Restoring sea country through Reef Aid

“The Great Barrier Reef, our sea country, has never been in a worse condition. That wonder is my inheritance, the inheritance of all Australians. We have a duty to look after it,” says Jacob Cassady, Director of Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corp.

It was the plight of this natural wonder that spawned Reef Aid, not-for-profit Greening Australia’s flagship program to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef by restoring coastal wetlands and rebuilding eroding gullies.

Wetlands play a vital role in the health and resilience of the reef, helping to purify water by filtering out sediment and nutrients, and providing important habitat for fishes, many of which spend part of their lives in the sheltered waters.

But with over 50% of the wetlands in the reef catchment lost since European settlement and many remaining ones degraded, Greening Australia is working in partnership with landholders and local communities through Reef Aid to restore 700 hectares of priority wetlands.

One of these is Mungalla Station, owned by the Nywaigi Aboriginal people, a special piece of country steeped in cultural history, brimming with life and encompassing 230 hectares of wetlands key to the health of the reef.

Jacob Cassady, Director of Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corp. Jacob Cassady, Director of Mungalla Aboriginal Business Corp.

Mr Cassady said, “When we purchased Mungalla it was in a bad state. The channels were choked with weeds and the water was high in nutrients. It was heartbreaking to bring our elders back to this country, an area which has such great cultural significance for us, and have them not even recognise it.”

Knowing the value of the wetlands, the team at Mungalla set to work restoring the land with research agency CSIRO. Reef Aid will build on this work with a program encompassing restoration of priority wetland habitat, weed control and improvement of grazing management.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved so far at Mungalla. We are looking forward to working with Greening Australia to restore even more of our country.”

Cassady is particularly enthusiastic about the grazing management and biosecurity components of Reef Aid.

“I am very excited about these aspects as they impact on the economy of the station. We are putting all this work into restoring our wetlands but if we don’t manage grazing it will undo a lot of that effort.

“What we do on this part of country affects others. This land is like our body, the veins are our waterways, and the wetlands are our kidneys, helping to purify the land. When you mess with the kidneys by interfering with the wetlands, you start clogging up the body.

Education is a core component of Reef Aid, ensuring a legacy of conservation that extends beyond the life of the project. Mungalla plays a key role, educating visitors on the value of restoration and the importance of the wetlands.

“The wetlands are not just a resource. They are an entity that you have a relationship with and you have to take care of them. You got sick country, you got sick people. We ask our visitors to leave a green footprint on Mungalla.”

Relationships like the one with Mungalla are critical to the success of Reef Aid, with commitment from landholders to steward the land helping to ensure the health of the reef into the future.

Reef Aid was launched in partnership with Virgin Australia in mid-2016. The project is partly funded by the Australian Government and delivered in partnership with the Reef Trust.