Water quality and water pollution

This campaign asked supporters to sign a petition to tell the Queensland Government to enforce water quality laws to stop pollution from damaging the Great Barrier Reef.
Stop water pollution and give our Great Barrier Reef the clean water it needs to restore its health.


Our beautiful Great Barrier Reef is threatened by water pollution from land-based activities like agriculture. Our Reef needs to be strong in the face of rapidly warming oceans. Land-based pollution is a preventable problem entirely in our control. We must stop water pollution and give our Great Barrier Reef the clean water it needs to restore its health.
What is ‘runoff’? 
Runoff refers to the excess water flows across the surface of the land and into nearby creeks and rivers after rainfall or irrigation. Runoff can often wash chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides and sediment from the land into bodies of water. All waterways and creeks eventually lead to our oceans. And so, sediment and chemical runoff from agriculture and land-based activities is a major threat to inshore coral reefs and seagrass meadows in our Great Barrier Reef. 

Water Quality and Land-based Runoff
When inefficient fertiliser is applied to crops, like sugar cane, excess fertiliser washes into rivers and waterways, where it is carried out to the Great Barrier Reef. Nitrogen from these fertilisers are linked to harmful algal blooms, which is a food source for juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish. These starfish destroy vast amounts of coral and pose a huge threat to our Great Barrier Reef. Algal blooms can also reduce the amount of light available required for seagrasses to grow and be healthy. Pesticides and herbicides have been detected in high concentrations in inshore areas of the World Heritage Area and pose a further risk to marine plants and animals. Herbicides are applied to crops to kill weeds by inhibiting their ability to grow. But when they wash into the Reef, they also inhibit the growth of other non-target plants, such as seagrasses, on which dugongs, turtles and fish depend.

What problems does water pollution cause?
When sediment and excess nutrients runoff lands into Reef waters they can cause harmful algal blooms, reduce the amount of light available to seagrasses and smother marine ecosystems. These ecosystems are critical habitats for threatened dugongs, turtles and juvenile fish. While climate change remains the biggest threat to our Great Barrier Reef, cleaning up the water that flows from the land reduces further pressure and helps our Great Barrier Reef to restore its health.
What is being done about pollution in our Great Barrier Reef?
We have an incredible opportunity to help our vulnerable Great Barrier Reef. In 2019, the Queensland government strengthened Reef laws after decades of inaction by farmers and graziers to stop water pollution. The majority of farmers follow water pollution laws and do the right thing, however, a small minority of farmers have not changed their practices so the last resort is law enforcement with strong monitoring and penalties. Together, we can keep the Reef healthy but we need farmers to do the right thing by adopting cleaner, more profitable practices, and for those who don’t change, we need to enforce pollution laws.
• Add your signature to the petition today to tell the Queensland Government to enforce water quality laws to stop pollution from damaging our Reef.
 • How water pollution enters our waterways and reaches the Reef: Poor water quality and our Great Barrier Reef infographic
• Download now: How fertiliser enters waterways from farms and industrial agriculture infographic
• Download now: Solutions

Water pollution is an entirely preventable problem. The solution to it is to start making changes on our land before it ends up in our waterways. Climate change requires an international effort and cooperation (of which Australia and Queensland should play its part!) Tackling water pollution in runoff that’s entering our Reef, on the other hand, is entirely in Queensland’s control. Meaning, we have the power to fix this easily and quickly.  After decades of incentives for voluntary management practices, water quality of our inshore Reef has remained in poor condition. In 2019, the QLD government passed a historic bill designed to improve the quality of the water that flows from farming and grazing properties in northern Queensland into our Reef. So meeting sensible fertiliser use requirements and minimum practice standards for agriculture on land, as well as, restoring cleared land, waterways and coastlines with vegetation, are some of many solutions that will reduce water pollution from reaching our Great Barrier Reef.

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Campaign Details

Group Leading this Campaign: Australian Marine Conservation Society

Main Issue of the Campaign:

Campaign Ran From: 2019 to 2024

Campaign Outcome:

Year Outcome Assessed:

Geographic Range of Activity:


Water quality and water pollution