Review of the Mary River Catchment Strategy


The Mary River Catchment Strategy was released in 1996. It was developed to guide the actions of the Catchment Committee and establish a way forward for the organisation.

Here we are 25 years later, looking at the achievements of the group and reviewing the strategy to ensure that MRCCC is on track and addressing current issues which may not have been prevalent when the original strategy was developed. A draft of the Strategy review is presented below for public comment and feedback.

To make a contribution, or to comment, email or call 5482 4766.

The original Catchment Strategy can be found at the following link 


Mary River Catchment


Catchment Vision

  • A Sustainable and Productive Catchment.
  • In our lifetime the community will be enjoying the natural bounty of sustainable agriculture, fishing and recreational activities flowing from a healthy river system.
  • Today’s custodians will not be judged by what we take from the catchment but by how we leave it, so that its capacity to support future generations is enhanced.

Waterway and Wetland Vision

  • Native forests growing on stable streambanks shade the length of the river and all its creeks, where pools and riffles and snags interplay, to create diverse habitats for a myriad of life forms.
  • The Mary River and its tributaries support healthy populations of threatened species, including those of national and international significance.
  • The flow of water and sediments through the rivers and creeks will sustain the physical and biological needs of the riverine system, while meeting the agreed sustainable requirements of the community.

Mary Catchment Coordination Mandate

In order to achieve this vision, the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee and its partners have a mandate to:

  • Coordinate Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) approaches to address issues and promote the uptake of sustainable solutions.
  • Facilitate land use and natural resource planning that maintains the carrying capacity of the catchment in the long-term.
  • Enhance the adoption of best practice land management and support the growth of sustainable agriculture.
  • Take action to improve waterway and wetland health.
  • Maintain and enhance biodiversity within the catchment.
  • Promote climate change adaptation and measures to reduce emissions.

Key Community Benefits of Implementing ICM in the Mary

Progressive Integrated Catchment Management, strong leadership and sound governance in the Mary will result in:

  • a greater awareness of the impacts of actions and decisions on the catchment, quality of life and lifestyles;
  • an increased commitment to manage and restore the health of the catchment;
  • increased connectivity between, and within, community and industry networks that fosters an enhanced capacity to positively manage change;
  • a community with sufficient, knowledge and skills to make informed, soundly based decisions about catchment management;
  • a prosperous community and economy whose health, well-being and lifestyle are underpinned by improvements to the catchment’s environmental values and recreational amenity; and a
  • a resilient community that is prepared for the impacts of climate change and extreme weather and is committed to the transition to a net zero emissions.

Key Natural Resource and Environmental Benefits

Successful implementation of the Catchment Strategy will lead to long term:

  • intergenerational maintenance of the productive capacity of the natural capital of the catchment;
  • reduction of the downstream impacts on the internationally significant World Heritage Area of the Great Barrier Reef and Ramsar listed Great Sandy Straits;
  • Increased sustainability of development and value chains and enhanced conservation of biodiversity in the internationally recognised Noosa and Great Sandy Biosphere Reserves.
  • healthier populations of the nationally significant threatened populations of the Mary River Turtle, Mary River Cod, Australian Lungfish, Giant Barred Frog, Freshwater Mullet and other species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act;
  • continuous improvement in the water quality throughout the catchment;
  • increased stability of riverbanks and gullies and the prevention of further land degradation;
  • improved ecosystem resilience to floods and droughts
  • an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable water supply distributed equitably across sectors;
  • the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity across the catchment; and
  • improved ecosystem health and increased natural carbon drawdown within the catchment to adapt to, and accelerate recovery from, climate change impacts.

Theme 1:  Integrated Catchment Management


Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) involves planning, managing and conserving the natural and cultural values within a watershed while facilitating the social and economic processes and practices that drive sustainable production.  ICM is an approach based on an understanding that social, ecological and economic factors are interconnected systems.


  • To concentrate on causes not symptoms.
  • To take a whole of catchment focus.
  • To emphasise a long-term perspective.
  • To maintain a balanced outlook.
  • To promote sustainability.


  • Promote within the community, through sector interests, a common view of a sustainable and productive catchment.
  • Promote community, industry and government research and understanding of the interactions between land, water and related biological resources.
  • Identify interrelated natural resource issues in the catchment, identify solutions and facilitate agreement on actions through public, industry and government participation.
  • Foster coordination between landholders, community action groups, industry organisations and government agencies in their land, water and vegetation management activities and the adoption of catchment-care practices.


  • Maintain and enhance the role of the Mary River Catchment Coordination Association to oversee the implementation, monitoring, evaluation, reporting and improvement of the Catchment Strategy.
  • Maintain and enhance the partnership programs with local governments, regional bulk water authorities, Burnett Mary Regional Group and state and federal funding entities.
  • Re-energise research and development forums and action learning and citizen science programs to facilitate the adoption of leading-edge solutions to catchment issues.

Performance Measures

  • The Mary River Catchment Coordination Association will:
  • Achieve meaningful representation and maintain active communication with all key interest sectors.
  • Will provide review and report on:
    1. The outputs of catchment programs on an annual basis
    2. The progress toward key natural resource condition targets on a biennial basis
    3. Major improvements and innovations recommended for the strategy on a five-year basis.
  • Partnership programs will invest $1-5million? per annum into the implementation of priority catchment strategy programs.
  • Research and citizen science networks within the catchment will:
  1. Hold biennial? forums to ensure the science is addressing need, shared between scientists, planners, extension officers and resource managers.
  2. Monitor and evaluate key natural resource and socio-economic targets identified in the strategy.

Theme 2: Land Use and Natural Resource Planning


In the early 1990s the Queensland Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) strategy was born out of the realisation that there was increased demand, often conflicting, on the use of many of our land, water and related natural resources.  The strategy acknowledged that these pressures were occurring predominantly in coastal areas where urban and semi-urban populations are increasing rapidly.  In the past the development and management of these natural resources has suffered from the tyranny of independent and unplanned decision making.  The post Covid population boom in and around the catchment heightens these issues. The challenge for planners is to address the social and economic goals of sustainable development to ensure our land, water, vegetation and atmospheric resources are used within ecological limits.


  • Plans design and limit human use and enjoyment of the catchment to within the carrying capacity of its natural systems.
  • The principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development underpin plans and policies.


  • To coordinate and optimise land use and natural resource planning, policy and practice.
  • To ensure a water supply planning provides equitable access to all users on a sustainable basis.
  • To advocate the need to minimise extractive uses that pose a threat the environmental and social values of the catchment to higher levels of government.


  • Foster Local Government planning approaches and networks that understand and implement the catchment strategy.
  • Provide leadership and direction to natural resource planning processes to ensure the principles of sustainable natural resource management are embedded within them.
  • To maintain and support environmental ‘watchdogs’ within the community and advocate on behalf of the catchment community should resource extraction plans be proposed which are inconsistent with the catchment vision and principles.

Performance Measures

  • All local government planning schemes are based on an overt consideration of the carrying capacity of the natural resources required to facilitate the envisioned population while protecting high value ecosystems, wetlands and waterways as part of the development process.
  • Water Resource Planning for the Mary is reviewed to ensure adequate environmental flow regimes are achieved within the emerging climatic conditions.
  • No new sand, gravel or resource extraction occurs within or adjacent to waterways, wetlands and other high value ecosystems.


2.1       By 2031, >90% of agricultural land in the catchment in 2004 will be available for sustainable agriculture. (SEQ)

2.2       By 2031, there will be no net fragmentation of larger tracts (greater than 5000 ha) of remnant vegetation, and 20% of priority smaller tracts will be better connected than the 2003 baseline. (SEQ)

2.3       The extent of acidification caused by the disturbance of Acid Sulfate Soil does not exceed the 2015 baseline. (BMRG)

Theme 3: Best Practice Land Management and Sustainable Agriculture


To be sustainable an agricultural enterprise needs to:

  • make the most efficient use of non-renewable and on-farm resources;
  • enhance environmental quality and conserve the natural resource base upon which production depends;
  • integrate natural and biological cycles and controls, while maintaining on-farm biodiversity, and the health of wetlands and waterways; and
  • manage land use to avoid mobilising sediment by not overgrazing, preventing stock from accessing waterways, and minimising soil disturbance during crop rotations.

With around seventy percent of the catchment being allocated to grazing uses, the quality of grazing land management has a considerable influence on the health of the catchment.  Sustainable grazing practices can increase soil carbon capture, reduce off-site run-off, help stabilise streambanks and increase biodiversity. On the other hand, over-grazing and poor land management can also lead to a loss of productivity and pasture condition, land degradation and off-site impacts.  While smaller in area, the intensity of horticultural systems and higher nutrient loads can increase the potential for sediments, nutrients and other pollutants to cause downstream water quality problems.  Best practice land management is facilitated by the extension, education and training programs that enable change in primary producers and natural resource managers.


  • The catchment supports us, so we support the catchment.
  • Current custodians adopt land management systems that are economically viable while providing long term protection of the natural resources upon which production is based.


  • To foster an enduring culture of stewardship for the region’s natural resources.
  • To build the capacity of industry, community and government to adopt best practice land management through extension, education and training.
  • To facilitate and coordinate local action learning networks focussed on the principles and practices of Landcare.
  • To monitor and evaluate the impacts and benefits of land management practices on the natural resources of the catchment.


3.1    Deliver ongoing land management extension and incentives as part of the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan response.

3.2    Deliver ongoing land management extension and incentives as part of the Seqwater source protection program.

3.3    Continue to develop and deliver grazing land condition assessment at a property scale.

3.4    Monitor best practice adoption and its impact on land condition at a sub-catchment scale.

Performance Measures

3.1    90% of land in priority areas are managed using best practice systems by 2025. (Reef WQIP)



3.1    90% of grazing land will have greater than 70% ground cover in the late dry season by 2025. (Reef WQIP)

3.2    Land condition and soil health within the region will be maintained or improved. (BMR Plan)



The health of the waterways and wetlands in the Mary today is the result of the cumulative impacts of land use changes and management practices ever since the pastoralists and foresters first started clearing the catchment in the 1800s.  While some reaches of the river remain in good condition, much has been degraded.  In 1997 the State of the Rivers Report rated riparian vegetation as very poor for 40% of the stream length and poor for a further 23% and ranked the majority of streams in the catchment as moderate to poor in terms of channel diversity and aquatic habitat.  Sediment loss from riverbanks and gullies have been identified as a major source of sediment threatening the health of the Great Barrier Reef. However, some reaches along the 2947 km of waterways in the catchment contain remnant freshwater riparian communities of national conservation significance. These areas contain habitat for a range of rare and endangered freshwater fish, frogs, a turtle and a number of riparian vegetation species.  Estuarine riparian communities in the lower Mary are of international significance for wader birds, with these areas being added to the RAMSAR list during 1999, as part of the Great Sandy Straits nomination.  Dams constructed within the catchment for potable and irrigation supplies provide water for communities within and outside of the catchment.  Off take and release protocols can impact on the provision of environmental flows in downstream sub-catchments.

The negative pressures and degradation within the catchment are, however, being matched by a significant growth in community-based action to address the problems since the inception of the MRCCC in 1994.


  • Urban and rural water users put back water of a higher quality than they take out.
  • Prioritise effort to improve environmental health based on achieving cost effective intervention based on the application of the ‘mitigation hierarchy’:
  1. Avoid creating impacts – e.g. protect high value areas in good health,
  2. Minimise -reduce the duration, intensity and/or extent of impacts,
  • Rehabilitate and restore –to achieve a net gain in waterway and wetland health,
  1. Offset – compensate any residual impacts in order to achieve no net loss.


  • Advocate and seek improved outcomes from the Mary Water Resource Plan through coordination of sector input, including speaking on behalf of nature in the catchment.
  • Provide incentives, advice and encouragement for riparian landholders to:
    • retain and manage existing native vegetation within riparian buffers;
    • erect riparian fencing and construct off-stream and actively manage stock access;
    • implement revegetation initiatives; prioritising linkages to significant remnants;
    • control aggressive environmental weeds; and
    • facilitate regeneration of native species.
  • Actively research, develop and deliver leading edge wetland and waterway rehabilitation.
  • Reduce and remove barriers to fish/bio passage and return important environmental flows.


4.1    Ongoing evaluation, review, improvement and implement the Mary River and Tributaries Rehabilitation Plan.

4.2    Implement the priorities of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and the Mary Water Quality Improvement Plan.

4.3    Support and grow the Mary Waterwatch program.

4.4. Local and state government Waterwise education programs.

Performance Measures

4.1       By 2031 total water management and water wise education programs will have achieved the water use efficiency to avoid the need for further dams in the catchment.

4.2       By 2031 80% of riparian landholders will manage areas adjacent to wetlands and waterways in accordance with best practice.

4.3       Blockages to fish migration have been removed.

4.4       Environmental flows below impoundments are released to adequately mimic ‘natural’ seasonal flow regimes.


4.1    There is no net loss of the extent of natural wetlands. (BMR Plan)

4.2    By 2031 there will be a 25%? increase in the condition and extent of riparian areas compared to the 1997 State of the River Baseline.  (BS)

4.3    By 2031 river and tributary health, as indicated by macroinvertebrate populations, will be improved compared to the 1999 Mary River and Tributaries Rehabilitation Plan baseline.(BS)

4.2    60% reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads by 2025. (Reef WQIP)

4.3    20% reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment particulate nutrient loads by 2025. (Reef WQIP)

4.4.  25% reduction in anthropogenic end-of-catchment fine sediment loads by 2025. (Reef WQIP)

4.5    By 2031, upper sub-catchments within the Mary achieve an A rating (or equivalent) for their environmental health. (Noosa)




The Mary River is ‘highly significant’ from a biodiversity and conservation perspective. The high levels of biodiversity and the current state of the catchment can be reflected in the large numbers of species listed as threatened at the National and state levels. Fifty-one animal and 32 plant species associated with the Mary River catchment are listed under the EPBC Act. Several of these are endemic to the Mary River.  A further 21 species associated with the estuary are listed as migratory under the EBPC Act. Around half of the EPBC listed species have a close association with riparian areas or rely directly upon rivers, creeks or freshwater flows for part or all of their life cycle. At a state level there are an additional 38 animals and 40 plant species from estuarine, terrestrial and aquatic environments listed as either endangered, vulnerable or near threatened under the Queensland Government’s Nature Conservation Act 1992.


  • Maintenance and restoration of natural ecosystems and the services they provide is essential to sustained community wellbeing, economic prosperity and efficiency.
  • Conserving remnant biodiversity, building connectivity and restoring depleted ecosystems are wise strategies for strengthening long-term resilience.
  • Biodiversity can be regarded as natural capital that together with social and physical capital forms the foundations of a nation’s wealth.
  • Conservation of biodiversity has significance to the ongoing cultural and spiritual connection of traditional owners, Butchulla and Kabi Kabi people, to the catchment.


  • Focus recovery effort on the priority species to improve:
    • the long-term viability of the threatened and priority species, and
    • the overall biodiversity of the Mary River system.
  • Pest and environmental weed management is planned, coordinated, managed and implemented through extension, education and communication programs with stakeholders and land managers.


  • Continue to advocate for and partner with Local and State Government biodiversity conservation programs, high value environmental land acquisition and statutory protections for threatened and endangered species.
  • Implement the ‘Mary River Threatened Species Recovery Plan’.
  • Continue to deliver ‘Living with Threatened Species’ and ‘Find a Frog in February’ Programs.
  • Continue to foster Mary River Cod Recovery through the Gerry Cook Fish Hatchery.
  • Enhance extension and education programs to include biodiversity conservation advice as part of landholder extension and farm planning.

Performance Measures

5.1       Natural resource managers, government and nongovernment organisations will be adequately resourced and working together to implement programs and achieve targets.

5.2       An increase in the number of farm plans and BMP action plans proposing biodiversity conservation and management as a result of extension and education programs.

5.3       Quality of life and community wellbeing is improved as a result of improved environmental and recreational amenity (MTSRP?)


5.1   The diversity of vegetation communities will be maintained at 2013 levels and opportunities for sustaining species’ populations, particularly those that are threatened will be improved (BMR Plan)

5.2   By 2031, the 2001 extent of regional vegetation cover; including both remnant vegetation and additional non-remnant woody vegetation, will be maintained or increased. (SEQ)

5.3   By 2031, populations of key threatened indicator species remain viable. (Noosa)


This section is open for comment or input.









Performance Measures

6.1    By 2030, community awareness, planning and preparedness for natural hazards and climate change is increased. (Noosa)