Challenges and values based approach to restoring coastal wetlands in catchments draining to the Great Barrier Reef

Dr Nathan Waltham1

1James Cook University, Queensland


The need for coastal wetland restoration is necessary in Australia where there is a legacy of degraded coastal habitats succeeding more than 200 years of urban/industrial, and agricultural intensification.  A major coastal wetland in Australia’s natural estate is the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) lagoon and, despite protection with an assortment of international agreements, national and state legislation and policies, it is an ecosystem that continues to decline in health (GBRMPA Outlook report).  Conservation and repair of GBR coastal wetland ecosystems have come into focus following media attention on reef health and resilience, with ecosystem protection and restoration cited as a key performance measure in long term strategic planning policies – e.g. 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan.  Here we will look at the following case studies: cane land conversion to wetlands for improved water quality, habitat restoration for fish connectivity across agricultural floodplains, aquatic plant removal to reduce hypoxia risks to fish, and feral fencing programs to improve biodiversity in coastal wetlands.  More restoration projects are on the horizon, funded directly through government schemes, though there is interest in private funded restoration schemes where major investment companies sponsor wetland restoration as part of social licences to operation – projects focused on improving water quality, carbon additionally or biodiversity conservation.  For new projects to be successful, we need to look back at past wetland restoration projects, and from large scale projects overseas, in order to make more informed decisions on investment in wetland restoration and protect the Great Barrier Reef – a jewel in Australia’s national estate.