Environmental Management

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 70–81 | Cite as

Avoiding Implementation Failure in Catchment Landscapes: A Case Study in Governance of the Great Barrier Reef

  • Allan P. DaleEmail author
  • Karen Vella
  • Margaret Gooch
  • Ruth Potts
  • Robert L. Pressey
  • Jon Brodie
  • Rachel Eberhard


Water quality outcomes affecting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) are governed by multi-level and multi-party decision-making that influences forested and agricultural landscapes. With international concern about the GBR’s declining ecological health, this paper identifies and focuses on implementation failure (primarily at catchment scale) as a systemic risk within the overall GBR governance system. There has been limited integrated analysis of the full suite of governance subdomains that often envelop defined policies, programs and delivery activities that influence water quality in the GBR. We consider how the implementation of separate purpose-specific policies and programs at catchment scale operate against well-known, robust design concepts for integrated catchment governance. We find design concerns within ten important governance subdomains that operate within GBR catchments. At a whole-of-GBR scale, we find a weak policy focus on strengthening these delivery-oriented subdomains and on effort integration across these subdomains within catchments. These governance problems when combined may contribute to failure in the implementation of major national, state and local government policies focused on improving water quality in the GBR, a lesson relevant to landscapes globally.


Governance systems Catchment management Water quality Implementation failure 



Funding was provided by the Australian Government’s National Environment Research Program Tropical Water Quality Hub (via the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre), the Australian Government’s Northern Futures Collaborative Research Network (CRN), and the Australian Research Council Linkage Project 130100933. Many thanks also for the contribution of Katrina Keith, Jennifer McHugh, and our participating actors/experts.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan P. Dale
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karen Vella
    • 2
  • Margaret Gooch
    • 1
  • Ruth Potts
    • 2
  • Robert L. Pressey
    • 3
  • Jon Brodie
    • 4
  • Rachel Eberhard
    • 2
  1. 1.The Cairns InstituteJames Cook University (JCU)CairnsAustralia
  2. 2.School of Civil Engineering and Built EnvironmentScience and Engineering Faculty, QUTBrisbaneAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, JCUTownsvilleAustralia
  4. 4.Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research, JCUTownsvilleAustralia

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