Land use conversion to improve water quality in high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane areas of the Great Barrier Reef catchments

Waltham, Nathan J., Wegscheidl, Carla, Volders, Adrian, Smart, James C.R., Hasan, Syezlin, Ledee, Elodie, and Waterhouse, Jane (2021) Land use conversion to improve water quality in high DIN risk, low-lying sugarcane areas of the Great Barrier Reef catchments. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 167. 112373.

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Abstract

Eutrophication of coastal and nearshore receiving environments downstream of intensive agricultural production areas is a global issue. The Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (2017–2022) sets ambitious targets for reducing pollutant loads entering the Great Barrier Reef from contributing agricultural catchments. At a regional scale, the Wet Tropics end-of-catchment target load reduction for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) is 60% from the 2012–2013 anthropogenic load level. However, not even with the combined efforts of the Reef Regulations (December 2019) mandate and adoption of best practice nutrient management on farm, is it likely that these DIN targets will be reached. Thus, there is a need for innovative and cost-effective approaches to deliver further water quality improvement. Transitioning low-lying, marginal sugarcane land to alternative land uses that require lower or no nitrogen inputs, but still provide farmers with income streams, is a potentially attractive solution. In this study, a multi-criteria analysis was conducted to identify sites suitable for such alternative land uses. The cost-effectiveness of DIN reductions from these land use changes were calculated, accounting for reductions in annuity gross margins and land conversion cost. In certain locations (where conversion costs are low and DIN reductions are high) treatment wetlands and no-input cattle grazing offer cost-effective DIN reduction in the range of 20–26$/kg DIN. This compares favourably with existing agricultural extension-based approaches (c. $50/kg DIN reduction). Ecosystem service wetlands (i.e., wetland restoration for fish production) – again when appropriately situated – offer the prospect of even more cost-effective performance (11–14 $/kg DIN reduction). These results, in conjunction with best management practices, support the premise that alternative land uses are cost-effective options for improving water quality in certain areas of low-lying, low productivity sugarcane land. On-going investments by government in addition to private market funding mechanisms could be appropriate for supporting such land use transitions. These approaches need to be tested and refined via targeted pilot projects, as part of a whole-of-landscape approach to achieve broader reef water quality targets.

Item ID: 68738
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1879-3363
Copyright Information: © 2021 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Funders: National Environment Science Program (NESP) Tropical Water Quality Hub
Projects and Grants: NESP 2.1.1
Date Deposited: 21 Jul 2021 02:57
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4102 Ecological applications > 410203 Ecosystem function @ 30%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4101 Climate change impacts and adaptation > 410102 Ecological impacts of climate change and ecological adaptation @ 30%
41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410404 Environmental management @ 40%
SEO Codes: 18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1802 Coastal and estuarine systems and management > 180203 Coastal or estuarine biodiversity @ 80%
18 ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT > 1802 Coastal and estuarine systems and management > 180206 Rehabilitation or conservation of coastal or estuarine environments @ 20%
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