Restoring ecosystems from catchment to reef

Suzanne Long
Led by: Dr Suzanne Long, RRRC


Project Summary

A range of NESP TWQ Hub funded projects have delivered insights into improved ways of restoring and evaluating ecosystem restoration efforts, from catchments through to the reef and other marine environments. This work has mostly focused on sediments, nutrients and freshwater, estuarine and marine wetland restoration in a wide range of projects. The diversity of approaches and contexts in which restoration has occurred, make it very difficult for anyone not intimately associated with the work to appreciate the overall outcomes and learnings. This synthesis will provide the ability to see across this range of projects and outcomes. Synthesis of the outcomes across these projects will provide easy to access practical recommendations for land and sea managers.


Project Publications
Case Study
Case Study
Case Study
Synthesis Report


Project Video


Project Description


The 2016 GBR costing report (Alluvium 2016) and the 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement (SCS), both identify that the water quality targets for the Reef 2050 Plan will not be met by farm practice change alone and that other mechanisms for achieving water quality improvement will be required. Restoring wetlands and riparian ecosystems, constructing artificial wetlands and examining options for converting agricultural lands to other land uses have all been investigated during the NESP TWQ Hub. In addition, parallel research has been occurring on these topics through other funding programs besides NESP. Apart from water quality improvement, ecosystem restoration provides hydrological and biodiversity benefits and enables a diverse range of stakeholders to participate in habitat, ecosystem and catchment renewal. This synthesis will thus not be limited to water quality, but will consider a wide selection of benefits deriving from ecosystem restoration in catchment, freshwater and marine environments.



Because of the multiple benefits of ecosystem restoration, it is expected that such works will continue to be major areas of expenditure and environmental improvement works in GBR catchments in coming years. Indeed, the next phase of Reef Trust investments will have a strong focus upon ecosystem restoration and its benefits. To guide these investments, it is important that we are able to synthesise the many learnings that have been generated through the numerous investments of the TWQ Hub in ecosystem restoration, and related research from other concurrent programs.

To achieve this, we will convene an initial workshop to define the nature and specific content of the synthesis, a small writing group of topic experts to generate the content, a final workshop to agree on the generated synthesis content, and a synthesis coordinator to bring it all together.


The objectives and outcomes of this project are to:

  • Synthesise the NESP TWQ Hub funded research that has informed ecosystem restoration from catchment to the reef including gully and wetland rehabilitation and the benefits of these remedial works on seagrass meadows; and
  • Provide a summary of future research and activities recommended for on-ground investment.

The breadth of restoration activities to be considered include gully and streambank repair, catchment and riparian re-planting, rehabilitation of natural wetlands, the establishment of artificial wetlands, restoration and management of estuarine and coastal marine wetlands (incl. mangroves) and the management of key threats such as aquatic weeds and feral pigs The synthesis project will have the capacity to draw together information from projects across the entire scope of the NESP TWQ Hub, plus external material where relevant. It may, where identified as important, analyse existing data that makes a beneficial contribution to the synthesis.


Outcomes from the following NESP TWQ Hub projects will inform the synthesis products:

  • Project 3.3: Light thresholds for seagrasses of the GBR: a synthesis and guiding document for managing seagrass.
  • Project 3.4: Developing and refining biological indicators for seagrass condition assessments in an integrated monitoring program.
  • Project 2.1.2: Scoping options for low-lying cane lands to reduce DIN in priority wet tropics catchments.
  • Project 2.3.3: Building Indigenous livelihood and co-management opportunities in the northern GBR – ecosystem services and conservation governance for water quality.
  • Project 2.3.4: Working with Traditional Owners and local citizens to better manage GBR estuarine wetlands.
  • Project 3.2.1: Deriving ecologically relevant load targets to meet desired ecosystem condition for the Great Barrier Reef: a case study for seagrass meadows in the Burdekin region.
  • Project 3.3.2: Science evaluation of coastal wetland systems repair projects across GBR catchments.
  • Project 4.10: Evaluating the costs and benefits of agricultural land conversion to wetlands.
  • Project 5.12: Scoping land use conversion options for high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane areas in Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday regions.
  • Project 5.13: Coastal wetland systems repair across GBR catchments – values based causal framework validation.

The synthesis aims to address the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) catchment management targets and to prevent further loss of wetlands. The condition of coastal wetlands is captured as an objective under the ecosystem health theme in the Reef 2050 WQIP Plan. Forward looking on-ground restoration actions for future investment will be discussed with a focus on restoring functionality and hydrological connectivity of a catchment, the cost of wetland restoration and the benefits of improved water quality through wetland restoration.


This synthesis will contribute significantly to many current major reef programs and initiatives, including:

  • The Scientific Consensus Statement which includes a significant section on wetlands
  • The Reef 2050 Plan
  • The Reef Trust Partnership investments in improving water quality
  • Updating the assumptions of wetland performance utilised in the 2019 costing study (Alluvium for the GBRF-RTP)
  • Informing key issues for the next phase of Reef Trust investments
  • Wetlands in the Great Barrier Reef Catchments Management Strategy 2016-2021


NESP 2017 Research Priority Alignment

This project aligns with NESP 2017 Research Priority: Improved understanding of the impacts, including cumulative impacts, and pressures on priority freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems and species (Theme 1)

This project aligns with TWQ Hub 2018 Research Priority 3. Improving water quality emanating from catchments.


Project Keywords

Ecosystem; Restoration; Catchment; Coral; Wetlands.


Project Funding

This project is jointly funded through JCU, CSIRO, GU, DES – OGBR and the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program.