Science projects and outputs

The Reef Water Quality Science Program has produced a suite of science products that delivered valuable, knowledge-based and practical tools and information for landholders, advisors and government decision-makers. The investment of $11 million since 2009 for various trials, products, landscape analysis and catchment prioritisation has shown where scientific and policy efforts should be focused. Ongoing water quality research drives a continuous review of strategic approaches and priorities to better shape policy responses and achieve measurable outcomes. The table below lists completed projects funded in the science program, and links to project outputs.

Project IDTitle Output/s (if applicable)
RP01 Land use mapping This project mapped land use with a nationally accepted classification scheme to identify land use changes in the catchments that may contribute to sediment and nutrients entering the Great Barrier Reef. Information is available on the QLUMP webpage.
RP07C Environmental characteristics mapping of cane lands A technical report and user guide are available from the Department of Environment and Science Library catalogue. Search for 'Mapping of environmental characteristics important for Reef water quality' and 'Guide for use of environmental characteristic data sets'.
Environmental Characteristics maps of the Wet Tropics catchment
RP09C CD Based SafeGauge for pesticides CDs have been provided to Department of Environment and Science regional offices in Mackay, Townsville and Cairns for growers to access
RP10C SafeGauge for Nutrients SafeGauge for Nutrients is a decision support tool available to Queensland cane farmers. View the SafeGauge video to find out more about what it can do and how you can use it.
RP12C Mill mud and mill mud products: efficacy as soil amendments and assessment of environmental risk A technical report is available from the Queensland Government publications portal
RP16C Sugarcane soil testing and nutrient calculation  
RP18C Web based soil information Summary sheets of soil type information that can be ordered via
RP23C Comparative Effectiveness of Community Drainage Schemes and EVTAs A report on the Comparative Effectiveness of Community Drainage Schemes and EVTAs in Trapping PSII Herbicides from Sugarcane Farms (PDF 3.4MB)
RP27C Herbert catchment water quality monitoring A report of the tailored water quality monitoring program in the Herbert catchment area, undertaken between 2011 and 2014
RP51CNutrients and herbicides in groundwater flows to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon The purpose of this study was to provide an up-to-update review and synthesis of current knowledge on groundwater transport to the Reef of nitrogen, phosphorus and herbicides. A final report (PDF, 4.47MB) is available.
RP52C Assessment of vegetated systems as options for treating pollutants in run-off from cane farms ecosystems, particularly the Great Barrier Reef This project investigated the role and effectiveness of vegetated systems in trapping nutrients, pesticides and sediment in GBR catchments. A final report (PDF, 7.94MB) is available.
RP53C Pesticides and nutrients in groundwater and their transport to rivers from sugar cane cropping in the lower Burdekin A technical report is available from the Queensland Government publications portal.
RP54C Pesticides in groundwater in the Tully-Murray and Johnstone catchments final report (PDF, 1.49MB) is available.
RP56C The role of PSII and non-PSII pesticides in the Queensland sugar industry; current expectations, trends, opportunities and limitations A final report into alternative herbicides (PDF, 1.37MB) is available.
RP57C An evaluation of the prevalence of non-regulated pesticides of environmental concern in regulated catchments A technical report is available from the Queensland Government publications portal.
RP58C Managing the nitrogen cycle: legumes This report (PDF, 539KB) determined the contribution of nitrogen from legume fallow crop residues to sugarcane grown under controlled greenhouse conditions.
RP62C Economics of pesticide management on cane farms This project evaluates a multitude of management practice options in order to identify profitable abatement opportunities for PSII herbicides and their alternatives from three major sugarcane production districts located in the GBR catchment. A synthesis report, a profile report and a technical report (PDF, 1.86MB) are available. The regional reports are listed below:
  1. The Economics of Herbicide Management Practices on Sugarcane Farms - Burdekin River Irrigation Area (BRIA)
  2. The Economics of Herbicide Management Practices on Sugarcane Farms - Burdekin Delta
  3. The Economics of Herbicide Management Practices on Sugarcane Farms – Mackay Region
  4. The Economics of Herbicide Management Practices on Sugarcane Farms – Tully Region
RP63G Mapping erodible soils in Burdekin Dry Tropics grazing lands A synthesis report, user guide, soil erodibility map and spatial dataset are available from the Queensland Government publications portal. An abridged version of this dataset can be viewed using the FORAGE online reporting system.
RP64G Ground cover and fire management in grazing lands A synthesis report and technical report are available from the Queensland Government publications portal.
RP65G Identifying erosion processes and sources in the Burdekin Dry Tropics catchment A synthesis report is available from the Queensland Government publications portal.
RP66G Gully mapping and drivers in grazing lands A synthesis and summary report are available from the Queensland Government publications portal.
RP68G Enhancing FORAGE for the Burdekin FORAGE reports and a user guide are available on the Long Paddock website. Reports are currently restricted to the Burdekin. Data are being developed to extend the geographical range of reports to the Fitzroy and the rest of Queensland.
RP69G Sustainable grazing guide for the Burdekin Improving animal production, profitability, and water quality (PDF 1.7MB)
RP70G Grazing economics for the Burdekin Dry Tropics This project set to understand economic impacts of different levels of pasture utilisation. A set of reports are available.
RP71P Historical land use change and pollutant loads This project (PDF, 11.3MB) aimed to quantify changing loads over time, creating baseline pre-European loads, so that more precise pollutant targets can be set.
RP72P Assessment of the relative risk of degraded water quality to ecosystems of the Great Barrier Reef The risk assessment also provided the information for Chapter 3 of the Reef Plan Scientific Consensus Statement 2013 (PDF, 3.2MB).
RP79C Compendium of Smart Sugar Practices In 2012, this project documented a series of smart practices in each of the four key Great Barrier Reef-related sugar growing regions – Mackay Whitsunday, Burdekin, Herbert River and Wet Tropics. Practices were grouped in four broad categories of cropping systems, soil and water management, nutrient management and weed management. A report (PDF, 3.06MB) is available.
RP83C Validation and extension of the water quality, productivity and economic benefits of adopting improved nutrient and chemical management in sugarcane in the Central Region A synthesis report has been completed and is accompanied by a rainfall simulation technical report. A supporting report (PDF, 3.98MB) funded as part of RP83C is published on the Reef Catchments NRM website. Also relevant is the Paddock to Sub-catchment scale water quality monitoring of sugarcane management practices interim report 2012/13 season Mackay Whitsundays.
RP85C A Sub-Catchment Adaptive Management Approach to Water Quality in Sugarcane This report (PDF, 2MB) describes an adaptive management approach – using ‘real time’ water monitoring – to improve water quality in the downstream ecosystems of the Lower Burdekin Irrigation Area by directly relating management practices used on farm to the water quality results in adjacent drainage systems.
RP101C  Improving nutrient use efficiency in sugar This project successfully demonstrated the value of real time water quality instruments for evaluating different nitrogen application practices on cane farms in the Wet Tropics. A report (PDF, 2.23MB) is available.
RP103C  Dual Herbicide Sprayer(funded by RWQ Science Program) This device developed by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to help cane farmers spray herbicides more effectively using lower cost pesticides. The method and cost savings associated with replacing more expensive pesticides is summarised (PDF, 706KB).
RP104C Advancing our understanding of the source management, transport and impacts of pesticides on the Great Barrier Reef 2011-2015 This report (PDF, 2.57MB) provides a synthesis of pesticide research conducted in Great Barrier Reef catchments and waters to update the previous 2006 – 2010 synthesis report by Devlin and Lewis (2011) (PDF, 1.69MB)
RP123P Johnstone River Water Quality Monitoring Project This technical report (PDF, 974KB) describes the establishment of a water quality monitoring station at the mouth of the Johnstone River catchment.
RP141P  Burdekin sediment story This project presents findings related to the source, delivery, fate, impacts and management of sediment from the Burdekin catchment to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). This project produced a report (PDF, 1.65MB) and six conceptual models that are listed below.
  1. Burdekin sediment story: Conceptual model key (PDF, 334KB)
  2. Burdekin flood plume extent (PDF, 4.81MB)
  3. Sediment journey (PDF, 11.2MB)
  4. Catchment sediment sources (PDF, 18.8MB)
  5. Erosion in grazing lands (PDF, 6.14MB)
  6. Cost-effective erosion control (PDF, 5.52MB)
RP144C Sub-catchment Water Quality Monitoring for Pesticides in the Plane Catchment (Sandy Creek) This project established multiple water quality monitoring sites in Sandy Creek to identify hotspots responsible for high levels of pesticides in waterways. The monitoring aimed to show where the problems existed so that growers could make informed decisions about their land management practices.

The project was led by the sugar industry from concept development, to sampling design, sample collection and interpretation of results, and planning of management actions to address off-farm losses of pesticides.

The strong evidence of the origin and fate of pesticides in samples provided certainty about the impact of particular practices and ownership of the problem and its mitigation.

The leadership shown by the sugar industry and commitment of all participating growers underpins the successes of this project in advancing understanding of the water quality in Sandy Creek. A further project is now building on this work in Sandy Creek to link farm practice to in-stream water quality and direct extension activities for growers to change practices in sub-catchments where water quality exceeds set guidelines.

report (PDF, 12.32MB) is available.

RP150P-A  Monitoring and Evaluation Review in Reef Catchment and Best Management Programs In 2016 the Queensland Government, through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), engaged an independent consultant, Watershed Australia, to undertake a review of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan 2013 (Reef Plan). The review (PDF, 2.96MB) included best management program monitoring and evaluation, and developing a framework for practice change monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement (MERI). 

The resulting report has underpinned the inclusion of MERI components into education and extension, and BMP programs and projects implemented under Queensland Reef Water Quality Program. For instance, there is now a requirement for reporting the spatial location of extension and other activities that achieve practice change.

The Office of the Great Barrier Reef (OGBR) is progressing the development of a comprehensive framework that will align the MERI aspects of programs and projects across the reef investments. This will enable a better understanding of the links and effectiveness of the activities that have occurred within the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef towards achieving the stated goals and targets of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan.

RP154P Emerging Reef Science Gaps and Opportunities This report (PDF, 839KB) summarises critical reef science research findings and outputs that have become available since the 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement. It is a useful interim update that informs government policy and direction.