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Mackay Whitsunday summary

The Mackay Whitsunday’s overall inshore marine condition remained poor in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Inshore water quality improved from poor in 2010-2011 to moderate in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Inshore seagrass meadows remained very poor in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and coral reefs remained in moderate condition in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

Mackay Whitsunday marine condition graph

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Mackay Whitsunday snapshot

A standardised scoring system was developed for each of the key indicators in the report card. The scoring system is used to assess and communicate progress towards the management practice and catchment targets as well as current marine condition using the following categories:

Results—colour coding
Very goodGoodModerate
PoorVery Poor 

Management practices

Grazing Sugarcane Horticulture
Proportion of graziers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2013.
Target: 50 per cent by 2013
Proportion of growers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2013.
Target: 80 per cent by 2013
Proportion of producers who adopted improved practices between 2009 and 2013.
Target: 80 per cent by 2013
Grazing 69% Sugarcane 49% Horticulture 66%

Catchment indicators

Groundcover Nitrogen Sediment Pesticides
Late dry season
groundcover as
at 2012–2013.
Target: 50 per cent by 2013.
Reduction in
annual average
total nitrogen
load between
2009 and 2013.
Target: 50 per cent
Reduction in
annual average
sediment load
between 2009
and 2013.
Target: 20 per cent by 2020
Reduction in
annual average
pesticide load
between 2009
and 2013.
Target: 50 per cent by 2013
Groundcover 91% Nitrogen 17% Sediment 9% Pesticides 42%

Management practices

Sugarcane

Sugarcane 49% - Moderate resultTarget: 80 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2013, 49 per cent of sugarcane growers (673) are known to have adopted improved land management practices, up from 42 per cent (577) to June 2012.

There are 1,380 growers managing 1,362 square kilometres of land in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

By June 2013, cutting-edge (A) or best management (B) practice systems were used by 49 per cent of sugarcane growers for nutrients, 43 per cent for herbicides and 29 per cent for soil. This was up from 45 per cent for nutrients, 40 per cent for herbicides and 27 per cent for soil in June 2012.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

All 673 growers implemented improved practices with the support of Reef Rescue Water Quality Grants facilitated by Reef Catchments. A total of 351 growers completed nutrient management projects, 337 completed herbicide management projects and 408 completed soil management projects. The Reef Rescue program improved management practices on over 81,000 hectares of sugarcane farm land in the Mackay Whitsunday region between 2009 and 2013.

Grazing

Grazing 69% - Very good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2013, 69 per cent of graziers (287) are known to have adopted improved land management practices, up from 50 per cent (207) to June 2012. The Mackay Whitsunday region was one of two regions to exceed the target.

There are 416 graziers managing 3,038 square kilometres of land in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

By June 2013, 70 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, up from 62 per cent in June 2012.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

A total of 252 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 66% - Good resultTarget: 80 per cent by 2013.
From 2009 to 2013, 66 per cent of horticulture producers (21) are known to have adopted improved land management practices, up from 59 per cent (19) to June 2012.

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

By June 2013, cutting-edge (A) or best management (B) practice systems were used by 32 per cent of horticulture producers for nutrients, 73 per cent for herbicides and 93 per cent for soil. This was up from 30 per cent for nutrients, 71 per cent for herbicides and 92 per cent for soil in June 2012.

All 21 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 (FMS) program. Of these, nine completed nutrient management projects, six completed herbicide management projects and 13 completed soil management projects.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Industry-wide management system adoption is estimated using the proportions established through the Growcom FMS in each region, and expressed as the percentage of growers with A, B, C or D management systems.

It is important to note that the level of grower participation in the program has increased year by year. As the proportion of the grower population represented in the program increases, so the distribution of A, B, C or D management systems changes over time as a reflection of the larger and more representative sample size. Early participants in the program have often been relatively progressive landholders, and this is apparent in terms of relatively high proportions of A and B in the management system distribution in early years. Increasing program participation over time can have the effect of diluting the percentage of growers in the A and B categories over time. This should not be seen as a regression of farm management systems.

Catchment indicators

Groundcover

Groundcover 91% - Very good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
Late dry season mean groundcover for the grazing lands of the Mackay Whitsunday region was high (90 per cent by June 2012 and 91 per cent by June 2013). The 26-year mean groundcover was 88 per cent.

Groundcover results for the Burdekin region and catchments
Catchment/ region 26-year mean groundcover (%) 2012 mean groundcover (%) 2013 mean groundcover (%) Area with less than 50% groundcover averaged over past 26 years (%) Area with less than 50% groundcover in 2012 (%) Area with less than 50% groundcover in 2013 (%)
O'Connell 90 90 92 0.7 0.5 0.7
Pioneer 87 88 90 1.1 0.9 1.1
Plane Creek 88 89 91 1.4 0.7 1.6
Proserpine 87 90 91 1.7 0.6 1.2
Mackay Whitsunday region 88 90 91 1.2 0.6 1.1

Groundcover changes over time

During the past 26 years, the Mackay Whitsunday region has had consistently high mean groundcover levels with the lowest being 78 per cent in 1991 and the highest being 93 per cent in 1989. Mean groundcover levels in the past five years have been consistently above 90 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 (1611 millimetres mean annual rainfall).

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)


Catchment pollutant loads

Nitrogen

Nitrogen 17% - Poor resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
The estimated annual average total nitrogen load leaving catchments reduced by 17 per cent (302 tonnes) by June 2013, up from 15 per cent (265 tonnes) by June 2012. Agricultural fertiliser use is a key source of dissolved inorganic nitrogen. The estimated annual average dissolved inorganic nitrogen load leaving catchments reduced by 24 per cent (204 tonnes) by June 2013.

Phosphorus

Phorphorus 14% - Poor resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
Agricultural fertiliser use is a key source of phosphorus. The estimated annual average total phosphorus load leaving catchments reduced by 14 per cent (35 tonnes) by June 2013, up from 13 per cent (31 tonnes) by June 2012.

Pesticides

Pesticides 42% - Good resultTarget: 50 per cent by 2013.
The estimated annual average pesticide load leaving catchments reduced by 42 per cent (1672 kilograms) by June 2013, up from 37 per cent (1446 kilograms) by June 2012.

Sediment

Sediment 9% - Very good resultTarget: 20 per cent by 2020.
The estimated annual average suspended sediment load leaving catchments reduced by nine per cent (33,600 tonnes) by June 2013, up from seven per cent (24,300 tonnes) by June 2012. Reporting of investment in riparian fencing projects has added to the reductions.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

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


Marine

Water quality

Inshore water quality (assessed by remote sensing of chlorophyll a and suspended solids) was moderate in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Chlorophyll a declined from moderate in 2011-2012 to poor in 2012-2013. Concentrations exceeded the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Guidelines for 95 and 45 per cent of the inshore area in the dry and wet season, respectively, in 2012-2013. Total suspended solids were rated as moderate in 2011-2012. They were rated as good in 2012-2013 with concentrations exceeding the guidelines for 54 and 31 per cent of the inshore area in the dry and wet season, respectively.

Trend in the Water Quality Index from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013. The Water Quality Index is also separated into component scores for concentrations of chlorophyll a and total suspended solids. Trend data is only shown for these two years, because a major change in the remote sensing algorithms mean the historical data is no longer directly comparable. The full historical time-series will be reprocessed for the next report card.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Water quality across the region showed a clear gradient of improvement from inshore areas more frequently exposed to flood waters to offshore areas. 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 was moderate at Daydream and Pine Islands, and good at Double Cone Island in 2012-2013. All indicators of water clarity – suspended solids, Secchi depth and turbidity - exceeded the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Guidelines in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, especially at Pine and Daydream Islands which are more frequently exposed to flood plumes. The water quality scores are a long-term integrated assessment of four indicators of water quality relative to the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Guidelines (GBRMPA, 2010).

Scores for site-specific water quality and pesticides at fixed monitoring sites in the Mackay Whitsunday region.

Concentrations of photosystem II (PSII) herbicides were above those known to affect photosynthesis in diatoms (Category 4) at the Outer Whitsunday site and above those known to affect seagrass (Category 3) at Sarina Inlet. Sarina Inlet generally had the highest concentrations of most PSII herbicides compared to all other sites in reef, which reflected the proximity of the site to flows from Plane Creek (Rhode et al., 2008). The range of pesticides detected in the Mackay Whitsunday region included atrazine and its breakdown products, diuron, hexazinone, simazine, tebuthiuron, metolachlor, terbutryn, ametryn, galaxolide and imidacloprid. Diuron was present at the highest concentrations.

Seagrass

The overall condition of inshore seagrass in the Mackay Whitsunday region remained very poor in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, having progressively declined since monitoring began in 2005-2006. The very poor rating for seagrass overall is a result of very poor abundance, reproductive effort and increased nutrient enrichment of seagrass tissue across all habitats.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Seagrass meadows were monitored at coastal, estuarine and fringing reef locations in the Mackay Whitsunday region. Key environmental drivers of seagrass communities in this region include a high tidal range, exposure at very low tides and variable catchment run-off. There were modest increases in abundance and reproductive effort at some sites. However, the very poor nutrient status of seagrass tissue reflected local water quality conditions and together with the very poor rating of other indicators of seagrass condition, raises concerns about the ability of local seagrass meadows to recover from previous environmental disturbances.

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 was moderate in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and has remained moderate since 2007-2008.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Coral cover, the density of juveniles and change in coral cover all improved in 2012-2013 compared to 2011-2012. Macroalgae cover remained very good. However, the positive indicators of coral condition such as low macroalgae cover and good coral cover were balanced against slow rates of increase in hard coral cover since Cyclone Ului in 2010 and moderate numbers of juveniles, which have been low for several years.

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Graph data (.csv, 1KB)

Average cover of hard corals, cover of macroalgae and density of hard coral juveniles in the Mackay Whitsunday region from 2005 to 2013.

Last updated:
31 March, 2015
Last reviewed:
5 September, 2014

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