Saving the Great Barrier Reef, One Wetland at a Time


A large-scale conservation project is underway on an Australian cattle ranch. Its aim: to help save the Great Barrier Reef, 12 miles away. (New Scientist)

Why is ag not so sweet for the Great Barrier Reef?

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Discussion Ideas


  • Runoff is a key contributor to two major threats to the Great Barrier Reef: poor water quality and development. According to our short reference resource on runoff, “Runoff from human activity comes from two places: point sources and nonpoint sources.” Is the runoff impacting the Great Barrier Reef point-source pollution or nonpoint-source pollution?
    • Runoff impacting the Great Barrier Reef is primarily nonpoint-source pollution. Nonpoint source pollution describes water pollution in which runoff is not emptied directly into a waterway. Runoff threatening the Great Barrier Reef may include fertilizers and pesticides associated with agriculture; industrial waste; sewage; litter; car exhaust; and even spilled gasoline from a car. (Impervious surfaces, or surfaces that can’t absorb water—paved surfaces, basically—increase runoff.)



  • How are the indigenous Nywaigi Traditional Owners transforming Mungalla Station to mitigate damage to the Great Barrier Reef?
    • They kept one section for cattle ranching and are working to restore native habitats to the rest of the property.
    • The Nywaigi owners have focused on restoring the Mungalla wetlands. There, nutrient-rich pollutants from runoff stick to native grasses and sedges, and are buried in their hardy root systems. Wetlands are nicknamed the “‘kidneys’ of the Reef, because they help to filter out silt and chemicals before they spill into the ocean.”
Photograph of Queensland wetlands by Sam Abell
Photograph of crocodile in Queensland by David Doubilet, National Geographic



New Scientist: Plan to save Great Barrier Reef from encroaching farm pollution

Mungalla Aboriginal Tours: Mungalla Wetlands Restoration Project

Nat Geo: Sugar’s Not Sweet for the Great Barrier Reef activity

Great Barrier Reef Foundation: The Threats

Nat Geo: What is runoff? reference

Nat Geo: Coral Bleaching Crisis study guide

Nat Geo: Marine Debris: A Legacy of Litter activity

Nat Geo: How We Fish Our Ocean picture of practice

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