Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund

The Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund is the Queensland Government’s $9 million investment over four years (2016–2020) as part of the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program to encourage innovation and fresh thinking around on-ground projects in reef catchments.

The fund matches investment from private, philanthropic and government sources to support the development, scaling up and roll-out of new technologies, approaches and cross-boundary collaboration to improve reef water quality.

Current major projects

Affordable water quality sensors

More affordable water quality sensors would allow more of our waterways in reef catchments to be monitored.

Water quality monitoring equipment can cost thousands of dollars. More affordable water sensors would allow more of our waterways in reef catchments to be monitored; providing better information on the effectiveness of practice change and other actions.

In late 2016, expressions of interest were called to design and supply a robust, affordable fine scale water quality sensor as part of the Advance Queensland Small Business Innovation Research challenge initiative.

AJJA Technologies was successful in securing funding for the proof of concept stage and will be field testing their prototype at various locations across reef catchments during 2018.

EEF60 Fertiliser Trials

Jointly funded by the Australian and Queensland governments, the EEF60 project invests $7.1 million over three years into around 60 on-farm trials of enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEFs).

The project is being delivered by Sugar Research Australia and managed by CANEGROWERS and aims to determine if EEFs can improve nitrogen use efficiency and reduce nitrogen losses without impacting farm profitability or productivity. The sites, which include a variety of soil and climatic conditions will be monitored until 2020.

Enhanced efficiency fertilisers (EEFs) have the potential to better align nutrient availability to crop requirements. This reduces the risk of nitrogen loss into waterways. Nitrogen pollution in waterways is a significant threat to reef water quality. Keep up-to-date with the EEF60 project:

Greening Australia Gully Remediation Partnership

Fine sediment from gully erosion is one of the biggest threats to reef water quality.

The Greening Australia Gully Remediation Partnership is a $2 million matched funding agreement with Greening Australia over four years to tackle gully erosion in the Burdekin. Fine sediment from gully erosion is one of the biggest threats to reef water quality.

The project at Strathalbyn Station inland from Ayr on the Burdekin River, trials cost-effective gully repair techniques including hydromulching (spray-on grass) and earthworks to construct seeded batters (inward or receding sloping walls). These techniques have the potential to save millions of dollars and could be applied to other reef regions, if proven successful. Read more on the Greening Australia website.

Treatment Systems in Coastal Catchments Forum (July 2016)

A Treatment Systems in Coastal Catchments Forum was held in July 2016 bringing together experts to showcase innovative water treatment systems including constructed wetlands, floating wetlands, bioreactors, algae treatment and other technologies.

The forum provided an overview of innovative new approaches to treatment systems, which have the potential to reduce nutrients and pesticides from diffuse rural sources in the coastal catchments of Queensland. Read the Treatment Systems Forum summary report.

Other projects

Bentonite and limestone use in sugarcane for improved soil and aquatic quality
(Mackay Whitsunday)
Proponent: Queensland University of Technology

Project description

This is a three year field trial in the Mackay Whitsunday region to test two different types of agricultural limestone to improve nutrient retention and soil health. One is derived from local alkaline volcanic material containing bentonite and the other, from crushed coral.

Currently the vast majority of cane farmers in the Mackay Whitsunday region apply coral reef limestone because it’s considered to be more effective. However some farmers using local volcanic limestone have reported better crop responses. This may be due to the higher bentonite content in the local volcanic limestone.

Potential benefits

Agricultural limestone improves soil health and increases its nutrient retention capacity, reducing nitrogen loss into aquifers and surface water. The use of local volcanic limestone may provide a better alternative to coral reef limestone, benefiting farm productivity and the Great Barrier Reef with reduced nutrient run-off.

Bioreactors for GBR (B4GBR): developing and networking of nitrogen mitigation in cane and bananas
(Burdekin and Wet Tropics)
Proponent: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Project description

This project will monitor a mix of bioreactor systems in sugarcane in the Burdekin and bananas in the Wet Tropics and also establish a Queensland-wide network of bioreactor sites and practitioners to collate and share information for broader application across reef regions.

Bioreactors are treatment systems used to treat pollutants in surface and groundwater by enhancing the natural process of denitrification. In its simplest form, a bioreactor is a trench or chamber filled with a high carbon material such as wood chips that effectively removes dissolved inorganic nitrogen from water through that passes through it.

Potential benefits

Denitrification bioreactors provide a passive, low cost solution to reduce nitrogen pollution in waterways in reef catchments. The project will develop guidelines for the construction, deployment and operation of bioreactors through practical demonstration.

Denitrification bioreactor trial in the Russell catchment
(Wet Tropics)
Proponent: Jaragun Pty Ltd

Project description

This project trials two different bioreactor designs (in-drain ‘bed’ and end-of-field ‘walls’) on two farms with contrasting soil types. The bioreactors will form part of an integrated treatment train, including sediment traps and a constructed wetland, being established to manage dissolved inorganic nitrogen emanating from the Babinda Swamp Drainage Area in the Russell catchment.

Potential benefits

Denitrification bioreactors provide a passive, low cost solution to reduce nitrogen pollution in waterways in reef catchments. The Babinda project will look at the effectiveness of different designs and also become part of the knowledge network to be established under the Bioreactors for GBR (B4GBR) project.

Determining the role of a constructed surface-flow treatment wetland system in improving water quality in the Barratta Creek Catchment
Proponent: Burdekin-Bowen Integrated Floodplain Management Advisory Committee Inc.

Project description

This project involves building a constructed surface-flow treatment wetland to trap and reduce dissolved inorganic nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and pesticides contained in sugarcane irrigation tail-water before it enters Barratta Creek.

The project builds on previous water monitoring projects in the catchment and works with neighbouring cane farmers to gain data on irrigation scheduling, fertiliser application and chemical use to monitor and analyse inputs versus outputs from the treatment system.

Potential benefits

This project aims to demonstrate the feasibility and effectiveness of constructed treatment wetlands as a low cost, low energy solution to reducing pollutants entering the reef. It will also provide education and extension opportunities with project outputs to include wetland design training workshops, site field trips and various communications products.

Maximising the efficacy of variable rate technology to reduce nutrient use and sediment transport in vegetable and melon production
(Burdekin and Wet Tropics)
Proponent: Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries

Project description

Using commercial melon and vegetable demonstration sites in the Burdekin and Wet Tropics, this project investigates the use of precision agriculture and variable rate technology in horticulture.

It builds on previous work funded through Landcare and aims to assess the costs and benefits of precision agriculture for crop productivity and return on investment with the aim of encouraging its adoption in reef catchments.

Potential benefits

Horticulture is traditionally a high input industry dependent on fertiliser, soil amendment, chemicals and irrigation. Precision agriculture precisely matches crop requirements with field variability using site-specific management. This optimises irrigation and nutrient use, which in turn reduces potential sediment and nutrient run-off into waterways.

Reducing run-off using deep rooted crops to improve infiltration rates and nitrogen use efficiency
(Wet Tropics)
Proponent: Quality Caamano Fruit

Project description

This is a three year trial to be conducted in tropical, sandy soils in the Wet Tropics region which involves planting Daikon radishes alongside new citrus plantings. The trial aims to see if the radish’s large tap root reduces crop run-off by improving water and nutrient infiltration.

The Daikon or ‘tillage’ radish is commonly planted in the United States for this purpose but not widely used in Australia. There has been little to no research done on how the crop may perform in a tropical climate.

Potential benefits

Deep rooted crops like the Daikon radish have the potential to significantly reduce pollutant run-off by taking up excess crop nutrients and allowing water to penetrate further into the soil profile. This could provide a simple, cost-effective on-farm solution to reducing pollutants entering waterways that flow to the reef.

Synchronised controlled release fertiliser
(Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday and Wet Tropics)
Proponent: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Project description

This project looks to scale-up the commercial viability of a CSIRO-developed controlled release fertiliser (SyncFert) that uses a biodegradable coating rather than a polymer or polymer-sulfer coating, which leads to microplastic contamination.

CSIRO is working with Haifa, the world’s largest manufacturer of controlled release fertilisers to assist in the commercial scale manufacturing of SyncFert for the banana and sugarcane industries.

Potential benefits

Controlled released fertilisers (CRFs) release nutrients in a more stable, controlled way, reducing the loss of nitrogen into waterways. However many CRFs use a plastic coating to achieve this. The commercial production of SyncFert with its biodegradable coating would provide a double benefit for the reef, reducing two pollutants, microplastics and excess nutrients in the form of nitrogen.

Trialling remote livestock management systems
Proponent: Fitzroy Basin Association

Project description

This three year project in the Fitzroy investigates the loop between production and pasture data by trialling three remote livestock management systems in conjunction with satellite pasture data on properties with a range of production systems and land types.

The Fitzroy region is a hotspot for sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef with hillslope, gully and streambank erosion on grazing lands with low ground cover and low density of perennial, productive and palatable pastures.

Potential benefits

The project aims to demonstrate ways that graziers can use innovative technologies to better inform land management decisions, enhancing productivity and reducing soil and nutrient loss to waterways and the reef.

Validation of the water quality improvement from constructed wetland treatment trains
Proponent: Reef Catchments Ltd

Project description

This project will evaluate the effectiveness of wetland treatment train systems over three years as an alternative to traditional sediment basins and cane drains in improving water quality once it has left the farm gate.

It will monitor the performance of two large multiple chamber treatment train Sandy Creek and Bakers Creek constructed as part of a previous project.

Potential benefits

Data from the project will be invaluable in highlighting the effectiveness of improved farm practices versus treatment trains as well as other actions to improve water quality. The results will be provided to the Paddock to Reef program on annual basis and used to develop a treatment train tool box product to encourage uptake of the technology.