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Beyond rates, roads and rubbish - how Wet Tropics councils are helping protect the reef.

Living beside the Great Barrier Reef has many benefits, but it also brings great responsibilities, and Reef Guardian Councils are leading the way to take action.

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We want the world to know that our communities care about the Great Barrier Reef and we are stepping up to do our bit.

The eight local governments across the Wet Tropics have joined forces to become Reef Guardians – a stewardship program partnering with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to reduce threats to the Reef. It includes 19 councils covering 300,000 square kilometres between Bundaberg and Cape York.

The Authority’s CEO Josh Thomas said the Reef Guardian Councils are inspiring and supporting their communities, representing over a quarter of a million people, to look after the Reef.

“This program is about linking communities to the Reef and building awareness of the interconnectedness of land and sea ecosystems. It’s also about changing practices so the Reef will endure and transfer across generations. Perhaps this is true stewardship in its finest form – people caring for something they don’t own.”

With direction from an executive committee of mayors, CEOs and senior staff from the Authority, in the past year the program has focused on specialist training and collaboration to provide council staff with the resources and skills they need.

Chair of the executive committee, Cassowary Coast Councillor Jeff Baines, said the councils had benefited hugely from the opportunities to network and learn from each other.

“I think people like being part of something bigger, something positive, rather than working in isolation, and by working together we can achieve so much more. Each local government is very different in terms of our physical size, rate base, local issues and even cultures. But we share a common commitment to the Reef. The Reef may help drive our local economies, but it also defines who we are, and we are intensely proud of it.”

The Reef Guardians program involves each Council developing an action plan of projects to address the greatest threats to the Reef: climate change, coastal development, land-based run-off and direct use of the Reef. The actions vary depending on each council’s capacity but cover everything from the big picture of new planning schemes to the detail of installing new pipes in creek causeways to improve fish breeding. The action plans are a powerful tool for councils to share their Reef management actions with their local community.

“We want the world to know that our communities care about the Great Barrier Reef and we are stepping up to do our bit,” Cr Baines said.


Roadside rubbish curbed.

Wujal Wujal opened its new recycling centre last year in time for the seasonal surge of travellers passing through the village. The container deposit facility has already received thousands of items that could have washed into coastal creeks and out to the reef. A state-of-the-art glass crushing machine to convert bottles into construction material is also being installed.

Gone fishy.

Cairns Regional Council is installing ‘fish friendly’ rock weirs and baffles at sites such as Swallow Street in Mooroobool, which will help fish species that need to move up and down waterways to feed and breed. All future major culvert constructions and replacements will be fish friendly. Fish surveys are also being funded in the Russell-Mulgrave river catchments and at Saltwater Creek.

Where rainforest meets the reef.

Management plans are being put in place to ensure five of Douglas Shire Council’s beaches aren’t ‘loved to death’. Proposed activities include defining beach access paths and revegetating dunes to help to retain the coastline’s natural character and reduce the impacts of coastal development – one of the major threats to the Great Barrier Reef.

The dirt on gravel.

Cassowary Coast Regional Council has more than 525 km of unsealed roads, which are a risk for sediment runoff to the Reef. Council has designed and developed a new modelling tool that uses heat maps to pinpoint hot spots on gravel roads where damage occurs most often and to identify the most effective treatment methods.

Growing business.

A nursery run by Tablelands Regional Council is supplying seedlings to landowners to earn carbon credits. In partnership with local company Native Conifers Carbon Sink and supported by the Queensland Government’s Land Restoration Program, the scheme has already planted 10,000 seedlings and is aiming to have 35,000 trees in the ground in the next five years.

Little litter heroes.

Hinchinbrook Shire Council has teamed up with local waste company MAMS Group at the Tasman Parkfest in Ingham and met a whole new generation of litter heroes. These superstars grabbed some litter pickers and helped Council clean up Hinchinbrook and demonstrated proper waste disposal methods at the Council’s make-shift ocean display.

New Barron Falls walk.

Mareeba Shire Council has opened a new trail through World-Heritage listed rainforest in Kuranda to the Barron Falls so visitors can access the lookout without transport. Built with environmentally sensitive construction methods, the 2.5km moderate intensity track includes elevated walkways that link existing jungle and river walking trails through cassowary and Kuranda tree frog habitat.

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