The Mighty Fitzroy River

By Water Expert Adam Rose

Here in Australia, we live on the driest inhabited continent on the face of the earth. The continent is made up of over 200 freshwater catchments, each with their own unique personalities.

Most of you will be familiar with the Murray Darling, it’s like Grant Denyer, always seems to be popping up on TV.  Unlike Grant, it’s our largest and most productive catchment, riddled with issues, the main one I can see from afar without talking to the people involved, is that there is too much water held upstream used inefficiently, often to the highest bidder, which means there isn’t enough for the downstream communities.

The Murray Darling

But today, I don’t want to talk about the Murray Darling, instead, I would like to introduce you to Central Queensland’s largest catchment, and indeed the largest catchment to drain into the Great Barrier Reef, the MIGHTY FITZROY RIVER, Darumbal Country.

Our major problem isn’t a lack of water downstream, it’s a case of way too much water downstream and not enough upstream.

The river on average discharges approximately 5,900 GL of freshwater to the Reef, or more simply 12 Sydney Harbours. However, in 2011 we had one of the largest flooding events on record, with 3.8 Billion GL entering the Reef, or think about like this, 7,600 Sydney Harbours,

Fitzroy River in flood

To top that off! On average the Fitzroy discharges over 1 Mt of soil a year, which equates to 1 billion kg’s, or if you will 100,000 truckloads (10t trucks). If these trucks were to form a line, it would be from Brisbane to Mackay, bumper to bumper. Estimates of sediment transport vary widely, but I estimate any sediment entering the Reef that has originated from our farms is too much.

The sediment carries with it nutrient, pesticides, herbicides and plastics all damaging to the reef and its inhabitants. The sediment also buries our coastal marine seagrasses and corals, which are essential habitats for the majority of juvenile marine species.

The freshwater goes even further afar venturing hundreds of kilometres up the coast, introducing nutrient and chemicals to the reef that throw out the balance of the system.

A view of Rockhampton’s CBD from the Fitzroy River.

So what we are left with? Farmland scoured of much-needed soils, the water has no time to soak into the environment and instead it simply rushes downstream and ends up in a place that is not meant to be, burying a national treasure.

But I’m an optimist! Our River and Reef are resilient, just like us!

Water in Australia and indeed the world is a precious commodity, so why allow it to simply pollute our Great Barrier Reef. The sediments in the catchment are ancient, some of the oldest in the world, and needed by our landscape and farmers, so why allow them to simply bury our beautiful seagrasses and corals.

We need to find a balance, to give back the river and its farmers some of their water and sediment, and give the reef some relief.

Over the next few months join me in a series of podcasts, where we will talk with traditional owners, farmers, fishermen and academics focused on trying to improve our current situation.

I think together we can become a more productive and predictable catchment whilst improving water quality to the reef, allowing it to do its thing like it has for thousands of years.

So let’s work together to help keep the Barrier Reef GREAT with CQU.

If you have an interest in farming, mining or our aquatic environments and want to study or support CQU get in contact and tell em Adam sent ya.

CQUni hosts the Coastal and Marine Ecosystem Research System. You can get in contact with the centre via

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