, Volume 591, Issue 1, pp 25–33 | Cite as

Linking land to ocean: feedbacks in the management of socio-ecological systems in the Great Barrier Reef catchments

  • Iain J. Gordon
Soft-Bottom Near-Shore Ecosystems


The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) off Australia’s northeast coast is one of the natural wonders of the world. As a consequence it has high value, not only for biodiversity, but also for tourists who come to see the GBR and the biodiversity associated with it, bringing in over A$3.5B per annum to the Australian economy. However, there are a number of natural and anthropogenic factors that are threatening the health of the reef ecosystems. One of the major anthropogenic factors is the impact of sediments and nutrients that run off the land, via the rivers, into the lagoon of the reef. Extensive beef production is one of the major land uses of the GBR catchment, and brings in over $1B to the national economy annually and employs nearly 9,000 people, many of them in rural communities. Over 70% of terrestrial sediments and nutrients deposited in the GBR lagoon affecting the health of vulnerable reef ecosystems originate from the extensive grazing lands of Queensland’s interior. Recent research indicates that the quantity of sediments and nutrients lost from these grazing lands is strongly dependent upon grazing management practices; grazing leads to degradation of soil and vegetation resources, reduced infiltration and vegetation production. This has led to a growing concern amongst the Australian public about the environmental performance of the beef industry and increasing pressures on graziers to change their management practices to decrease the off-farm impacts. Given the constraints within the system improvements in water quality draining into the GBR lagoon can best be achieved by demonstrating the productivity and economic benefits of science-based improved grazing management practices for graziers, leading to “AllWin” outcomes for all concerned. In the longer term, only when the range of stakeholders involved approach catchments as linked biophysical, social and economic systems, will truly integrated adaptive catchment management be applied to the GBR.


Sediment Nutrient Coral reef Grazing Marine Aquatic 



This review is based on the work of CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship Program: GBR Node. I would like to thank the organisers (particularly Herbert Prins) of the Open Science Meeting held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia on the 27th September 2005 for their invitation to speak at the conference and for the Netherlands Royal Academy of Science for paying for my travel and accommodation. I would also like to thank two anonymous referees for their valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sustainable EcosystemsCSIRO – Davies LaboratoryPMB PO AitkenvaleAustralia

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