Water quality

Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program Strategy flip book icon

Monitoring water quality outcomes of the Reef 2050 Plan

The Reef 2050 Integrated Monitoring and Reporting Program covers the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent catchment monitoring programs.

This coordinated and integrated monitoring, modelling and reporting framework will help track the progress of the Reef 2050 Plan, under the plan’s seven themes: ecosystem health, biodiversity, heritage, water quality, community benefits, economic benefits, and governance. The Reef 2050 Plan includes targets and actions to measure, maintain and enhance ecosystem and water quality health over successive decades, which are delivered in part through the Marine Monitoring Program.

Water quality

Improving the quality of water entering the World Heritage Area is vital for supporting the Great Barrier Reef’s values, recreation, tourism, and food production. Improved water quality is important for the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds, species of conservation concern like turtles and dugong, and can likely reduce the frequency of future crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks.

After more than a decade of effort by government, industry and partners there has already been good progress towards the Reef 2050 Plan’s target of ensuring there is no detrimental impact on the Reef from broad scale land use.

Results to date show land use practices are changing and resulting pollutant loads are declining. However, there will be significant time lags, possibly decades, in seeing changes to the Reef’s marine system from improved land management practices.

Actions and targets

The Reef 2050 Plan includes two land-based run-off targets (WQT1 and WQT2), drawn from the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013 approved by the Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum in July 2013:

  • WQT1: By 2018:
  • At least a 50 per cent reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads in priority areas, on the way to achieving up to an 80 per cent reduction in nitrogen by 2025
  • At least a 20 per cent reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment loads of sediment in priority areas, on the way to achieving up to a 50 per cent reduction by 2025
  • At least a 20 per cent reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment loads of particulate nutrients in priority areas
  • At least a 60 per cent reduction in end-of-catchment pesticide loads in priority areas.
  • WQT2: By 2018:
  • 90 per cent of sugarcane, horticulture, cropping and grazing lands are managed using best management practice systems (soil, nutrient and pesticides) in priority areas
  • Minimum 70 per cent late dry season groundcover on grazing lands
  • The extent of riparian vegetation is increased
  • There is no net loss of the extent, and an improvement in the ecological processes and environmental values, of natural wetlands

The targets were developed in close consultation with industry and community stakeholders who provided input into the Reef 2050 Plan.

In setting the targets, stakeholders and governments recognised they were ambitious, particularly with respect to nitrogen loads, but agreed this was important to maintain momentum in the long-term effort to improve water quality.

The 2020 goals in the water quality objectives of the Reef 2050 Plan will ensure continuity in this important theme beyond the current 2020 time horizon.

Water Quality

The below diagram shows the natural values that link to water quality outcomes, objectives and targets from the Reef 2050 Plan, and what attributes of these natural values need to be monitored to evaluate progress towards these targets. The spreadsheet in Excel shows what monitoring is currently undertaken for this theme.

A diagram showing the natural values that link to Ecosystem Health outcomes, objectives and targets from the Reef 2050 Plan, and what attributes of these natural values need to be monitored to evaluate progress towards these targets