The Mary River experiences significant riverbank erosion, an issue with serious repercussions for one of Australia's most well-known natural treasures – the Great Barrier Reef. The river accounts for up to 80 per cent of the fine sediment harming the Great Barrier Reef, with breeding sites of endangered species such as the Mary River cod and ‘punk bum-breathing freshwater turtle’ also disrupted by the erosion.
To tackle the issue, the Mary River Recovery Project, a collaboration with the Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Burnett Mary Regional Group, was established with the aim of preventing 26,000 tonnes of sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef on an annual basis.
According to the chairman of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC), Ian Mackay, both the river and Great Barrier Reef have been suffering from sediment erosion for decades.
"So now we are tackling those basket cases that we previously just looked at and sort of shook our head at," Mr Mackay told ABC news.
So far, the collaboration has seen transformative physical results in shaping, replanting, and fencing off the landscape surrounding the river. Pile fields have been driven into the riverbank at 16 badly eroded sites, including at Kenilworth, Conondale, Mia, and others.
Beyond physical restoration work, Mr Mackay also noted that attitudinal change is one of the greatest achievements that came out of their collaboration, as people began to express greater appreciation and respect for the river and its inhabitants.
In a catchment of almost 10,000 square kilometres in an area with more than 3,000 kilometres of waterways, gully (also known to be second-biggest contributor to sediments in the river) erosion efforts have successfully repaired gouges that were once large enough to swallow cattle. MRCCC project officer Becky Watson, who co-authored a new book to help landholders, shared that some of these gullies have been up to 20 metres in depth and 20 metres wide.
This restoration work prevents the loss of thousands of tonnes of sediment every year in the Mary River catchment, benefitting both land and local environment.
Cynics believed the MRCCC wouldn’t last six months – yet thirty years later, the group now celebrates an impressive track record of their environmental accomplishments. The success of the group is also attributed to their collaborations with farmers, Landcare and environment groups, governments, universities, and various agencies.
Furthering their mission, the MRCCC group coordinated a nest protection and relocation program for the endangered Mary River turtle, among other initiatives.
The group is a crucial support system for landholders in the catchment area as they help support landholders prioritise the environment.
MRCCC treasurer and life member, Margaret Thompson summed up the group’s mission, saying: “Environmental work can often be the last thing farmers can afford, but helping them with subsidies makes it so much easier for them to make it a priority.”
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