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Partnership Chair Di Tarte at the report card launch.
Update from the Chair
    Welcome to the last Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef e-newsletter for 2016.

This has been a busy year, with the release of the region’s first full waterway health report card in October, following the development of a pilot report card last year.

The report card includes brand new indicators and datasets including fish community health and fish barrier assessments, water quality in the central inshore zone (off Mackay) and urban stewardship indicators. For the first time the report card also assesses the value and condition of a number of indigenous cultural heritage sites relevant to the region’s waterways and marine environments. You can access the results of both report cards released to date on our brand new interactive data platform here.

Importantly, the Partnership has also focussed on collating a database of activities completed to date which are aimed at improving waterway health. This database will be used to identify where critical gaps in on-ground activities exist and will assist in informing management arrangements for report card ‘hotspots’ in the future.

We look forward to continually enhancing and improving our report card, including the development of new environmental indicators such as river flow and new social indicators such as community stewardship in 2017. We hope you all have a very happy and safe Christmas and look forward to working with you in 2017.  

Please note: Partnership staff will be on leave from 23rd December 2016 – 7th January 2017.

Di Tarte
Chair, Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership

In this edition


The 2015 Mackay Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership report card has been released. So what are the key environmental stand-out messages? 
The majority of waterways in the region this year received scores of C, however a number of areas scored a D, particularly river basins. This included the Don River basin, Pioneer River basin, Plane Creek basin and the Northern marine inshore zone.

The offshore marine area was the only zone to score a B overall. Water quality in this zone again scored an A and ranked highest regionally. Importantly, the number of juvenile coral has increased in the offshore marine zone – a positive indicator for Reef health.  

Some areas showed improvements from last year, primarily due to lower rainfall than average. Water quality in the Whitsunday region improved from a D to a B. However, this should be viewed with caution due to current limited sampling sites and data. Expansion of data sets for this area is a goal of the Partnership. The Future Directions document further outlines the ways in which the Partnership intends to strengthen future report cards.  

Contaminants like pesticides are still a key issue for freshwater streams in the Plane Creek basin, as well as the estuaries of Sandy Creek and Rocky Dam Creek (which received an E for contaminants), and freshwater streams in the Pioneer River basin (which received a D). A feature on a grower-led initiative to further monitor pesticides in Sandy Creek will be released in early 2017.

New fish community health and fish-barrier indicators have been added this year and provide an important gauge for native fish health, diversity and degree of connectivity between rivers and estuary environments. A newly developed river flow indicator in the 2016 report card will complete the hydrological picture for our river basins.

Do you have any questions about the report card or are interested in finding out more? Check out our FAQ here, or get in touch with Charlie Morgan (Executive Officer) on or 0457 306 1521. 


LEFT: Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson, Queensland Minister for Environment Steven Miles, and Partnership Chair Diane Tarte at the October Launch. 
LEFT: Members of the all-star technical working group Emma Carlos, Nicola Stokes, Judith Wake and Carl Mitchell.  
RIGHT: The Partnership group gathers ahead of the Launch, with representatives from the 22 involved organisations.  

Mackay and the Whitsundays received a comprehensive waterway health check on the 25th October, thanks to the release of the 2015 Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers Reef Partnership report card, with more than 60 Partners and friends in attendance.

The first full waterway health report card for the region, it was officially launched at the Artspace Gallery in Mackay by the Hon. Dr. Steven Miles, Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef.
A traditional smoking ceremony greeted guests to the launch outside the venue, courtesy of George Tonga of the Yuwibara Traditional Owner group, one of the members of the Mackay-Whitsunday Traditional Owner Reference Group (TORG) who undertook the cultural heritage assessments for the 2015 report card. Uncle George then welcomed all participants to Country and reiterated the importance of continuing to understand the condition and value of indigenous cultural heritage sites in our region, and reporting on this data in the annual report card.
Minister Miles then launched the report card and spoke to the importance of the Partnership in the region, the strong support provided from the Queensland Government to date and the importance of the report card as a communications tool. He highlighted the importance of a Partnership approach in protecting local waterways, and in continued investment into report card development.
Di Tarte (Chair of the Partnership) highlighted the results of the report card and acknowledged that there is still some way to go in filling all the data gaps. She summarised some activities the Partnership will be concentrating on in the coming year, including engaging with prospective Partners, communicating the results of the report card to the community and working collaboratively with our research partners to improve our understanding of how the region’s waterways are impacted by external and internal pressures. Di also thanked the team responsible for producing the report card including the Partners themselves.

Peter Doherty, member of the Independent Science Panel, (ISP) spoke about the critical role that the ISP plays in the production of the report card. He highlighted the importance of transparent and robust scientific data underpinning the technical component of the report card’s development, and the role of the ISP in reviewing the important work undertaken by the Technical Working Group and the Partnership’s Technical Officer.
Steve Lewis, CEO of North Queensland Bulk Ports, spoke to his experience in being involved in the Partnership to date, including the benefits of membership. 
Mayor of Mackay Greg Williamson spoke about the critical role that local government plays in the Partnership and the increasing need to focus on sustainability in the region, including in waterway health projects.
Julie Boyd, Chair of Reef Catchments Limited, formally closed the event. Julie also was our excellent MC for the event.
A big thank you to all involved in the launch, it was a great networking and awareness raising event!

Workshop update

A Partner workshop was held in November to discuss the key learnings of the 2015 report card, current and priority areas for action, and future membership considerations for the Partnership.
Partners started by identifying a list of existing activities they are aware of in the region in the context of waterway health. Activities spanned a wide range of project areas, from agriculture, science and research, waterways, coastal, education and climate change, amongst others. The projects outputted from this brainstorming exercise are currently being inputted to the Activities Spotlight Mapping Tool, an online database of Partners’ projects, with a focus on waterway health improvement in the region.
Results of the 2015 report card were then discussed, with key results highlighted including poor water quality results for Plane Creek basin (nutrients and pesticides), water quality and seagrass results in the Whitsunday inshore zone, as well as a lack of data more broadly, particularly in the Southern Inshore zone. In the context of the stewardship assessments, key outcomes of the workshop discussions were a focus on the review process of the non-agricultural industry assessments being coordinated by the Queensland Government (Office of the Great Barrier Reef), as well as methods to improve response rates for the next round of assessments.
Key priority areas for action for the Partnership identified at the workshop were:
  • The development of a marine debris indicator, as this represents an issue of great importance to the communities of the region
  • Incorporation of citizen science datasets to increase representativeness of some datasets within the report card (for example water clarity data collected by tourism operators via the Eye on the Reef program)
  • The development of an estuarine and marine fish indicator and a fisheries stewardship assessment, utilising existing similar projects undertaken for other report cards/areas
  • Identifying funding opportunities and increasing the likelihood of investment into the region to continue to build the report card and Partners’ ability to undertake on-ground work to improve waterway health
  • Improving the communication of ‘good news stories’ in the context of waterway improvement, especially those which are community or industry-led
  • Developing and implementing a sponsorship membership option for the Partnership
The Partnership’s Management Committee have agreed to hold a Management Response Workshop after the release of each report card, as the session was highly beneficial.

A closer look at environmental monitoring

Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership (HR2R)
Take a look at this great video produced by Partnership member NQBP, which takes a look at how data and findings are gathered from NQBP's extensive environmental monitoring program.

North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP), TropWater and the Partnership held a special media event on Friday 21st October, ahead of the report card release. The activity focused on the importance of the collection of water quality data at the Mackay Marina. 

The resulting video shows how this data is used in the report card. It highlights NQBP's involvement in the Partnership and region, including generous continued financial and in-kind support. Media were present to interview Di Tarte (Partnership Chair), Jeff Stewart-Harris (Chief Operations Officer of NQBP) and Nathan Waltham (Senior Scientist at TropWater).
Mr Harris said the port authority was proud to once again play its part in contributing to the second annual report card on water quality for the Mackay-Whitsunday community.

"Our long-running partnership with the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER, James Cook University) is central to our environmental program,” Mr Harris said. 
“TropWATER and NQBP are providing vital environmental information to the Mackay-Whitsunday Healthy Rivers to Reef Partnership, which then helps determine areas of focus for short and long term improvements. At NQBP, we take our environmental and social responsibilities as seriously as our commercial acumen. The Partnership plays a key role in ensuring communities understand the health of their local environment - where we live, work and play.”

Enjoy the video and a big thanks to NQBP for driving its production. 
Please help us spread the word about the Partnership and all the great work we are achieving. If you know anyone interested in keeping up-to-date with water quality news and updates, forward this newsletter on to your colleagues and networks. The more people involved the better! 
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