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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

30 January 2003

Increased Protection for Great Barrier Reef


The Great Barrier Reef and the rivers of the Douglas Shire will have improved water quality thanks to $150,000 from the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust.

Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, said the funds from the NHT's Coastal Catchments Initiative would be used to develop with the Shire, industry and other stakeholders a Water Quality Improvement Plan for local rivers that flow into the Reef.

"The Plan - which is supported by funding from Douglas Shire Council - will address sediment and nutrient loads deposited into the Reef from the Daintree and Mossman Rivers and the Mowbray and Salt Water creeks, " Dr Kemp said.

"The major sources of sediment and nutrients come from the Mossman and Daintree River catchments. Including the smaller Mowbray and Salt Water creeks, Daintree and Mossman are depositing over 100,000 tonnes of sediment, 730 tonnes of nitrogen and 78 tonnes of phosphorus into the Reef each year."

A large portion of these deposits result from important agricultural activity in the catchments.

Nutrients, in particular nitrogen, trigger algal growth. Combined with solid loads, these nutrients can smother and kill juvenile coral which plays an important role in the ocean's delicate ecosystem. These impacts are exacerbated by cyclonic flooding.

"This is where the $150,000 Coastal Catchments funding comes in, to identify ways of protecting the Reef's water quality in cooperation with local industry, particularly cane growers and graziers," Dr Kemp said.

"The Plan will consider a range of options including extension of green-trashing cane fields for mulch to retain water in the cane fields and to protect the top soil from surface run-off; reducing the use of fertiliser; fencing off creeks and eroded hillsides from stock; protecting and rehabilitating riparian areas (river and creek banks); and maintaining adequate vegetation cover in grazing areas.

"The Plan will identify the most cost-effective means of achieving and maintaining water quality targets. It will be developed in association with the State Government, regional organisations, local industry and the community."

The Federal Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, said he welcomed the Commonwealth's commitment to improved water quality on the Great Barrier Reef as a crucial contribution to the protection and long term enhancement of the local economy.

"It is crucial for North Queensland that we have sustainable agricultural industries while, at the same time, we have to afford the reef the level of protection it needs to ensure its environmental values on which our massive tourism industry is based, are also sustained."

"Canegrowers should not feel threatened by this move because they will be fully involved."

Warren Entsch, the Member for Leichhardt, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, said he was pleased that the plan would be developed in full consultation with stakeholders.

"The carrot, not the stick, and full consultation about agreed targets and about how to meet them have to be the cornerstone of the process if we are going to deliver good, equitable, results to the rural community and the reef."

Douglas Shire Mayor, Mike Berwick said the Plan would tackle excessive nutrient and sediment loads to the Reef and aim for long-term protection of water quality. Douglas Shire Council has contributed $7000 and $63,000 in-kind towards the Plan. The council will prepare the Plan, which is expected to be completed in April 2004.

"The plan will develop, in consultation with the community, a long term target for optimal water quality, as well as interim targets. It will be developed in association with the State Government, regional organisations, local industry, and the community," Cr Berwick said.

Dr Kemp encouraged other local governments and catchment groups adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef to consider preparing water quality improvement plans for their area with assistance available under the Commonwealth's Coastal Catchments Initiative. Further details can be found on Environment Australia's web site http://www.ea.gov.au/coasts/pollution/cci/index.html.

Media Contacts:
Dr Kemp's office: Catherine Job 02 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400
Cr Mike Berwick: 07 4098 6148 or Cheryl-Lee Norris 07 4099 9402

Commonwealth of Australia