Reef Catchments Annual Report 2022 - 2023

Reef Catchments Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Limited (RCL) are the Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisation for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region. We facilitate change and work for long-term solutions to sustain, protect, and improve our region’s natural resources and environment, now and into the future. Our work extends from the mountains to the sea. We connect with landholders, businesses, delivery providers, Government agencies, community groups and traditional owners.

We're proud to provide this report, giving an overview of projects and activities carried out during the financial year 2022 to 2023. We hope you enjoy.

Note from the Chair

Julie Boyd

Reef Catchments released its Strategic Plan 2023-26 which will guide the organisation going forward. This plan builds on the last one, but we are also looking to new investment into the sector so that we can value add to the work that we do with our stakeholders. Being reliant on Governments has served the organisation well, but we need to bring in innovation and look to opportunities in the Environmental, Social and Governance space - and this doesn’t fit neatly into Government priorities.

The past year has been exceptionally busy. A number of major projects concluded and as always, the teams have done remarkable work and completed the projects and reporting on time. We have been fortunate that RCL has not been impacted by Covid 19 and that our engagement with all stakeholders has been maintained and strengthened.

The Federal Government has now been in place for more than a year and there had been an expectation that funding through the Natural Heritage Trust would continue, with projects commencing in the early part of the 23/24 financial year. However, although the rhetoric from the Government has been positive to the NRM sector, the reality is quite different. We continue to advocate strongly for the sector and are hopeful that contracts can be negotiated, and new or continuing projects commence.

I’d like to thank the Board for their ongoing support and commitment, and to Katrina and the team - you continue to make the Board very proud of the work that you do.

CEO's Update

Katrina Dent

Teamwork, impact and on-ground action

I joined Reef Catchments in May 2015, and 8 years later I still enjoy walking into the office each and every day.

I joined Reef Catchments because I wanted to see change, I wanted to know that on-ground action was occurring to improve the condition of the regional landscape. I wanted to be part of a regional community that respects the natural environment and builds from it, understanding that our natural resources are the foundational pillar for strong and sustainable regional economies.

The livelihood of our region relies on good soil health for productive agriculture, improved water quality for the tourism industry, wetlands and estuaries free of pest and weeds, stable creeks and rivers that allow fish passage for nurseries, recreational and commercial fishers, reduced sediment for a range of industries, and coastal locations and islands free of marine debris for the community’s enjoyment. This is only a snippet of the work the team undertakes for a resilient region.

Koala photo: Charley Geddes

I see the commitment from the team when they work with traditional owners, landholders, industry, community groups, schools and government - working together to discuss and understand the issues and to develop and implement achievable outcomes.

The team is motivated to facilitate positive change. They relish working across a region where people, the environment, production and development co-exist in balance. Their actions ensure our vision is achieved - resilient ecosystems and engaged community.

This annual report showcases the team’s impact, the benefits of their tireless work, and the power in developing strong working relationships with land managers to get the job done, improving the condition of the region’s natural resources.

Sustainable Agriculture

The Sustainable Agriculture team is a dedicated team passionate about prioritising the responsible use of natural resources to ensure the long-term viability of food production. We collaborate closely with farmers and landholders to instigate transformative actions and practices on their properties.

Our goal is to boost on-farm productivity and profitability while promoting sustainability.

These efforts span various industries and encompass a range of practices, including holistic farm management, best practices in grazing and cane farming, as well as water quality monitoring and reporting through the Paddock to Reef program.

Current Projects

Click on the headings to explore our projects in greater depth.

Recently Completed Projects

2023 Project Highlights

Program Highlights

"The program has allowed growers to identify productivity constraints and develop a management plan to effectively manage those constraints appropriately. Having a management plan has helped growers maintain productivity and profitability while working to improve water quality." Todd McNeill (Partnership Coordinator)

The Mackay Whitsunday regional water quality improvement program is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Program Highlights

“Without the funding from Major Grants, it would have taken us at least another 4 years of saving to purchase this new equipment” Alan McFazden, Grower/Participant in Major Grants

“I’m not concerned about any of the practices I’ve adopted, they will last on my farm” Ron Randell, Grower/Participant in Major Grants

The Major Grants project is funded by the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The targeted support to maximise soil, biodiversity and vegetation outcomes in the O’Connell and Proserpine basins of the Mackay Whitsunday NRM region Project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

Case Study: Woodlands Station: Sharon and Mark Yensch


Waterways comprises a small team within Reef Catchments, dedicated to working with landholders to achieve big outcomes within the waterways space. Our moto is:

We get things done, they're done to a high standard, and we work closely with our local landholders to ensure that our goals and their goals align.

For a number of years our streambank remediation works have been carried out within the O’Connell Basin. This area has been identified as a moderate to high priority for reducing fine sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. The team has dedicated many hours to writing grant applications and supporting landholders in other catchment areas to try and secure funding for streambank remediation works across the entire NRM region. It’s our hope that the region wide streambank stability assessment completed under the Preparing Australian Communities (PAC) project will help us to achieve this goal. In the meantime, the team continues to look for ways to further support our local graziers and growers, and bring further investment to the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.

Waterways Projects

2022/2023 was a big year for the Waterways team with the final 12 months of the Reef Trust VII – O’Connell and Proserpine water quality project to be completed, the commencement of the PAC project and the Reef Assist 2.0 streambank stewardship project.

The team has done a brilliant job in ensuring that all deliverables of the Reef Trust VII were over-achieved and delivered on time.

Year in review

The PAC project achieved great traction over the last 12 months. The regional erosion identification, prioritisation and remediation study carried out in partnership with Neilly Group Engineering has been an enormous body of work and provided many learning and adaptive management opportunities. The study was completed by June 30th 2023, with final results to be presented to stakeholders by late 2023. The study identified over 500 potential erosion sites, opportunities to save over 34,000 t/y of fine sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef lagoon, evidence to show that there are opportunities for streambank remediation work and sediment savings in all four basins across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.

Work on the Reef Assist 2.0 project also commenced in January 2023. The Waterways team have been busy planning and implementing the remediation of a major gully site and two streambank sites within the O’Connell River catchment. The works completed this year include the installation of engineered designs for the gully site and commencement of construction works at one of the streambank sites. Completion of construction works at both streambank sites and revegetation of all sites will be carried out in the second half of 2023. The gully site required 2,500 tonnes of rock to remediate, and all three sites are estimated to save a combined total of 2,586 t/y of fine sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.

2023 Highlights and Stories

The targeted support to maximise soil, biodiversity and vegetation outcomes in the O’Connell and Proserpine basins of the Mackay Whitsunday NRM region Project is funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust.

Stories of impact

The fencing component of the PAC project has allowed for region wide engagement of landholders and enabled Reef Catchments to re-engage and provide support to graziers and growers who live in catchments that have not received funding support for several years. The project has received overwhelming support from the community and demonstrates that there is an appetite across the entire region for these types of projects.

A total of 89 landholders have been engaged to install 175 km of riparian fencing and 147 off-stream watering points, protecting over 200 ha of riparian vegetation and waterways. Landholders have provided in-kind contribution of approximately $2.5 million. The project was oversubscribed within the first 12 months, and Reef Catchments are still receiving expressions of interest from landholders who want to participate.

Conservation and Communities

The Conservation and Communities team is one of the largest teams within Reef Catchments with eight staff (including Coordinator). We strive to partner with a range of community groups, Traditional Owners, students, landholders, Mackay, Whitsunday and Isaac Regional Councils and local residents that are keen to protect and preserve the unique flora and fauna of the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.

We have a broad scope of works and are generously supported by a range of funding agencies including the Australian Government through the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Queensland Government through the Department of Environment and Science and the Department of Resources, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as well as generous in-kind support provided by a range of local partners.

Current projects

Recently completed projects

  • Prioritisation of eastern curlew habitat in the Mackay region
  • Management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Islands) within the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region (Seagrass monitoring, Marine Debris removal and audits, Marine Turtle Monitoring on Mackay and Whitsunday islands, Weed Management of Mackay Islands (Goldsmith Island), Youth Ambassador program)
  • High priority coastal and island restoration for the protection of significant ecological communities and species (Fishways- (including fish barrier prioritisation report, Sandringham Lagoon Complex, Threatened Ecological Communities (TECs), Marine Turtles Habitat, Bushy Island African Big-Headed Ants)
"The fish ladder project was a great learning experience. I learnt about Cultural Heritage from the elders; and about the construction, function and purpose of the fish ladder from Trent and the Reef Catchments staff." Leighton Bickey, Koinmerburra Aboriginal Corporation

Jason Bradford - Joint Winner Reef Conservation Champion Award for Sandringham Wetlands

From the outset of this project, Jason has been fundamental in exchanging knowledge, learnings and experiences. Jason’s presence and active participation during the walking the landscape activities influenced the engagement of his neighbors and greater network. He has been very vocal in sharing his knowledge and vision with other landholders and stakeholders, allowing for a greater understanding of this sub-catchment area.

Jason has given his time in-kind to capture and promote the best management practices and lessons learned from this project. This includes the production of a video and various media releases which highlight project activities and reinforces the importance of sustainable land stewardship.

Jason Bradford - leading by example.

Additionally, Jason also donated his time to participate in the Reef Line Fishery Working Group, providing operational advice to Fisheries Queensland on particular fisheries management options and fishing methods, assisting with the implementation of harvest strategies, considering information and providing advice on fisher performance, and promoting the sustainable use of our natural resources.

“We’ve got an asset here that’s pretty special, and I think if it was in the best condition it could possibly be in, in terms of biodiversity and function, what would that look like? That’s what I’m aiming for. What I want for (my property) is to be a financially viable enterprise, grazing cattle, as well as outcomes for nature. So I want the best of both worlds.“ Jason Bradford

The Sandringham story can be seen in this video.


Flaggy Rock Fishway

Flaggy Rock Creek, located south of Carmila, has a total of 161 recorded waterway barriers, in a catchment area of 190km2. The Flaggy Rock Creek fishway was ranked as a number two high-priority barrier in the region . The rock and concrete channel at the bottom of the fishway washed away in the 2010/2011 floods, which caused the bed to scour below the outlet and the tailwater level (waters immediately downstream of fishway) to drop, thus creating a physical fish barrier.

This project sought to repair the fishway by filling the scour erosion up to the natural bed and bank-level, which reinstates the tailwater level, as well as reinstate the rock/ concrete channel at the fishway entrance, protecting against future scour erosion.

Flaggy Rock Fishway Before and After

Read more on the case study below.

Marine Debris Clean Up

Reef Catchments conducted three marine debris removal trips from the islands off the coast of Mackay across May and June 2023. The aim of theses trips were to remove marine debris from turtle nesting beaches, to assist with turtle conservation.

Over the three trips, we were assisted by 70 volunteers who managed to remove approximately 100 kg of marine debris from St Bees and Scawfell Islands. The top five items collected were: hard plastic remnants, lids/bottle caps, aluminium cans, broken glass and plastic drink bottles.

Youth Ambassadors 2023

This video was created by Reef Catchment's Youth Ambassador 2023 cohort. The students from Proserpine State High School wanted to focus on marine turtle conservation and created this video to raise awareness about turtles in our region, and the threats they are facing. The students obtained their footage from a day trip with Ocean Rafting to Eco Barge/Whitsunday Turtle Rescue Centre. The students really enjoyed their time in the program and meeting such dedicated people from both organisations.

Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owners Reference Group

This year the focus has really been on revitalizing and recruiting for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Traditional Owner Reference Group (MWI TORG). We're pleased to say that our efforts have paid dividends with seven members representing each of the seven Traditional Owner groups (Juru, Ngaro, Gia, Widi, Barada, Yuwi and Koinmerburra) across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region successfully installed.

MWI TORG members meet five times across the year in five different locations (Nebo, Bowen, Proserpine, Mackay and St Lawrence). Each meeting featured a number of presentations from a wide range of active and potential partners, including QPWS, Tassal, QLD Hydro, AIMS, Whitsunday Regional Council and many more. A decision was also made to up-skill and empower other First Nation persons by creating an active proxy position for each of the seven member groups.

MWI TORG Members Meeting

The group continue to work on reviewing and updating the Terms of Reference so that it is the best representation of the intended outcomes of the MWI TORG – that the TORG will continue to provide a forum for the identification, facilitation and implementation of the management of natural, cultural and heritage endeavours/rights for Mackay Whitsunday Isaac land and sea country.

Although the year saw the departure of our Traditional Engagement Project Officer Allysa Brown, we successfully recruited Robert Congoo, a proud Ngaro/ Gia, man into the role of Traditional Owner Engagement Officer. Robbie recently moved back to the Whitsundays to help other Gia and Ngaro people reconnect with their Country. We are really excited to see how Robert’s leadership will empower and support the Traditional Owners of the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac care for their country.

The TORG webpage, which features on the Reef Catchments website, has been updated to become a more inclusive and open avenue for sharing information pertinent to First Nation people across the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region. We also created a short film about Scar Trees that features our Barada member representative Sam Dallacy. We hope you enjoy this.

“I see part of my role as proxy to act as a second set eyes and ears, and voice opinions from a young persons perspective, act as a bridge between older generations and some of the more modern concepts being brought in by current and potential partnering agencies.” Sarah McAvoy, Gia Proxy

"Being a proxy for Juru gives me an opportunity to see what is happening on country, network, see what opportunities are around, see what can be created for the future, Caring for Country and seeing what’s happening on Country – on the water, on the islands. Trying to get back on country, work on country, create more opportunities for First Nations people on our country.” Jason Hardwig, Juru Proxy

"Being on the TORG means we have a voice and are included in projects looking after the environment, looking after country. My goal is to maintain the seven tribes working together, looking after each other and helping each other manage country." Samarla Deshong, TO Board Member

Background Image: Aunty Sue sharing knowledge Photo: Alyssa Brown

Whitsunday Reef Island Initiative

The Reef Team is a new addition to Reef Catchments during this year. At the moment, there is just one team member with one program of work – the Whitsunday Reef Islands Initiative. We are looking to increase the Reef Team in the near future, bringing in additional projects and new staff to focus on offshore ecological protection and enhancement.

The current scope of works is managing a Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) funded program called the Whitsunday Reef Islands Initiative.

The Reef Islands Initiative is a Great Barrier Reef Foundation program, supported by funding from Lendlease, the Australian Government’s Reef Trust, the Queensland Government and the Fitzgerald Family Foundation

Within the Initiative, each project has its own project lead, with Reef Catchments serving as the Program Manager for all:

Photo - larval reseeding Jodi Salmond

This year has been a big year in the Whitsundays Reef Islands Initiative. The Coral Nurture Program sites were all set up in August-September 2022, with three nurseries built and stocked at Blue Pearl Bay, Black Island and Luncheon Bay. Kiana Sail & Dive, Red Cat Adventures and Ocean Rafting are looking after the three sites (respectively).

Reseeding trials at the Pioneer Bay seagrass meadow have begun, with three different methods of seed dispersal being tested by CQUniversity. Two Traditional Owners have began traineeships with the University, learning how to propagate seagrass in our ex-situ seagrass nursery at Coral Sea Marina.

Photo credits clockwise from top left: Seagrass Nursery Fiona Ayers, Seagrass Collection Johnny Gaskell, Larval Reseeding Johnny Gaskell, Larval Reseeding Jodi Salmond

The coral spawning in November 2022 was the best we’ve had to date in the Boats 4 Corals program, with a coral slick providing good collection conditions. Approximately 52 million coral eggs were collected by tourism operators and after days of fertilisation and growth, the larvae were released at Black Island.

In the Whitsunday Healthy Heart project, Whitsunday Regional Council have secured more than 40 partners from the tourism industry, the majority of which have finished benchmarking their ecological footprint and are actively working on pathways to decarbonise and reduce their ecological impact.

Image: Luncheon Bay, Johnny Gaskell

Whitsunday Reef Island Initiative


Seagrass Restoration

One of the great stories from the Whitsundays Reef Islands Initiative comes from the seagrass project. At the moment, we just have one raceway with seagrass. It is a pilot nursery – to test whether the setup would work. In 18 months the nursery has had exceptional growth, the likes of which CQ University hasn’t experienced in their own nurseries. The seagrass is growing so fast it has had to be re-potted multiple times. Leaning into this success, we are in the beginning phases of upscaling the nursery so that it will be three times the size.

Not only has the nursery been great for growing seagrass, but it has been great for Traditional Owner engagement. Two paid Traditional Owner traineeship positions are supported through the project, providing employment and educational pathways for Ngaro Traditional Owners.

Photo credit top left and right Johnny Gaskell
“Waddamooli, my name is Eric Silas Lymburner and this is my first time being a part of the seagrass restoration process. I must say it’s a new experience for me and I am excited to be part of the restoration and even more exciting is what we are bringing to the table for the Gia and Gnaru country that provides for the sea turtles and the dugongs.” Eric Lymburner, Traditional Owner trainee working for CQU on the seagrass nursery.

Background Photo: Seagrass surveys, Johnny Gaskell

Mackay Whitsunday Isaac Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership

The Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership is a strong network of diverse organisations who collaborate to improve and inform on water quality. This year, thanks to Partner investment, we have been able to actively address regional data gaps, implement action and engage with a wide-reaching range of stakeholders and community. With thirty four organisations on board, the Partnership released the 9th waterway health report card for the Mackay-Whitsunday and Isaac area, reporting on waterway health data collected between July 2021 to July 2022. We are proud to work with the Traditional Owners of our Partnership region.

2022 Report Card

The 2022 Report Card revealed a range of waterway health scores from B to D across the region’s 17 environmental grades in ten zones. Results highlighted where more information is needed, where achievements can be celebrated, and where more work and investment is needed.


Our Partners go above and beyond when it comes to waterway health and the actions they are taking. This year the 2021-22 Above and Beyond Stewardship Report was publicly released, sharing important narrative and information on the projects our Partners are undertaking to improve waterway health.

Traps ID top litter items

As part of the Whitsunday Gross Pollutant Trap Project, we worked with Whitsunday Regional Council to install 15 litter traps in stormwater drains across the Whitsundays. Throughout 2022 and early 2023, the contents of these traps were collected every eight weeks and with the help of volunteers, we sorted and entered the findings into the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) Database.

Data from the Whitsunday Gross Pollutant Trap Project shows that the number one litter item found heading into our waterways was cigarette butts, with more than 7,000 pieces intercepted. Using this information, we are working with our partner Tangaroa Blue Foundation, and local venues, to install dedicated butt bins along with educational signage.

The Whitsunday Gross Pollutant Trap Project received funding support from the Queensland Government’s Community Sustainability Action grant program.

Ongoing funding for Southern Inshore Marine Monitoring

Thanks to industry Partner, Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal Pty Ltd (DBCT P/L), and Dalrymple Bay Infrastructure (DBI), we can now report comprehensively on data for the Southern Inshore Zone.

Previously a missing piece of our region’s waterway health puzzle, we now have data for water quality, coral and seagrass across multiple years, providing capacity to inform future management action.

Excitingly, DBCT P/L and DBI have committed to fund the program for an additional three years from FY24-26, showing what can be achieved as part of a Partnership-led initiative.


Our Partners

The Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership has thirty four members across industry, community, government, science and tourism who recognise that more can be achieved by working together.

Valuing our partnerships

We remain committed to developing authentic relationships, valuing our current partnerships, and building new ones. To maintain and value our current relationships we’ve:

  • developed Memorandum’s of Understanding with valued partners
  • ensured we continue to meet at a range of levels with partners to hear their priorities, ideas and opinions
  • broadened our collaboration and discussions with First Nations people through opportunities such as Walking the Landscape.

This approach helps us to hear your views, acknowledge your position and develop shared priorities for improving the condition of the natural resources across this region.

Reef Catchments is one of twelve natural resource management organisations in Queensland who connect and share as part of NRM Regions QLD.

Resilient ecosystems, engaged community

From the mountains to the sea, Reef Catchments is your Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisation for the Mackay Whitsunday Isaac region.