Farmers Try New Ways To Reduce Great Barrier Reef Impact With Project Catalyst

23/04/2016 4:08 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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It's been a tough summer for farmers, and it's been even tougher for the Great Barrier Reef.

Dry, hot conditions have triggered the most devastating coral bleaching event the world has ever seen, while the same conditions mean sugar cane farmers have experienced long dry spells and punishing heat affecting crop yield.

It's these farmers that are working to protect the Great Barrier Reef in its recovery by trialing cutting-edge new techniques with Project Catalyst.

Now running for eight years, Project Catalyst seeks to reduce run-off from farms that flow into the Great Barrier Reef catchment, cutting down on the potentially poisonous fertiliser component nitrogen.

coral catalyst farmer project

The project has trialled and implemented a range of new farming practices like using GPS technology and 'x-ray' style mapping to understand a farm better to moisture sensors to determine when to stop watering.

Environmental consultants Catchment Solutions manager Craig Davenport said the best supporters of the reef were the people who'd seen it and loved it.

"The farmers love the reef because they love heading out there fishing on the weekend," Davenport said.

"They don’t feel isolated from the reef, they're well aware that the little creek that goes by them flows out to the reef and they want to do what's right."

To deepen this connection, the project conducts field trips that takes farmers out to see it for themselves.

"They get to dive and have a look around, see what they're striving to protect."

great barrier reef

Project Catalyst shows farmers the river meets the reef.

Project partner World Wildlife Fund Australia' Andrew Rouse said the advancements the project had discovered were shared by enthusiastic farmers.

"Like any industry you had leaders and laggards and one thing we've found is farmers like advice best when it's presented by other farmers," Rouse said.

"What's great about this project is it's provided the space for some of the more progressive growers to talk about what's working.

"Success breeds success and when one farmer can show that a new system is working, others want to follow."

The project is funded in a large part by The Coca Cola Foundation, which contributed $5.31 million since the project’s inception, but Rouse said we needed more.

"We're very pleased to see public and private investment in this project has seen a 70% reduction in nitrogen," Rouse said.

"The government has a 2025 target up to 80 percent reduction, so there’s still a lot of work to do across reef catchments and the scale of investment required is significantly larger.

"As we’re heading into an election year, we're calling for a billion-dollar fund to accelerate best practices."

After this season's coral bleaching event, the need to protect the reef while it recovers becomes all the more pertinent.

As Rouse says: "coral bleaching has brought the reef to its knees and we don't want to add any extra threats to take its life support away."

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