The benefits of converting flood-prone cane paddocks into melaleuca plantations

The common melaleuca ‘paper-bark’ tree could be a powerhouse in not only storing carbon but filtering farm runoff – and farmers and scientists are teaming up to understand how big of an impact these native trees have.

James Cook University’s (JCU) TropWATER Centre’s Dr Adam Canning is working with Ingham farmer John Cardillo and Greening Australia in a project that’s converted 15 acres of flood-prone cane farm into melaleuca plantations.

The project investigates the amount of carbon stored by these plantations compared to non-restored areas, and their role in capturing nutrients from farm run-off mobilised during high rainfall.

Lead researcher Dr Adam Canning said the research looks at how restoration can fit in with the agricultural landscape, where there are benefits for both farmers and the environment.

“Planting melaleuca plantations on flood-prone farms has dual benefits – they are powerful carbon sinks and can help improve water quality,” he said.

“But if agricultural land is restored, it could be at a production loss to farmers, so we need to think about how restoration can have co-benefits for farmers.

“This project is finding the best way to use these flood-prone paddocks to support the long-term success of the agricultural economy by leveraging emerging ecosystem service markets.”

The research involved buring resin bags in the soil for 12 months to measure the nitrate leaching to aquatic ecosystems, as well as assessing soil carbon and microbiome levels.

Canefarmer John Cardillo, who has been involved in various revegetation projects, said the low-lying paddocks were wasted on cane because they were flood prone.

“Revegetating these paddocks is a good way to use this land,” he said.

“These paddocks are so close to the coast – the planted trees are great for holding sediment and it helps with erosion during floods.

“It might seem like a drop in the ocean, but this all adds up.”

Greening Australia’s Sean Hoobin said, “Land which isn’t good for cane can be converted to carbon farming both from vegetation and blue carbon methods – bringing additional income to landholders.”

“Greening Australia’s work with JCU to measure the water quality benefit of melaleuca wetlands, means that farmers may also be able to receive a Reef Credit payment to increase the overall value of restoration.”

Canning said there’s likely many flood-prone cane paddocks in Queensland that can be converted to melaleuca wetlands, and the results from this project could play big role in future restoration initiatives in the agricultural landscape.

“We have also been scoping the potential for planting over 120 other water-tolerant native tree species in locations across the Great Barrier Reef catchment to support carbon sequestration, nutrient runoff treatment and biodiversity.”

This article appeared in Wet Tropic’s Reef and Rivers magazine:



Seagrass restoration project spans two oceans

James Cook University scientists will lead seagrass restoration research spanning tropical Australia’s two oceans.

Researchers from JCU’s Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) will investigate restoration techniques for key tropical seagrass species, from Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef across to the north of Western Australia.

Their aim is to develop a blueprint for coastal managers to rapidly restore seagrass meadows in high-priority regions.

TropWATER’s Associate Professor Michael Rasheed said future-proofing highly diverse seagrass meadows is crucial to reversing the global downward trend in tropical seagrasses.

“Seagrasses are critical ecosystems,” he said. “They provide habitat for fish, they power coastal marine productivity, and they sequester carbon to help combat climate change – but they’re under increasing pressure from extreme weather events, coastal development and declining water quality.”

Associate Professor Rasheed said climate models predict that future conditions will see more frequent seagrass loss in tropical Australia, making it essential to have tools at hand for effective intervention and restoration.

“We’re investigating the most effective ways to restore different seagrass species, and developing the tools needed for rapid restoration on local and regional levels,” he said.

Professor Rasheed said the project would focus on tropical seagrasses, as most previous seagrass restoration projects have occurred in temperate regions.

Tropical seagrasses can be very different to temperate seagrasses. They have different growth strategies, and they have the potential for much faster recovery once established.

“Some restoration methods applied in temperate systems may not be applicable or transferable to tropical seagrass meadows, which makes our work all the more valuable.

“We’ll investigate methods such as using seeds and cuttings, and new ways they can be used in the field, much the same as many land plants and nurseries operate.”

“We’re going to develop new techniques for tropical seagrass restoration, a blueprint for seagrass-friendly marine infrastructure, and restoration decision tools that can be applied at local and regional scales.”

The project builds on a long-term collaboration with industry partners Ports North and North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP).

“We are proud to support this ground-breaking research that aims to provide practical solutions to safeguard seagrasses and the Reef,” said Simona Trimarchi, NQBP’s Senior Manager of Sustainability and Environment.

The research is a significant next step in TropWATER’s long-term partnership with industry and will benefit from the decades of data already gathered.

“We take our environmental responsibilities seriously,” said Paul Doyle, Ports North’s General Manager of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability. “Together with JCU’s TropWATER Centre we’ve supported seagrass monitoring and research for almost three decades across the ports of tropical Queensland.”

The project is funded by a more than $450,000 Linkage grant from the Federal Government’s Australian Research Council.

Indigenous rangers and scientists team up to drive coral growth

Indigenous rangers and scientists team up to drive coral growth on the Great Barrier Reef during spawning season and beyond.

A team of scientists, First Nations Rangers, tourism operators and conservationists have collected millions of coral sperm and egg bundles at Moore Reef on Gunggandji Sea Country, 50 kilometres offshore from Cairns.

After a week of incubating in custom-designed pools, the coral babies have been  settled out at nearby Hastings Reef, on Yirrganydji Sea Country, in the hope of repairing patches of degraded reef.

The larval delivery project is part of the newly launched reef conservation collective called ‘The Reef Cooperative’, a partnership between Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation, James Cook University (JCU), Reef Recruits, Mars Sustainable Solutions, GBR Biology and funded by Cotton On Foundation.

The coral larvae project is led by JCU TropWATER and Reef Recruits, who bring years of experience with raising and settling coral larvae and managing complex marine field operations.

JCU’s Dr Katie Chartrand says climate-related disturbances are increasing and the windows for reefs to recover are getting shorter and shorter.

“By using the Great Barrier Reef’s most reproductive time of year – the annual synchronised spawning – we have the potential to significantly boost reef recovery at targeted reef sites,” she said.

“Key to this project is that it’s being delivered with traditional custodians who hold a wealth of knowledge about their local reefs while the research team provides the scientific tools to train those involved.

“This project has been an opportunity to work hand in hand with two local Traditional Owner groups. Sharing our knowledge on spawning and larval rearing is building local capacity to drive conservation outcomes for First Nations peoples across the Great Barrier Reef in the future.”

The team will release 30 million larvae in the project over the next 3 years and build capacity within the community and The Reef Cooperative.

“The transfer of coral larvae from Gunggandji Sea Country to Yirrganydji Sea Country for settling on Hastings Reef is an important opportunity to engage Traditional Owner groups and tell our story about the Great Barrier Reef. Through The Reef Cooperative, we can focus on the Aboriginal cultural heritage dimensions of the Great Barrier Reef, which have not historically been known or told across Australia and the world,” Gavin Singleton, Dawul Wuru Aboriginal Corporation.

These larvae will increase coral coverage over more than 200 square metres of strategically selected degraded reef. The baby corals will have lots of natural predators, but at least 15,000 of them should survive to maturity.

”It’s a privilege to work on this project in collaboration with Traditional Owners. It’s also exciting to be trialling new methods to increase the coverage of high-density larval delivery,” said Dr Kerry Cameron, Reef Recruits.

This project spans two different sea countries, which is only possible thanks to the support and collaboration of the Gunggandji and Yirrganydji people. Gunggandji Elders say Moore Reef has long been known to them as a source reef and they have a strong spiritual connection with it.

“The fusion of Traditional Owner Ecological Knowledge with modern science for the whole world to see and be part of is what the mutually beneficial partnership of the Reef Cooperative is all about, and provides hope for the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef for generations to come,” said Eric Fisher, GBR Biology.

Tim Diamond, GM of Cotton On Foundation says, “Through our partnership with Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, we are proud to be the founding funders of The Reef Cooperative and supporting the important cultural and conservation milestones for Hastings Reef on Yirrganydji Sea Country. The Reef Cooperative is a unique conservation model in action, driven by innovation and knowledge sharing between Traditional Owners, scientists and conservationists that can help protect and conserve the Great Barrier Reef. We’re looking forward to mobilising our customers and supporters in reef conservation over the next three years of The Reef Cooperative journey.”

Yirrganydji rangers have supported the fieldwork to prepare the delivery site at Hastings Reef and rangers from both groups will help with the collection of coral spawn and raising of the larvae.

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