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Regenerating the Great Barrier Reef through integrated sustainable farming practices

Regional Leadership – Wide Bay Burnett Beef production that restores biodiversity and protects the Reef

Photo of Josi Heyerdahl
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

World Wildlife Fund, Inc.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Burnett Mary Regional Group (5. Large NGO, government funded natural resource management) Resource Consulting Services (2. Small Company) Wide Bay Burnett Regional Development Authority (4. Small NGO) Traditional Owners (Indigenous Community) groups (4. Small NGO) Beef producers Local Government Authorities (8. Government): South Burnett, North Burnett, Gympie, Fraser Coast, Bundaberg Regional Councils and Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Washington DC

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The Wide Bay - Burnett Region of Queensland, Australia.

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Wide Bay Burnett Region is famous for its biodiversity, World Heritage Areas, rich history of agriculture and Indigenous culture. The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is of outstanding universal value as the world’s most extensive coral reef system, supporting a globally unique array of ecological communities, habitat and species. Fraser Island (‘K’Gari’, meaning paradise) World Heritage Area is the world’s largest sand island. The development of rainforest vegetation on coastal dune systems at the scale found on Fraser Island is unique, and the island boasts the largest unconfined aquifer on a sand island.

The region is a major “food bowl” of the state with a variety of livestock, sugar, fruit, nuts, vegetables, cereal crops, timber, seafood and speciality products grown and processed. By land area, the largest industry is agriculture, primarily beef production and cropping, both irrigated and dryland. Underpinning this production is an abundance of natural resources: relatively large areas of good quality agricultural land; irrigation water supplies; and a climate that can grow a diverse array of products. The region has an established supply chain which includes significant infrastructure including water, sugar mills and meat processing works.

 WWF is strongly connected to the Region through its work within its Oceans, Sustainable Food and Threatened Species Practice Areas. WWF has been supporting beef and sugarcane growers within the Great Barrier Reef catchment, including the Wide Bay Burnett Region, since 2014. WWF supports the adoption of sustainable grazing practices, development of the carbon farming industry on beef properties, and promotes markets for sustainably produced beef. WWF supports the adoption of farming practices that reduce Nitrogen fertilizer loss to the environment on sugar cane farms. WWF has advocated for good governance and public policy on natural resource management in relation to the Great Barrier Reef for more than 10 years.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Wide Bay Burnett region is home to many vibrant local communities, each with its own unique character and identity. The region’s diverse culture is a mix of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, descendants of early European settlement, agricultural and mining foundations, as well as the heritage fabric retained in many townships, complemented by modern architecture and cultural facilities. The cultural heritage of the region is well represented in historic towns like Gympie, Maryborough, Childers, Wondai and Kilkivan, the Aboriginal local government area of Cherbourg, and coastal towns like Tin Can Bay.

The Wide Bay Burnett region is the home to Butchulla, Gubbi Gubbi (or Kabi Kabi) and Wakka Wakka Aboriginal people. Wakka Wakka people are an inland people with many important and sacred sites located throughout their territory, along with a number of sacred sites which are extant today. Butchulla people are a coastal group and recognised native title holders of large areas of K’Gari and the Great Sandy Strait. The Kabi Kabi people are also coastal, with homelands in the southern part of the Region.

The Wide Bay Burnett Region enjoys a tropical climate with an average monsoonal rainfall of 890 mm per annum and temperatures between 12 and 33 degrees Celsius. As the gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island, tourism is an important economic driver.

Beef production is the backbone of the region, taking place on over 50% of the land area and contributing a gross value of $384 million in 2017–18.

Native food sources abound in the Wide Bay Burnett Region. It is the birthplace of the macadamia nut, and boasts a rich array of seafood including finfish, scallops, squid and cuttlefish, sand and mud crabs, and prawns. The Region celebrates its food production with a wide variety of food and wine festivals throughout the year, including the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival, the Tin Can Bay Seafood Festival, the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival, the South Burnett Food and Wine Festival, the Bauple Nut Bash, the Fraser Coast Food and Craft Beer Fest, the Relish Food and Wine Festival at Maryborough and the Kingaroy Bacon Fest

Wild caught seafood is a favourite for people living in and visiting the region. Scallop, prawn, finfish and crab commercial fishers are based in ports near Hervey Bay, while K’Gari and other coastal spots are extremely popular fishing holiday destinations for Australians. K’Gari and the coastline of the mainland offer a variety of nature-based experiences requiring 4WDs and camping.

Many coastal communities are experiencing high demand for new residential areas and dwelling stock, resulting largely from the effects of the ‘sea change’ phenomenon. These communities face the challenges that come with managing growth, particularly in the continued supply of infrastructure and services. In rural areas, communities are experiencing a decline in growth. Several challenges will confront the regional economy in the near future, including an ageing population coupled with a trend for young adults to move away from the region.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The worldwide demand for food is expected to increase by 70% over the next 40 years. This is due to both population growth as well as economic development driving changes in consumption and diet composition (e.g. more protein, sugar and carbohydrates). The region's ability to take advantage of the world demand requires an adoption of practices to increase productivity from the land currently under cultivation; maximise the land use for production of high demand, competitive and high value produce and carefully manage natural resources.


Population growth and the anticipated impacts of climate change present challenges to the region’s environment and natural resources, including:

  • loss and fragmentation of important habitats in the coastal zone, terrestrial ecosystems and wetland environments
  • poor water quality entering wetlands, waterways, estuarine systems and the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon as a result of urban development and poor land management practices
  • escalating demand from population growth

A key focus for WWF is the poor water quality responsible for declining health of the Great Barrier Reef, increasing susceptibility to coral bleaching, and increasing populations of key coral predators such as the Crown of Thorns Starfish. Despite recent improvements in land use practices, poor water quality from beef production remains one of the threats to the health of the Great Barrier Reef, due to high levels of sediment in run-off from grazing land.


Climate change impacts present possibly the biggest economic challenge for the region over the coming decades. High value coastal tourism areas, agricultural production, asset management/ infrastructure and water availability are all highly vulnerable sectors. Productivity decline is predicted, mainly related to increasingly limited reliable water supply for irrigation, predicted evapotranspiration rates and increased temperatures. Additionally, bushfire threat is now being felt by land managers, increasing the urgency to adopt of better land management approaches.

Diets and Culture

The people of the Region enjoy diets based on locally grown and caught food. The culture of the Region can be regarded as one of ‘catch your own and pick your own’. Careful natural asset management, monitoring and planning will be required to ensure food security.


Given the future climatic changes the region will face, new technology, innovative practices such as carbon sequestration, water conservation methods, and new drought resistant crop species need to be explored to ensure businesses are able to adapt accordingly.


Uptake of best land management practices within the Great Barrier catchments to improve water quality has been slow, even though we have known about the threats to the Great Barrier Reef from land-based run-off for over a decade. Whilst significant effort has been made to remediate gully erosion and facilitate adoption of improved land management practices, regulatory measures are now being introduced to target poor performing land managers. Incentives are also needed to encourage best practice food production at scale in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our approach involves a number of activities that will make a difference to achieving a positive shift to food security, economic stability and the conservation and wise use of natural resources in the Wide Bay Burnett region.

Promotion and support of regenerative agriculture

One of our roles is to promote and support regenerative beef production systems. We ‘tell the stories’ of good land management, promoting land management practices that deliver restorative outcomes for the environment. Better land management practices often have a positive impact on a farm’s gross margin through a significant reduction in both direct and indirect costs of production. Further information, and communication of actual results is required to promote wider uptake of practices.


Promoting multiple, low carbon enterprises on farm

The Wide Bay Burnett has one of the highest tree growth rates in Australia with an impressive opportunity to capture investment in the emerging carbon sequestration sector. Opportunities for multiple income streams from restoring forests and woodlands on farms, and multi-species agriculture are being promoted and facilitated to complement the production of beef cattle.


Supporting the use of Indigenous knowledge 

WWF and its partners promote and encourage the appropriate use of traditional knowledge to manage natural assets which enhances resilience and better land management.


Market influence and public awareness

WWF engages in public awareness raising and campaigning on ‘better beef’ to shift consumer preferences and behaviour and to promote the benefits of Australian beef that can reliably demonstrate adherence to rigorous sustainability credentials. We will encourage the development of markets for commodities that deliver real environmental results alongside financial benefits, support Best Management Practice standards for beef production that meet ‘Reef Safe’ levels, and promote commodities that are produced in line with these.

Producer engagement and supporting the ‘community of practice’

 A ‘community of practice’ approach is most likely to be self-sustaining and lead to ‘snowball’ uptake of better land management practices in the long term. We have a strong focus on farmer engagement to ensure the benefits to beef producers are maximised and to create a community of practice that can demonstrate verifiable sustainability credentials. Expand and support a ‘community of practice’ in the Wide Bay Burnett Region to showcase to the rest of the GBR catchment communities what can be achieved with sustained and concerted effort.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Vibrant, progressive agricultural industries in the Wide Bay Burnett Region that:

  • attract new generations of young farmers and producers as a career of choice, supporting rural towns, populations and economies,
  • employ cutting edge herd management and genetics to produce ‘more with less’,
  • integrate food production operations to sustain increasing demands for healthy food grown in healthy soils,
  • strengthen the economy of rural towns in the Region,
  • reward sustainable, responsible agricultural production with preferential markets,
  • meet consumer demand for healthy food grown in pasture systems,
  • attract tourists and visitors in their hundreds of thousands to experience the variety, quality and healthfulness of foods produced in the region,
  • work with traditional (Indigenous) knowledge to manage natural resources effectively,
  • are significantly more profitable than current traditional agricultural production operations,
  • lead the way in natural resource management in Queensland, protecting and restoring waterways, wetlands and native vegetation,
  • are carbon neutral and an exporter of carbon credits,
  • are resilient and prepared for the extremes of a changing climate, and
  • protect the Great Barrier Reef through providing exceptional water quality from the Burnett and Mary River catchments, and
  • contribute to the Region’s economic plan of being ‘the perfect place’.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?


The Great Barrier Reef offers amazing marine tourism experiences offshore with 100% healthy corals and abundant fish life. The water is clear and clean, with no evidence of fertilisers, pesticides from land-based run-off. Whale watching is ever popular as healthy populations of whales migrate north to calve in the winter months, returning in September-October. Marine turtles abound and can be seen nesting in historical beach dunes such as Mon Repos – a popular eco-tourism destination.

The condition, extent and connectivity of the region’s natural areas is well protected across the landscape and enhanced to maintain ecological integrity and processes needed for biodiversity to be resilient to climate change and other threats. Areas of natural beauty are also popular with locals and tourists, including the pristine beaches and ancient dunes of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Region. The Bunya Mountains offers unique scenery where stands of bunya pines survive without fire.

Foreshores, coastal wetlands and marine waters are managed to protect human life, property and biodiversity from natural fluctuations in coastal environments and those associated with climate change, including sea level rise and tide/storm surges.

Agricultural lands incorporate native bushland belts and refuges.



The Wide Bay Burnett Region is known the ‘sustainable food bowl’ of Queensland, where regenerative farming and horticultural operations produce low chemical fruit, nuts, vegetables and meat. The region’s produce is celebrated through increasing numbers of festivals. Major cities and towns boast award-winning restaurants. Farmer’s Markets, Farm Gate sales and other Paddock to Plates food opportunities exist throughout the region, making the region an attractive self-drive tourism opportunity. People of the region continue to be able to access fresh seafood, and responsibly produced red meats.



The region is thriving economically, because it has taken a region-wide decision in the 2020’s to go ‘clean and green’. 90% of the region’s agriculture is undertaken using regenerative principles, building soil health, soil carbon and delivering healthy food. Consumers are demanding the region’s produce, and markets for regeneratively grown produce are strong. Agricultural careers are attractive options for young people in the region, and young families are establishing farms using innovative technologies to ensure their produce is grown with minimum fertiliser and pesticides. Rural towns are flourishing, and catering to an increasing self-drive tourism sector.



The most obvious aspect of culture is that every location is known by its Aboriginal names as well as its original name. The Butchulla, Kabi Kabi and Wakka Wakka Aboriginal groups are heavily involved in natural resource management and integrated land management across the Region. The region’s culture is reflected in its food – vibrant, healthy, with old fashioned values and modern flare blended together.


The people are tech savvy, and eager to explore new ideas. Drones and GPS are used on farms to monitor and assess food production. Most produce is traceable to its origins on-farm through the use of on-line ledger systems (block-chain). The switch to regenerative agriculture has made farmers more aware of new technologies and practices that reduce the environmental footprint of their food production.


 Regulation and Incentives are no longer required to address environmental issues such as run-off of fertilisers and pesticides into the Great Barrier Reef. The shift to regenerative agricultural production has resulted in cleaner, healthier food production, and with it, markets for ‘Reef Safe’ foods have flourished. Fish stocks are well managed within sustainable limits, even with an increasing population in the region. It is possible for recreational anglers to be guaranteed to catch a fish.

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