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Conservation in a connected landscape: Restoring Queensland's wetlands to protect the Great Barrier

To learn more about Wildlife Conservation, take a look at our expert led WildTeam UK courses by clicking here.

At WildTeam we are incredibly lucky to work with some amazing conservation teams around the world. We have been providing training and consultancy support to NQ Dry Tropics since 2016, and in this issue, we look at their work.

The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Area, renowned for its extraordinary natural beauty and unique habitats rich in biodiversity. The health of the reef is declining, however, due to a range of threats. One of these is pollution from water flowing into the reef lagoon from surrounding farmland, which has been enriched with chemical fertilisers.

Such pollution can, to some extent, be mitigated through the buffering effects of coastal wetland areas which filter run-off and control water flow. The Bowling Green Bay wetland area in particular is important in this regard, and has been designated a Ramsar site, both for the ecosystem services which it provides to the reef, and for its own biodiversity value as an internationally significant breeding site for waterfowl and wading birds.

In turn, however, land management and agricultural practices in wetland areas adjacent to, but not within the Ramsar designated site, influence the health of the Bowling Green Bay wetlands, affecting not only the biodiversity found there, but also their capacity to perform the ecosystem services which are so important for the Great Barrier Reef.

Everything is connected.

NQ Dry Tropics is a not-for-profit, community-based organisation promoting sustainable management of land, water, plants and animals across an area of over 140,000km2 in the dry tropics of North Queensland, Australia. Over the past decade they have been working in the Burdekin Delta, an area adjacent to the Bowling Green Bay wetland which is important for sugar cane production, to promote agricultural and land management practices which reduce degradation to the Bowling Green Bay wetlands, while maintaining the livelihoods of local farmers. In particular, they have been working with farmers to reduce nitrogen input, introduce better controlled irrigation systems and restore seasonal water flow patterns.

And they have achieved some fantastic results. In a 3-year pilot study which paid farmers to reduce nitrogen use by at least 5%, the average reduction was in fact around 20%. Moreover, not a single farmer participating in the project reported reduced yields, but rather their overall profit margins increased due to reduced expenditure on fertiliser. Although the project has ended, the farmers are now looking for ways to further reduce their nitrogen use, given the beneficial impact on their incomes.

Other projects to control invasive plants and encourage riparian vegetation, improve irrigation systems and restore seasonal water flow patterns, have reduced the flow of nitrogen-enriched water into the water course, and improved downstream ecological function and habitat quality.

This work is helping to improve the environmental quality of the Burdekin Delta and Bowling Green Bay wetlands, reduce the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, while at the same time enhancing the livelihoods of local farmers. A win-win-win! Don’t you love it when that happens?

For more information on the work of NQ Dry Tropics, check out their website.

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