 191 growers completed nutrient management projects, 208 completed herbicide management projects and 289 completed soil management projects.

Grazing

Grazing 36% - Very good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2011, 36 per cent of graziers (148) adopted improved land management practices.

There are 416 graziers managing 3038 square kilometres of land in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

By June 2011, 49 per cent of graziers were using (A or B) practice systems that are likely to maintain land in good to very good condition or improve land in lesser condition.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Ninety-six of the graziers who implemented improved practices completed Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants projects facilitated by Reef Catchments. The rest completed relevant training through private sector consultants, supported by the FarmReady program.

Horticulture

Horticulture 47% - Very good resultTarget: 80 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2011, 47 per cent of horticulture producers (15) adopted improved land management practices.

There are 33 horticulture producers managing 24 square kilometres of land in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

By June 2011, cutting-edge (A) or best management (B) practice systems were used by 28 per cent of horticulture producers for nutrients, 70 per cent for herbicides and 89 per cent for soil.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

All 15 horticulture producers who implemented improved practices did so with the support of Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants, facilitated by Reef Catchments and the Growcom Farm Management System program. Of these, four completed nutrient management projects, three completed herbicide management projects and eight completed soil management projects.

Catchment indicators

Groundcover

Groundcover 92% - Very good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
Late dry season groundcover for the grazing lands of the Mackay Whitsunday region was high (92 per cent) in 2011. The 24-year mean groundcover was 88 per cent.

Groundcover results for the Mackay Whitsunday region and catchments
Catchment/region 24-year mean groundcover (%) 2011 mean groundcover (%) Area with less than 50% groundcover averages over past 24 years (%) Area with less than 50% groundcover in 2011 (%)
O’Connell 90 93 0.7 0.2
Pioneer 97 90 1.1 0.7
Plane Creek 88 90 1.4 0.8
Proserpine 87 93 1.8 0.8
Mackay Whitsunday region 88 92 1.3 0.6

Groundcover changes over time

During the past 24 years, the Mackay Whitsunday region has had consistently high mean annual groundcover levels ranging from 79 per cent to 93 per cent.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

The greatest area with groundcover less than 50 per cent was 3.2 per cent in 1991.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

The Mackay Whitsunday region is the wettest of the regions reported (1602 millimetres mean annual rainfall).

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)


Catchment pollutant loads

Nitrogen

Nitrogen 13% - Good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
The estimated annual average total nitrogen load leaving catchments reduced by 13 per cent (228 tonnes). Agricultural fertiliser use is a key source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus. The estimated annual average dissolved inorganic nitrogen load leaving catchments reduced by 16 per cent (101 tonnes).

Phosphorus

Phorphorus 12% - Moderate resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
The estimated annual average total phosphorus load leaving catchments reduced by 12 per cent (37 tonnes).

Pesticides

Pesticides 31% - Very good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
The estimated annual average pesticide load leaving catchments reduced by 31 per cent (763 kilograms).

Sediment

Sediment 6% - Very good resultTarget: 20 per cent by 2020.
The estimated annual average suspended sediment load leaving catchments reduced by six per cent (21,000 tonnes).

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Land management changes in the horticulture industry have not been modelled.


Marine

Water quality

In 2010-2011, chlorophyll a was rated as poor with concentrations exceeding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Water Quality Guideline for 99 and 44 per cent of the inshore area, in the dry and wet season, respectively. Total suspended solids was rated as very poor with concentrations exceeding the guidelines for 59 and 69 per cent of the inshore area, in the dry and wet season, respectively.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Remote sensing of water quality across the region showed a clear gradient of declining water quality from offshore areas to inshore areas more frequently exposed to flood waters. This gradient was supported by long-term assessments of water quality at specific sites with variability between sites reflecting local hydrodynamic conditions and biophysical processes.

Site-specific water quality remained moderate at Daydream and Pine Islands, and good at Double Cone Island. Annual mean turbidity levels at Pine and Daydream Islands exceeded the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Water Quality Guidelines in 2010-2011. The water quality scores are a long-term integrative assessment based on four indicators of water quality relative to the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Guidelines (GBRMPA 2009b).

Map: Water quality and pesticide scores for PSII herbicides at fixed monitoring sites in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

A range of herbicides was detected in the Mackay Whitsunday region including atrazine and its breakdown products, diuron, hexazinone, simazine and tebuthiuron. There were multiple, high flow events in all rivers of the Mackay Whitsunday region in 2010-2011 and concentrations of photosystem II (PSII) herbicides were above those known to affect photosynthesis in diatoms (Category 4) at all routine monitoring sites.

Long-term monitoring of pesticides shows evidence of an increasing trend in the detection of herbicides at some sites in the Mackay Whitsundays since 2005. Sarina Inlet generally had the highest concentrations of most PSII herbicides compared to all other sites in the Great Barrier Reef, which reflected the proximity of the site to flows from Plane Creek (Rhode et al., 2008).

Seagrass

The overall condition of inshore seagrass in the Mackay Whitsunday region was very poor and has progressively declined since 2005-2006 to the lowest levels reported since 1999. The decline in seagrass condition reflects very poor abundance, very poor reproductive effort and increased nutrient enrichment of seagrass tissue.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Seagrass meadows were monitored at coastal, estuarine and fringing reef locations in the Mackay Whitsunday region (Pioneer Bay, Sarina Inlet and Hamilton Island, respectively). Key environmental drivers of seagrass communities in this region include exposure at low tides and variable catchment run-off. Seagrass abundance declined in all habitats throughout the region over the monitoring period. By late monsoon 2010, all sites were in very poor condition. Reproductive effort declined at both reef and coastal sites, raising concerns about the ability of local seagrass meadows to recover from environmental disturbances. The nutrient status of seagrass tissue was rated as poor in reef habitats and very poor in coastal and estuarine habitats, which reflected local water quality conditions following record flood events.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Coral

The overall condition of inshore coral reefs in the Mackay Whitsunday region has remained moderate since 2007-2008. Similarly to the Burdekin region, reefs in the Mackay Whitsunday region have had very slow rates of increase in coral cover since Cyclone Ului passed through the region in 2010. The largest change in coral cover from 2005 to 2011 occurred in the Fitzroy region with an average decline of 53 per cent, primarily due to coral bleaching in 2006 and record flooding in 2011.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Coral cover remained moderate in 2010-2011 with the exception of one site at Double Cone Island where cover increased due to the survival of and growth of coral fragments produced during Cyclone Ului early in 2010. The rate of increase in coral cover during periods free from acute disturbances was very poor and, when combined with the continual decline in the density of juvenile colonies to poor, may have implications for the long-term resilience of local coral communities in the region. There were also outbreaks of coral disease in the region that occurred along with conditions known to be stressful to some corals, such as elevated turbidity and a high proportion of fine grained sediments from above-median river discharge. The very low cover of macroalgae offset the poor or very poor ranking of other coral community attributes, resulting in the overall condition assessment of moderate. Macroalgae cover has remained low following Cyclone Ului, despite an increase in available space for colonisation.

Average cover of hard corals, cover of macroalgae and density of hard coral juveniles in the Mackay Whitsunday region from 2005 to 2011.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Last updated:
27 August, 2014
Last reviewed:
4 December, 2013

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