19 Feb 2015


A group of trailblazing Central and North Queensland farmers are the stars of a short film, launched today by WWF-Australia, which will be seen by thousands of people around the world.

The “Connected by Water” video tells the story of Project Catalyst farmers who are leaders in reducing the fertiliser and sediment run off that is killing the Great Barrier Reef.

WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the film culminates with Mackay farmer Tony Bugeja travelling to Bowen to meet Birri Gubba Juru Elder Jim Gaston and the pair venturing out to the Reef.

“We wanted farmers to explain in their own words the ways they are fighting pollution and the pride they feel about their farms and their efforts to save the Reef,” Mr O’Gorman said.

“They are an inspiration to all farmers and really demonstrate what can be achieved with practical, cost-effective solutions."

“This film is a tribute to their accomplishments and also the benefits of working together with groups such as the Coca-Cola Foundation, NRM groups, researchers and Traditional Owners,” he said.

In the video, Mackay farmers Joe Muscat and his son Steve tell how a sediment trap set up 20 years ago has stopped two metres of soil washing off their land and how this has helped protect sea grass – the food of sea turtles.

They have also researched growing soya beans as a green fertiliser reducing the need for chemicals.

Gerry, Sam and Joe Deguara are praised for pioneering GPS technology so their machinery runs on the same spot reducing soil compaction. Compacted soil increases water run off.  

Burdekin region farmer Denis Pozzebon and his father Ugo explain how they use precise fertiliser application to avoid overuse and have set up recycle pits to capture and reuse 90% of the water that runs off their land.

Australian Institute of Marine Science scientist Britta Schaffelke describes how fertiliser run off from farms causes outbreaks of Crown of Thorns Starfish and how an outbreak can consume a whole reef in a matter of weeks.

Tony Bugeja, a renowned sustainable farmer, said of his reef trip with Aboriginal Elder Jim Gaston: “It gave me a real look at how actions on my farm can affect the sea – it really opened my eyes.”

"I’m proud I can leave my farm to my son in a better condition than when it was left to me and the improvements are also helping the Reef.”

Jim Gaston said: “Traditional owners and Project Catalyst farmers share a connection to the Reef - we both play a vital role in its protection.”

The 13 minute film and a shorter 6.35 minute version will feature on YouTube where WWF videos have received more than 33 million views.

For more information:

Mark Symons, WWF-Australia, 0400985571

Jaime Newborn, Reef Catchments, 0438 726 226

Notes to editor:

78 Project Catalyst farmers are involved from major areas of sugar production and corresponding NRM catchments in Mackay and the Whitsundays, the Burdekin and the Wet Tropics. The activities trialled by these growers delivered the following annual load reductions to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon:

  • 72 tonne/year for particulate nitrogen
  • 34 tonne/year for particulate phosphorus
  • 64 tonne/year for dissolved inorganic nitrogen
  • 13 tonne/year for filterable reactive phosphorus
  • 551 kg/year for pesticide.

Project Catalyst is a partnership between cane farmers, The Coca-Cola Foundation, WWF-Australia, Catchment Solutions, NQ Dry Tropics and Terrain NRM.

The Coca-Cola Foundation recently announced a further $500,000 grant to Project Catalyst Australia, which will bring their total investment into the Project to $3.25 million over the past six years.

The Project Catalyst Growers Forum will be held in 1-3 March 2015 in Townsville.