Thriving on Country

Wet Tropics Wetland and Cane Drainage Water Quality Treatment Systems

We are working alongside the Madjandji Aboriginal Corporation, Mulgrave Landcare and local landholders to repair and revegetate up to 7.9 hectares of wetlands and cane drainage systems on Yidinji Country in the Mulgrave catchment.

The Challenge

Nutrient and sediment runoff from sugar cane drains can impact water quality for the Great Barrier Reef, causing problems for Reef ecosystems such as seagrass meadows and delicate corals.

Changes to the landscape and land management practices since colonisation, as well as the introduction of invasive plant and animal species, have also dramatically affected the health of wetlands in the Reef catchments, which would otherwise have helped in filtering water making its way to the Reef.

Australia’s Traditional Owners managed the land sustainably for over 40,000 years, but until very recently, much of this multi-generational knowledge around caring for Country has been overlooked and First Nations peoples have been actively disconnected from their traditional lands. This has broad social, cultural, spiritual, economic and environmental implications and presents a significant barrier to both landscape restoration and reconciliation.

A final challenge for undertaking large-scale wetland restoration projects in this area is a lack of reliable native seed and seedling supply.

The Project

This Reef Assist project aims to improve water quality for the Great Barrier Reef by working with landholders to repair and revegetate wetlands and cane drainage systems, slowing the water flow, filtering sediment and nutrient particles out of the water column, and restoring threatened species habitat and riparian corridors.

First Nations collaboration on and leadership of revegetation projects is an ideal avenue to support both reconnection with Country and culture and the establishment of pathways to intergenerational wealth and wellbeing for communities. By working together with Madjandji Aboriginal Corporation, the project aims to support the Madjandji people in developing long-term employment and enterprises working on Country, by providing opportunities to undertake both certified and casual training in natural resource management.

At the same time, given the project’s need for a reliable supply of seedlings to establish 13,400 trees, native seed collection and propagation will be undertaken, and Mulgrave Landcare will be supported to develop capacity in supplying native plant seedlings for revegetation in Far North Queensland.

The project is repairing and revegetating wetlands and cane drainage systems by working in collaboration with Traditional Owners, local community and landholders like Lenny and Franco.


A native plant nursery has been established – and a Mulgrave Landcare nursery manager installed – to produce seedlings for the project and provide social benefits for the community. A successful weekly volunteer program has been running at the nursery since May 2023 with an average of 10 repeat volunteers attending. In addition, 37 community nursery events have been hosted, resulting in more than 6,300 seedlings potted up and 69 kg of seeds collected and prepared for sowing so far.

The project has also supported six Madjaybana Rangers with hands-on learning opportunities and all six have now completed a Certificate III in Conservation & Ecosystem Management, 4WD training and snake handling courses. The rangers recently attended the National Pig Conference in Cairns and will attend Croc Awareness training in early September 2023.

In terms of on-ground works to repair and revegetate wetlands and cane drainage systems, three sites have been selected in partnership with willing landholders. Over 5,200 native trees have been planted across 1.7 hectares during 12 tree planting events, at two of the three project sites so far.

The Wet Tropics Wetland and Cane Drainage Water Quality Treatment Systems project is funded through the Queensland Government’s $33.5 million Reef Assist program under the Queensland Reef Water Quality Program and delivered by Greening Australia’s Reef Aid team in partnership with Mulgrave Landcare and Madjandji Aboriginal Corporation.

For more information, please feel free to send us an online query.

Project partners