Speaker Info

Chris Chinn
Reef Plan Secretariat
Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet

Email: Chris.Chinn@premiers.qld.gov.au

Seminar Abstract

The Queensland government, as part of the Paddock to Reef Program, is preparing an annual report card on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. The report card utilizes monitoring and modeling from the paddock (farm) scale through the riverways and down to the reef scale. The Great Barrier Reef is a world heritage site, encompassing 2900 reefs, in addition to seagrass meadows and mangrove habitats. The GBR spans 2300km along the Australian coastline. Reef health is threatened by numerous impacts, among them climate change, shipping, coastal development, and point source pollution; the Paddock to Reef Program focuses on diffuse source pollution from agriculture. The Reef Plan contains several targets aimed at improving land management practices for wetland loss, riparian cover, and groundcover. Land practices are graded on an ABCD scheme, with excellent practices that have high water quality benefits earning a grade 'A' and poor practices having a grade 'D'. Catchment indicators, catchment loads, and marine indicators are also integrated into the report card. Practice adoption data is collected by industries and graded on the ABCD framework. The main industries along the Queensland coast include bananas, grazing, cropping, sugar cane, and horticulture. Multiple lines of evidence are a critical aspect of the program, starting with practice adoption (verified with land use, bare ground index), practice effectiveness (rainfall simulation activities, plot monitoring, paddock models), water quality reductions at different basin scales, and ecosystem outcomes with marine monitoring (water quality, coral and seagrass health).

Seminar Transcript

[Chris Chinn] We'll do a tag team and both of our roles are basically to oversee the Paddock to Reef Program. My role is a policy role and Carl's is more implementation so you get that perspective as we get started. We're preparing a report card, it's an annual report card on the health of the reef but it's based on basically monitoring and modeling from the paddock scale right through the reef, hence we came up with the name "Paddock to Reef Monitoring program". So the asset we're trying to protect is the Great Barrier Reef. It's spectacular, it has beautiful corals. It's huge: it's over 2300 kilometers long, which I guess that's about 1500 hundred miles. It's a very long reef system. And the other thing I guess that's unique is it's actually in very good condition unlike a lot of our waterways we are trying to repair them from the degraded situations. It's actually in very good condition, however, the inshore areas are actually suffering a bit, particularly from runoff from the catchments. Lots of threats: we've got climate change and the impact of climate change; we've got shipping issues, it's a lot of shipping through the area; coastal development; and point source pollution. So a number of threats to the health of the reef, however, the one we focus on is around agriculture and the impacts of agriculture from diffuse source pollution. So with agriculture from major catchments adjacent to the reef, very big catchments, highly variable subtropical to tropical climate, and it's flood event driven. So huge pulses of floods then years of dry periods and then floods. That creates a lot of challenges for our monitoring program as well and how we capture information. From a policy perspective the two governments--Queensland and Australian governments-- have developed the Reef Protection Plan. Again, it focuses only on diffuse source pollution and it's the policy framework to pull together around 400 million dollars of Australian government and Queensland government resources. So that's the overarching policy that drives the program. The key thing around the plan is the targets. So we set goals and targets and we basically set them as multiple lines of evidence at multiple scales. So ultimately, (1) we want to improve the practices, the farming practices, on the reef, in those catchments for the key industries. We also want to improve those parts of the catchment that influence water quality, so our wetlands, our riparian areas, and ground cover particularly in grazing lands. The really key target is around load reductions, so those huge flood events, those pulses, we want to reduce those load events for our key pollutants, so our pesticides, nutrients, sediments, that's why we really want to make huge reductions. All the targets are five-year targets so 2013 targets and ultimately then our goal is that water quality has no detrimental impact on the health and resilience of the reef. Fairly ambitious targets and basically the Paddock to Reef program is set up purely to measure and report on progress towards those goals and targets. Carl is going to talk about how we do that through multiple lines of evidence. And the key message is I guess it's been a huge coordination effort. Prior to this a lot of our monitoring programs, and I don't think this is unique to the GBR (Great Barrier Reef) were uncoordinated and funded from multiple sources, so the huge one here is we've actually pooled resources and started to get consistent approaches to get people measuring the same things in the same way so that's been a massive step forward. So it's a highly collaborative arrangement. The challenge is we want to measure success in 1 to 2 years. So now we've got huge systems, slow changes and improvements in water quality over periods-- for sediments, it could take ten, twenty, to fifty years to actually see changes based on our interventions at the paddock scale. So we're tackling farming at the paddock scale for the protection of the asset right down the system so that's where we've got our challenges. The reporting drives the Paddock to Reef program and the targets drive the reporting. We have multiple lines of evidence and again multiple audiences, from those people with very short attention spans that want two minutes to engage them on what's going on. Are we doing the right thing or aren't we, and where? So that's the summary-type report card, the 1- to 2-page message. Below that we've got a technical report, 100-150 page document gives a bit of the detail, a bit of the methodology, the caveats, some of the contextual information about what's going on, much smaller readership, then again for those people who really want to dissect the approach and the data, there are supporting reports. These two tiers are the core of public documents of the program. The third level is documented material held by various contributors. So just a sneak peek of what we have been working on. This is sort of the GBR summary, it's a tri-fold. The key messages, short sharp messages on paddock to reef and basically again so here's our picture of the paddock to reef, the key issues, the key drivers. So again, focus on land practices: are we improving our practices, are farmers improving their practices in terms of a water quality benefit? So we do A, B, C, D. 'A' means that's a practice that has a really good water quality benefit, 'D' is something that's unacceptable. So that's how we're reporting in traffic light system. In the catchment scale we've got our catchment indicators : wetland loss, riparian area protection, and ground cover, and of course catchment loads. At the end where we're entering the reef and then reef marine indicators that Carl is going to go into a bit further, which looks at seagrass, water quality and corals. So in terms of who collects the data, the practice adoption data is collected by the industry. So whether it's the sugar cane, the grazing, the horticulture industry they are currently collecting the data working with our regional bodies, uses our A, B, C, D framework. And grazing we're looking at land condition as well as practice adoption of this management. It's very challenging for us, this part of it getting that information from industry to sort of open up and be honest about where they are currently at in terms of their practices and how that's improving water quality. Jumping right to the other end of the spectrum is at the marine end. Again, looking at seagrass, water quality, and corals. That's ambient information so that's collected annually over a year. The other really crucial driver is because its flood systems they punch out a lot of our pollutants. So we're trying to capture information during those big pulse events that come through. Again, so the map is just showing pesticides against guidelines that shows where we're having major events and I think this is Mackay Whitsunday, which is one of the smaller regions. That's how we're doing the reporting, Carl is going to take over now and he's going to actually talk about the program, how we're actually implementing the program. [Carl Mitchell] Thanks Chris. So as Chris was saying, we're trying to emulate a Paddock to Reef monitoring and reporting program looking at implementation and changes at the farm scale, at the paddock scale, and how that translates right through the system to marine health. And the way we do that is through monitoring at those various scales from paddock through the farm through the riverway through to the reef and then using a combination of monitoring and modeling to interpret between those scales and tell the story all the way through. We've got multiple lines of evidence and using then the models to integrate that across. So starting up at the paddock end, at the farm end, we're looking at management practice adoption, who is doing what where? What practices are being undertaken on farms and then relating those practices back to a water quality outcome. So as Chris said we've got an A, B, C, D framework which we are asking industries to tell us where they currently are at as far as A, B, C, D within the landscape, which farmers are undertaking which practices. And then we have a range of paddock monitoring sites looking at what those practices mean for water quality and management practice effectiveness in trials. We've got a remote sensing activity, which looks at some key catchment condition indicators in wetland extent, riparian cover, and groundcover. And then we've got catchment monitoring, which is catchment loads moving into the system looking at what's coming down in those big flood events, as well as catchment modeling, which models that flood outcome, and then the marine monitoring program, which is being undertaken now for several years looking at seagrass, water quality, and coral health. This is a visual representation of that just showing that we've got throughout the landscape different scales from the paddock through the river system through the end of the reef and we've got a combination of monitoring and modeling to integrate those scales. So just running through that we're looking at, as a key thing, land use where activities are undertaken, in some instances we're using bare ground index to give us an estimation of management practices and land condition. But as Chris said we are also engaging with industry and regional groups to look at getting detailed assessments of management practice adoption, by industry, by region and by sub-catchment. So that tells us then who is doing what there and who is doing what where and then we need to have a look at what those different practices mean for water quality. So we've got a range of rainfall simulation activities, which is a nice neat way of capturing at a very small scale, the relationship between a practice and the water quality leaving that practice. I've got these in around the wrong way. We got plot monitoring which sets up long to medium term sites which have those practices beside each other on the same soil type. So you've got D beside C beside B beside A they're all flumed and we're actually measuring the relative differences between those different practices on the side and were doing that for the various industries and then we've got a range of rainfall simulations, which take that and try to extrapolate it on different soil types in different regions. And then we've got the models. We've got the paddock, which is a way of upscaling that. The plot and the rainfall simulation work is nested within the group of paddocks and then the paddock work is nested within the catchment monitoring site. So the whole thing is actually a nested monitoring approach and then we use the models to-- we started a train of models on how then to model between those nested sites. This then leads into the water, the catchment monitoring at a sub-basin scale, at a basin scale, and end of system. And then we, as I said we're doing a range of monitoring activities which is training our models how to predict changes in the loads over time. And then we've got the marine monitoring program, which is looking at coral health, seagrass health, and water quality. The monitoring sites, we've got them-- these are the paddock monitoring sites-- the strip trials A, B, C, D. We've got them in a range of areas across a range of industries: capsecum, cucurbits, so the horticulture down at Burnett Mary; cane within Mackay Whitsunday, lower Burdekin, in the Herbert; bananas up in wet tropics; and a range of grazing trials in the Burdekin and in the Fitzroy region. So we've got reasonable coverage of those really intense strip trials and then the rainfall simulation work extrapolates that out onto different soil types. We've got some cropping work being done in the Fitzroy as well. Some of the activities: rainfall simulation, we've installed flumes, bananas, and some of our researches. So what we have is monitoring and modeling integrated over time to try and tell that story all the way from the paddock to the reef. What farmers are doing, what that means for water quality , what's happening in our rivers and what's coming out to the end of the system and how that's-- how the marine environment is reacting to that. And then all that has to be integrated up into the report card which is released every year. As Chris mentioned we've got quite a lot of players involved in that. We've got state and federal government agencies. We've got the natural resource and management groups which are NGOs (non-government organizations), industry organizations, research and development such as the CSIRO, which is a commonwealth research organization, universities including the University of Maryland and the work that Bill and Jane and Heath do in helping us with the integration and reporting. And that's all I've got.

Seminar Discussion

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