An alliance of conservation, agriculture and natural resource management groups have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which will see the signatories working together to look after the health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

Cape York NRM is the northern most member of the Reef Alliance, and chairperson Emma Jackson said that the MOU was an important step forward for the group who will establish an agreed code of conduct around best practice agricultural land management and ways of improving water quality for the GBR.

“Cape York NRM plays a key role in uniting conservationists, land managers, Traditional Owners and industry to work together to reduce impacts to the Reef” said Mrs Jackson.  

The Reef Alliance has eight years of success in supporting rural land managers to change practices and improve farming systems and the MOU is next obvious step. 

Over 60% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lies off the coast of the Cape York NRM management area, and Mrs Jackson said it is in much better health than to the south. 

“Cape York people care about the environment, and we care about the Reef” she said. “My family has been breeding cattle on Cape York for decades. As we learn more about how better to look after the land, we adapt our land management practices.  

“”We have improved the way we do things on Wolverton, so we can take better care of our waterways and landscape.  Our livelihood, and our kids’ futures, depends on us taking good care of the land” Mrs Jackson said.  

“And there are many Cape York graziers and land managers who feel exactly the same way” she said. 

The Reef Alliance MOU unites graziers, horticulturalists, NRM bodies and conservation groups along Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef coast, and will open doors to discussions for long-term improvements to the health of the Reef.

MOU signatories: AgForce, Australian Banana Growers’ Council, Burnett Mary Regional Group, CANEGROWERS, Cape York Natural Resource Management Ltd, Fitzroy Basin Association, Growcom, NQ Dry Tropics Ltd, Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation, Queensland Farmers’ Federation, Reef Catchments (Mackay Whitsunday Isaac) Limited, Regional Groups Collective, Terrain NRM and WWF – Australia.

Pristine waterways entering the Great Barrier Reef catchment off eastern Cape York (c) Kerry Trapnell


More attention should be given to looking after the northern areas of the Great Barrier Reef, according to the Chairperson of Cape York Natural Resource Management. 

Over 60% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lies off the coast of the Cape York NRM management area, and Chairperson Emma Jackson said it is in much better health than areas to the south.

The current focus of Reef programs is in areas of high populations and high pressures, while the reef off Cape York Peninsula faces fewer threats and is relatively undisturbed by comparison with the rest of the Great Barrier Reef.

Mrs Jackson said that while the project showed that the the Reef was in good condition, keeping it that way should be a national priority.

“Situations like coral bleaching near Lizard Island are out of our immediate control due to increasing temperatures, but we all have a responsibility to contribute to the resilience of the reef by doing our bit to minimise our environmental footprint and keep our rivers and wetlands healthy.

“We know that climate change is impacting the Reef and the species that live there, like Hawksbill Turtles on Milman Islet.

“The attention needs to shift to maintaining the health of the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. The people of Cape York, its Traditional Owners, graziers, farmers and the residents of its towns, would welcome the opportunity to work together with the State and Commonwealth governments to keep our part of the Reef healthy.

“We have innovative landholders across Cape York, people who want to do their bit to improve land condition. However, improving our land management practices is expensive, and many of us already struggle to make ends meet ” Mrs Jackson said.

“Cape York’s Land and Sea Rangers and land managers are doing their best to help, but there is a lot of land and sea to cover. 

“It’s time to get serious before we lose our healthy Reef” Mrs Jackson said.

“Reducing sediment to the Reef is one thing we can all work towards” she said. 

“Cape York NRM will continue to work with people to improve farming practices, look after waterways and biodiversity, and also to reduce the impacts of wildfire.

“We now know what needs to be done to maintain the health of the rivers and wetlands that keep ‘our’ section of the Great Barrier Reef great. What is needed now is recognition of the importance of that area for the future, and investment in its guardianship” Mrs Jackson said. 


Media Contact:  Lyndal Scobell 0488 656 690  Photos:  Kerry Trapnell

Key Points:

  • Over 60% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park lies within the Cape York region.
  • The northern section of the Great Barrier Reef is relatively undisturbed by comparison with the rest of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • The rivers and wetlands of eastern Cape York are in very good condition compared to most other Australian systems. 
  • There are: almost no man-made barriers; low levels of most pollutants; largely intact native vegetation; and a high level of interconnectedness between freshwater and marine ecosystems. These characteristics ensure that the water quality of eastern Cape York’s aquatic ecosystems remains good.
  • While the waterways of eastern Cape York are currently relatively healthy, water quality has been impacted by human activities, feral species and fire.
  • Climate Change is a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef. 
  • Healthy ecosystems are more resilient to the pressures which impact them.
  • Stewardship programs (helping land managers to improve the condition of their land and waterways) are effective means of improving land condition and water quality.