Water quality guidelines for the Great Barrier Reef

Marine ecosystems require good quality water to remain healthy. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has water quality guidelines for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (2010) which set out the levels at which specific pollutants need to be kept below to ensure a healthy ecosystem.

If levels are outside the guidelines, it is a prompt for managers to take action.

The guidelines focus on sediments, nutrients and pesticides – the main catchment run-off pollutants that affect the quality of water reaching the Reef. For other guidelines, see Queensland Water Quality Guidelines 2009 and the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality 2000.

A review of the water quality guidelines for the Marine Park in 2014 found sediment and nutrient parameter guidelines remain up to date based on current scientific knowledge of healthy ecosystem indicators.

Since publication, updated guideline values for a number of pesticides have been calculated, and more are proposed. These values are undergoing a national guidelines review process. When complete, they will supersede those published in the 2010 water quality guidelines.

Since the guidelines were published, light levels needed to support the health of seagrass have also been determined by James Cook University. These have been implemented, including for Reef waters, through additional guidelines incorporated into healthy waterways management plans at a catchment level in Queensland.

Objectives at a catchment level are being progressively implemented through schedules under Queensland's Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009 for Reef waters. State legislation can only schedule guidelines to apply to state coastal waters. For Commonwealth waters adjacent to state waters the guidelines are extended from the corresponding scheduled waters to cover the Commonwealth only waters, for instance, mid shelf water guidelines apply to surrounding mid shelf waters.

Actions and progress to improve water quality is tracked and reported primarily through the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

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