Shaping sustainable outcomes for Australia's Wet Tropics

RPS Environmental Manager, Megan Davis, is passionate about shaping better environmental outcomes for Queensland’s tropical north. 

After contributing for a number of years to Wet Tropics Waterways (WTW) – a partnership that brings industry, community, research and government organisations together to monitor waterways and improve the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef – Megan has recently been appointed as Deputy Chair of the WTW Committee.

With Wet Tropics Waterways releasing its 2020 Report Card this week – we asked Megan about her experiences working as an environmental consultant in Australia’s tropical north, her new role with WTW, and what monitoring means for the long-term health of the world’s largest coral reef system.

Megan Davis and Prof. Steve Turton looking at the latest Wet Tropics Waterways Report Card

Megan Davis and Prof. Steve Turton at the launch of the 2020 Wet Tropics Waterways Report Card

Congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Chair of Wet Waterways Tropics Committee! Tell us a little about the organisation – when did it first start and what is its mission?

The Wet Tropics Healthy Waterways Partnership involves industry, community organisations, research institutions and all levels of government and is an initiative of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

All of the partners who contribute have been galvanised around a shared vision to improve the health of our waterways and the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef.

A key aim of the Partnership is to coordinate and share the wide range of water quality monitoring data that is created by different organisations, creating a more comprehensive picture of waterway health, risks and impacts.

Each year, WTW releases a yearly report card that comprehensively details water quality metrics across a huge area (21,722 km2). Tell us about the monitoring methodology and who is involved in developing the report?

The Wet Tropics Waterways Partnership collates, analyses and interprets dispersed data to tell a holistic regional story about the health of the waterways across the Wet Tropics. The Partnership employees a scientist to collate the insights but the monitoring data itself is supplied by WTW partners, including local and state government.

A Technical Advisory Group provides guidance on monitoring data assessment and methodology and the technical report that forms the basis of the annual Report Card. The first Report Card was released in December 2016 and provided an initial snapshot of waterway health and baseline for future monitoring. It has also helped us to identify monitoring gaps which we are working to fill over time.

You’ve been involved in Wet Tropics Waterways’ work since 2018. What changes have you seen over that time and what is monitoring doing to improve outcomes for the Reef?

There is a heightened awareness from the community that the actions we take have an impact downstream. This includes issues like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), aquatic biosecurity and climate change. Plastics are also a large focus at the moment.

As an example, local student Molly Steer, who is 11 years old has convinced Cairns Council to phase out plastics straws through her campaign Straw No More. She’s received international media attention, was named Nickelodeon’s ‘Local Legend’ and also won the title Cairns Young Women of the Year. 

The introduction of Queensland’s waste levy in 2019 has also resulted in a major shift towards recycling across the state, while the Urban Stewardship Framework led by the Queensland Office of the Great Barrier Reef is another pilot program aimed at improving urban water quality flows to the Reef.

It’s great to see the wider community focusing more intently on the health of our local waterways and increasing their understanding of why this is important.

Tropical North Queensland has become famous as world-class holiday destination, but there are many other industries that thrive in the north. Tell us about some of the clients that you work with and how RPS is helping them create sustainable businesses that respect the land.

We work with industries that include defence, marine, agriculture, local government, building, and extractive industries and our clients include private and public entities.

Pioneer North Queensland (PNQ) is a client of RPS who is also a major sponsor of the Wet Tropics Waterways. I work with the PNQ team on environmental approvals and compliance across their North Queensland sites, which includes approximately 15 sand and hard rock quarries from Innisfail to Mareeba. 

Our Cairns-based environmental team, provides advice on erosion and sediment control, prepares and lodges environmental approvals, undertakes proactive environmental audits, and designs and implements monitoring programs for flora and fauna, air and water quality.

PNQ has provided sponsorship to the Wet Tropics Waterways partnership for many years and it’s great to see local companies supporting environmental initiatives like this.  

You live and work in one of the most beautiful and biodiverse regions in the world. What’s your favourite thing about life in Australia’s Wet Tropics?

I absolutely love the outdoor lifestyle and the weather during our winter (dry season) is magic! It’s been really enjoyable to bring my kids back to where I grew up so they can experience this beauty of the Wet Tropics region. 

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