James Cook University water quality researcher Dr Jon Brodie said the concentration of the region's agricultural industry offered some hope for change to save the reef. Picture: Zizi Averill
James Cook University water quality researcher Dr Jon Brodie said the concentration of the region's agricultural industry offered some hope for change to save the reef. Picture: Zizi Averill

Saving the reef: Our farming mix could be a plus

WATER quality researcher Dr Jon Brodie has been admiring the glory of the Great Barrier Reef for the past three decades, but he fears for the next generation of coral scientists.

“These young students are going to be studying coral reefs and water quality for the rest of their careers … And they’re going to be here for the next 40 to 45 years watching them degrade,” the James Cook University researcher said.

“It’s a depressing story — but it’s not just about coral. It’s about dugongs, turtles and seagrasses”.

Dr Brodie said there was some hope, but it would require cane growers to embrace the controversial reef regulations passed in parliament two weeks ago.

He said years of inaction from politicians and industry had caused significant damage to the reef.

The 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report showed the southern Mackay-Whitsunday and lower Burdekin regions had the highest end-of-catchment concentrations of pesticide run-off, which posed a toxicity risk to freshwater ecosystems and some inshore coastal habitats.

Unlike other regions, Dr Brodie said, Mackay-Whitsunday was effectively dominated by sugar cane, with very few other major agricultural industries, and the concentration of growers may be an advantage to the reef’s water quality prospects.

“Compared to grazing, the sugar cane industry is very organised,” he said.

With all growers connected to a mill, he explained, the regulation changes could be implemented in more systematic and efficient fashion compared to other farmers.

But to do so, Dr Brodie said the industry needed to accept green regulations were here to stay, and work with the government and environmentalists.

Dr Brodie was a speaker at the Water Quality and the Great Barrier Reef forum on October 1.

With speeches by mixed farmers, graziers and envrionmentalists, the Mackay Conservation Group forum aimed to highlight projects helping to improve the outlook for the reef.


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