Our scientists are working hard to understand and find innovative ways to improve the quality of water reaching the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (the Reef).

The challenge

An icon under threat

Valued at $56 billion, the Great Barrier Reef is a global icon and an important Australian economic, social and environmental asset. It hosts a complex and delicately balanced ecosystem under multiple threats from human activities both locally on the reef, regionally along its coastline and globally through climate change.

Hardy Reef in the Whitsundays..  ©CSIRO, Rebecca Bartley

The Great Barrier Reef is under threat from a range of pressures with a major one being deteriorating water quality due to pollution from adjacent land use.

Rising water temperatures, increasing ocean acidification, Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS), fishing, and coastal development are also impacting the Great Barrier Reef.

CSIRO has a long legacy working on the Reef and we continue to collaborate with a wide range of partners to find novel ways to preserve, protect and improve this international treasure.

Our response

Improving land management

Many areas of the Reef still show resilience, which presents a window of opportunity to act now, while there is still enough diversity to preserve and restore.

The Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan provides the framework that can guide policy responses, but it needs to be supported by a harnessing of Australia's world-class research capability across multiple organisations, so that we can capitalise on the Reef's resilience and ability to recover.

Preserving the Reef's ecological function by 2030 is not just about its coral reefs, but of all its ecosystems.

Between 2008 and 2017, the Australian and Queensland governments spent an estimated $600 million on improving land management with the aim of enhancing the quality of water reaching the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (the Reef). About half of the investment was allocated to reducing river loads of fine sediment and nutrients through improved land management.

We continue to work with rangeland ecologists and the grazing industry to develop practical and effective land management solutions for the Reef.

With our partners, we have defined the system of erosion and sediment transport processes connecting agricultural land with receiving water bodies. We have assisted the Australian Government to be more targeted in their programs to reduce sediment and nutrient delivery.

This research supports the current Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, through the draft Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan 2017-2022.

Besides improving water quality and land management practices, there is a range of CSIRO research underway to address all of the impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. View the extent of our Great Barrier Reef research.

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