November 6, 2023

Australia’s first water quality market turns six

Six years ago, a dedicated group of collaborators launched the world’s first water quality market in Australia, the Reef Credit Scheme, to help attract corporate, philanthropic and additional government investment to protect the Great Barrier Reef – one of the world’s most stunning and diverse ecosystems.

Since launching the Reef Credit Scheme, projects with local landholders have collectively prevented more than 44 tonnes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) from entering the Great Barrier Reef catchment area and produced 44,512 Reef Credits. This achievement has generated more than $2.7 million in returns for scheme participants.

The Scheme aims to tackle one the leading issues affecting the water quality in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area, land-based run-off carrying DIN and fine sediment.

The success of the Reef Credit Scheme lies in recognising, supporting and valuing landholders to further innovate and adopt best farming practices that deliver water quality improvements in the Reef catchments. In turn, landholders are remunerated by generating Reef Credits for the verified environmental outcomes they achieve.

Lawrence Di Bella’s family has been farming in the Ingham area for more than 100 years. For his family the Reef Credit Scheme is an opportunity to adopt practices that reduce their environmental footprint and help protect the Reef, building on the sustainability and biodiversity work they are already doing.

“We don’t want to have an impact on the environment. We want to minimise that as much as possible.

“The Reef is really important to our local towns and (our) communities rely on it. We need to work together to protect our environment,” said Lawrence.

By implementing fertiliser management projects and other soil health practices the Reef Credit Scheme has provided the Di Bella family with additional income, as well as unexpected benefits from improved farm productivity and profitability.

“It’s allowed us to reinvest back into our farm, so we will be able to reduce our costs, be viable and be sustainable – all in one,” said Lawrence.

Creating a high-integrity market

The Reef Credit Scheme was established under the Queensland Government funded Major Integrated Projects initiative through collaboration with natural resource management organisations, Terrain NRM and NQ Dry Tropics; and environmental market investor, GreenCollar.

Developing a verifiable and voluntary environmental market that delivers real and measurable outcomes – and provides confidence for participants and investors – weren’t just important considerations for the scheme developers, they were non-negotiables.

The integrity of Scheme is defined by the Reef Credit Guide, the Reef Credit Standard and Methodologies, and provides a rigorous and transparent process, from project conception to the generation of a Reef Credit. The outcomes are verified and science-backed, providing a currency that can be purchased with confidence, knowing the result has improved the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Overseeing the scheme is Australia’s first independent environmental market administrator, Eco-Markets Australia (EMA). A not-for-profit, EMA manages the governance and administration of the Reef Credit Scheme to ensure the highest standards of environmental and financial integrity.

The success of the Reef Credit Scheme is as much about its stringent principles as it is about passionate participants.

Key players in the Reef Credit Scheme include environmental project developers. They conduct research and identify opportunities for projects in the Reef catchment areas, linked to an approved methodology. They work closely with landholders, who play the leading role in prevention and restoration. Together, they ensure projects are viable; meet scheme guidelines; that outcomes are measured, verified and reported; and ultimately deliver benefits for both the environment and the landholder.

Reef Credits represent quantifiable volumes of DIN or fine sediment prevented from entering the Great Barrier Reef catchments. Reef Credits are sold to investors with an interest in protecting and conserving the Great Barrier Reef. This remunerates the landholder for their land management practices and provides an additional source of income, and aims to catalyse private investment in protecting the Reef.

For more information about the Reef Credit Scheme please visit here.