SDG14 Life Below Water

Aligned with the themes of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Life Below Water, CQUniversity's commitment to ensuring the preservation of sustainable water systems is demonstrated through involvement in local, national and global collaborations, projects and initiatives that drive change, better outcomes and lead to a more sustainable future.


CQUniversity actively participates in the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. CQUniversity Australia’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) has been established to work with coastal industries and communities to develop practical and sustainable solutions for our unique coastal and marine environments.

Headquartered on the shoreline of Queensland’s largest multicommodity Port of Gladstone (fifth-largest coal port in the world), and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, CMERC is the only coastal and marine research facility based in Central Queensland and features world-class research equipment and laboratories with access to cutting-edge analytical capabilities. CMERC staff have strong links with local industry and community groups and are working closely with Traditional Owners to empower them as custodians of Land and Sea Country and incorporate Traditional Ecological knowledge in our research. CMERC conducts research to facilitate the protection and enhancement of coastal aquatic ecosystems, estuaries, and the open ocean.

CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre Transcript


Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership was established in 2012/13 to report on the health of the Gladstone Harbour. There are 25 collaborating organisations, including CQUniversity,  government at all levels, traditional owners, community groups, port, industry (including international companies such as Shell, Rio Tinto, NRG) and science groups. A key component of the partnerships is to report back to the public on the health of the harbour and provide information on current activities. John Rolfe of CQUniversity is the Chair of The Independent Science Panel.

  • Healthy Harbour Report Card
    • The 2020 Gladstone Harbour Report Card contains the results calculated using 33 indicators derived from 108 different measures within the four components of harbour health: Environment, Economic, Social, and Cultural. Separate annual monitoring projects are run by CQUniversity, including Social, Cultural and Economic Indicators (Jeremy De Valck), Mud Crab Indicator (Nicole Flint), Fish Health Indicator (Nicole Flint).
    • Mud Crabs - In 2017 a  fish health indicator was added to the annual Gladstone Harbour Report Card due to research completed by Nicole Flint.

The Port Curtis Integrated Monitoring Program is the first collaborative monitoring program to be undertaken for the whole of Port Curtis. The Gladstone-based PCIMP program conducts ambient mid to far-field monitoring of water bodies for the whole of Port Curtis which extends from the northern end of the Narrows to Rodds Bay and includes the harbour and its tributaries. CQUniversity works with PCIMP as a collective of industries and stakeholder to analyse, interpret, and present quarterly water quality monitoring data achieved throughout Gladstone Harbour. Professor Owen Nevin (Associate Vice-Chancellor CQUniversity Gladstone Region, 2012-2020)  is PCIMP's current Independent Chair and spokesperson. Professor Nevin has extensive experience and knowledge in collaborative research associations in addition to his high level of scientific knowledge. CMERC staff Dr Emma Jackson (Director), Dr Andrew Irving and Dr Amie Anastasi are advisors on PCIMP technical sub-committee (TSC).

The PCIMP program has also benefited the community is a number of ways.

  • The on-going monitoring and reporting program provides invaluable information to researchers and the community. In 2006 when the  'Global Peace' oil spill occurred, PCIMP was able to provide data and tracking.
  • PCIMP data is used by the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership to produce their annual Report Card.
  • PCIMP data and TSC advice was utilised and considered by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection in the creation of the new Capricorn Curtis Coast Water Quality Objectives.

The continuation of the PCIMP program ensures the trends in water and sediment quality in Port Curtis are assessed and monitored,  to inform the management of the Harbour to maintain healthy waters for recreational use, marine sustainability and minimal impact into the adjoining  World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Seagrass bioindicator - In 2019 seagrass was incorporated into annual PCIMP monitoring as an ecologically relevant bioindicator of ecosystem health to complement water and sediment sampling due to research completed by CMERC staff and research students.

Since joining CQUniversity in 2013, marine scientist Dr Emma Jackson (a member of the Seagrass Restoration Network) has led multiple projects around Seagrass restoration. Dr Jackson’s research focuses on the science behind how seagrass habitats maintain their populations and what actions the public can take to help. Through the use of a state-of-the-art tidal mesocosm system (aquaria that mimic natural conditions) located at the CQUniversity Gladstone Marina campus, Dr Jackson and a team of environmental researchers are identifying best-practice approaches for enhancing and restoring depleted seagrass meadows in the Port of Gladstone. Research on the potential for habitat enhancement to create resilient seagrass meadows through the beneficial reuse of dredge material by Dr Jackson’s research team has been incorporated into the Gladstone Ports Corporation Sediment Management Plan.

  • CQUniversity is currently undertaking a Research Higher Degree project aiming to quantify the drivers of variability in seagrass flowering for the species of Zostera muelleri and build a predictive model of the spatial-temporal initiation of flowering along the Australian east coast.  The results of this research will enable restoration managers to find locations and periods where seed collection trials could be implemented.
  • CQUniversity recently led a public seagrass flower collection project in conjunction with the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership. The initial events involved local Girl Guides and international English language student volunteers, while later events involved members of the Gidarjil Development Corporation Indigenous Sea Rangers.
  • A solution in the Sea: Seaweed to soak up Great Barrier Reef Nitrogen. A new project led by the Australian Seaweed Institute (ASI) in partnership with CQUniversity’s Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) will develop new technologies to enable seaweed biofilters to absorb nitrogen that can then be re-used as a bio-fertiliser on land.
  • CMERC was recently awarded $29,573 for their project Sea Flowers: growing community engagement for seagrass restoration.
  • Seagrass Seascapes Exhibition -  A collaboration between Gladstone Health Harbour Partnership, local artists, and CQUniversity, featuring seagrass sculptures, paintings and science displays. Included an official opening event on the 20 June 2019 with a number of invitees attending. Regular information sessions were held on seagrass restoration, including on the opening night.
  • Community Seagrass Flower Harvest -  Passionate citizen scientists have joined researchers from CQUniversity Australia’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) to collect seagrass flowers in Gladstone Harbour, for the final harvest of the season.

This research used reviews, hydrodynamic modelling and knowledge of local mangrove seagrass and oyster habitats to propose working with nature (WWN) options in detail (description, habitat creation, economic value, trials, and monitoring), that would enhance biodiversity, fish habitat and carbon capture during seawall construction. The Port of Gladstone is a large multicommodity Port and the 5th largest coal port in the world and is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This research led to the Gladstone Ports Corporation funding for PhD scholarship and investment in large scale trials.

Working with the Australian Seaweed Institute CMERC is undertaking a project to determine the potential for coastal/in-shore seaweed biofilters as an ecological solution to reduce nitrogen loads impacting on the reef and to utilise the harvested seaweed as a biofertilizer to further reduce nitrogen and synthetic fertiliser applications in upstream catchments. In doing so the project will quantify the environmental, social and economic opportunity for this solution to protect the reef at scale. The precursor to sea trials, which can be carried out in a controlled environment. The project was selected as one of 11 innovative projects at the Davos World Economic Forum.

The Rodd’s Harbour Fish Habitat Area (FHA-036) has three historic and unlawfully installed earthen causeways that obstruct aquatic bio passage and the fresh-marine continuum in this high-value coastal wetland system. The following proposal by CMERC focuses on evaluating improvements in the fish habitat of the planned removal of these causeways, focussing on changes in adjacent wetland habitat (saltmarsh, mangrove and seagrass meadows), water and sediment quality. A large erosion site located in the tidal area of the Kolan River in the Discovery Coast has been identified as a major contributor of fine sediments entering the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and is experiencing further erosion due to the compromised nature of the eroded shoreline site. By undertaking engineered shoreline rehabilitation works in this area, the bank will be stabilised avoiding further shoreline erosion at the site and downstream and enabling natural revegetation to occur further binding sediment and preventing it from entering the marine environment. Plans to rehabilitate this region offer a unique research opportunity to use multiple lines of evidence approach to evaluate the success of this and other similar engineering projects.

Microplastics have been identified in all aquatic ecosystems, including mangrove and seagrass habitats, which are often called the kidneys of the Great Barrier Reef because they act as land-to-sea buffers by filtering out particulate matter and contaminants. As such, they could play a beneficial role in trapping microplastics and reducing the flux to offshore habitats like the Great Barrier Reef. This would be the first known study to investigate the role of mangroves and seagrass beds as a protective barrier to further limit the dispersal of microplastics to the GBR. However, these benefits likely incur a presently unknown cost to mangroves and seagrasses and the animals that depend on them.

Successful interventions already capture, identify and audit road-based litter including larger plastic debris using stormwater drain traps, e.g. ‘Drain Buddies’ in Queensland. In trials we have modified Drain Buddies to capture finer scale road-based microplastics; but we are missing knowledge on the ‘when’, ‘where’ and for ‘how long’ to target a reduction in road-associated pollution; and a system for initiating the intervention. Other plastic waste studies have used community-based nudge interventions to dramatically reduce waste, but typically at individual levels (e.g. using bins, not littering). We will use the same community nudge concept to reduce waste at the corporate level through liaison with councils and road industry sectors to encourage less wasteful behaviour via the easiest, most accessible option without adding extra burden to the process.

This project will be carried out at sites in Rockhampton and Yeppoon over a two year period.


CQUniversity offers both Bachelor of Environmental Science, Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Agriculture undergraduate degrees which teachings closely aligned with the values of SDG 14 - Life Below Water.

Integrated within these degrees are multiple avenues for students to learn and practice theory and skills in freshwater systems.  This content includes term-long units of study (e.g. "Freshwater and Marine Systems, Botany of Aquatic Environments) and can cover focused elements within broader units of study.  The Bachelor of Environmental Science degree includes a major in "Integrated land and water management", reflecting a strong focus on the interrelationship between land use and aquatic systems, and how best to manage them. Key units covered in the Bachelor of Agriculture include Key units of study include "Soil and Irrigation Management", "Resource-Smart Food Production", and "Sustainability Issues and Solutions".

Students complete a capstone unit ("Coastal Marine Resources") as part of both degrees that focuses on sustainable fishing, sustainable management of aquatic environments and fisheries science/management.  This includes teaching about the definitions of overfishing, the science behind it, and solutions to destructive fishing practices.

Dr. Nicole Flint is the unit coordinator for the third year unit, Freshwater and Marine Systems. Students learned about how freshwater systems function, the nexus between physical, chemical and biological components of freshwater systems, and pressures on these valuable environments (including irrigation, water management, water storage, industrial and agricultural land uses).


  • 22nd International River Symposium (2019)  -
    • Dr Nicole Flint delivered a presentation on fish health as an indicator of river and estuary conditions.
    • Dr Evan Chua presented on fish communities as indicators of river health in coal mining regions
    • PhD candidate Julie-Ann Malan presented on the influence of cattle grazing on rivers.
  • 57th Estuarine, Coastal, Shelf Science Association Conference
    • Associate Professor Emma Jackson attended and presented the topic 'An innovative approach to identify, map and assess coastal and marine perceived values' at the 57th Estuarine, Coastal, Shelf Science Association Conference: Changing estuaries, coasts and shelf systems - Diverse threats and opportunities in Perth
  • 2018 NESP GBR Restoration Symposium
    • Associate Professor Emma Jackson presented the topic 'The potential for seagrass restoration in the Great Barrier Reef Region' at the 2018 NESP GBR restoration Symposium in Cairns


Gidarjil Development Corporation

Gidarjil Development Corporation’s vessel is docked at a pontoon at CQUniversity’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) and adds to Gidarjil’s existing fleet of four boats that help the Gidarjil Development Corporation Gladstone/Bundaberg Sea Ranger team tackle important environmental issues, land and sea country management and help manage significant cultural heritage sites. CMERC Director Dr Emma Jackson said the integration of modern science and traditional knowledge was a vital component for successful coastal marine ecosystems management.

Plastic Waste

Drain Buddies

The Drain Buddies project, led by Dr Angela Capper at CQUniversity’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC), will modify and install microplastic traps across Rockhampton and Livingstone shires, with monitoring to determine where the littering is occurring.

Clean Up Australia Day

More than 150 CQUniversity staff and students stepped up to collect up to one tonne of rubbish at simultaneous Clean Up Australia Day events across all mainland states. The 13 CQUniversity locations to participate in the event included Adelaide, Brisbane, Bundaberg, Cairns, Gladstone, Mackay Ooralea and City, Melbourne, Noosa, Perth, Rockhampton, Sydney, and Townsville.

Ditch The Disposables

CQUniversity launched the sustainability campaign Ditch the Disposables during 2019. The campaign aims to educate staff and students throughout CQUni's national footprint about the harmful effects of single-use plastic and encourages them to ultimately ‘ditch the disposables’ because small changes will have a big impact. The University has embarked on a long-term sustainability journey focussing on key areas with the greatest impact demonstrating its commitment to the environment.



  • 2020 STEM Expo - Resource of Educators: CMERC Researchers and RHD Students held a stall at the event for Coastal and Marine Science. The STEM Expo is held annually for Gladstone STEM Educators  & Community Members with an interest in Citizen Science.
  • Future Leaders Eco Challenge (FLEC) -   FLEC is an annual reef education event hosted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) with CQUniversity taking part. The event aims to see students, teachers, their communities and local environmental agencies make positive environmental changes for the marine environment.
  • Community Seagrass Flower Harvest -  Passionate citizen scientists have joined researchers from CQUniversity Australia’s Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) to collect seagrass flowers in Gladstone Harbour, for the final harvest of the season.
  • Professional Learning for Educators (Page 17) - CMERC engaged with three local groups - primary and secondary school teachers and teaching students on Quoin Island. CMERC assisted with the discussion and practice of scientific surveying methods and interpreting the relevance to students of all ages.
  • CQUni arranges for science experience students to witness the release of Loggerhead Turtle - Around 50 high school students involved in a ConocoPhillips Science Experience at CQUniversity Gladstone had a special opportunity to witness the release of a loggerhead sea turtle from the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
  • CQUniversity's Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) went virtual for Ecofest. With the annual community event transitioned to online, CMERC has embraced the new digital delivery. The research centre showcased its state-of-the-art facilities at Gladstone Marina with a 360-degree interactive tour and a suite of activities designed to engage the community. CMERC also took part in Ecofest 2019.
  • Gladstone Indaba - CQUniversity hosted a community conference aimed at addressing issues of relevance to the community and CQUniversity, with guest speakers from The World Harbour Project, The Nature Conservancy and the Port of Gladstone.
  • CQUniversity hosted a workshop for the Central Queensland Mining Rehabilitation Group focusing on their current water-related research projects.


As outlined in the Procurement and Policy and Procedure, CQUniversity is committed to protecting the environment and doing business with ethical and sustainably responsible suppliers during all stages of the procurement process. Buyers must plan, identify and integrate the practice of sustainability into the procurement of goods and/or services. Preference should be given to environmentally preferable goods and services that have a lower impact on the environment over the life cycle of the good or service, when compared with competing goods or services serving the same purpose

Sustainability remains a key priority as we look to an increasingly complex future. Our Sustainability Annual Report provides an open account of our sustainability performance. It also demonstrates our support, commitment, and progress against the principles of the United Nations Global Development Goals.

Part of CQUniversity's Sustainability goals revolve around the efficient use of water and minimising any wastage as one of our most precious resources

SHORT TERM GOAL: Develop and implement an awareness campaign on water conservation tips with students, teachers, staff and visitorsCQUni students and staff are actively engaged in activities and projects on water conservation across all streams (VET, Higher Education and Research).
SHORT TERM GOAL:  Establish a baseline usage of water consumption for CQUniversity.The Water Metering and Monitoring project is being delivered with new metering across the Rockhampton campus. This will provide us significant levels of new data to help analyse and assess our water management practices.
SHORT TERM GOAL: Implement 5‐star water efficiency rated equipment to all new campus buildings and upgrade of existing building stock to reduce water demandIncorporated in to the design manual. Campus operating repairs in Rockhampton are in line with the new design manual standards.
SHORT TERM GOAL:  Actively check and adjust water irrigation systems to minimise wasted wateBudget and resource limitations prevented this target from occurring on CQUni campuses during 2019 and 2020. Research project:  in Cairns, we were able to work with the Cairns Regional Council (under the Smart Cities and Suburbs program), to action smarter irrigation activities for Cairns parks with the aim to save water and protect the reef.
LONG TERM GOAL:  Offset the usage of council supplied potable water by devising water conserving landscapes and buildingsThe work on the long term Water Management Plan is underway.
LONG TERM GOAL:  Offset the usage of council supplied potable water by devising water conserving landscapes and buildings.The work on the long term Water Management Plan is underway.
LONG TERM GOAL:  Increase the capture of rainwater through various techniques like rainwater tanks.Restricted funding has impacted this goal for 2020.
LONG TERM GOAL:  Install water recycling plants and the use of grey water for appropriate use.Restricted funding has impacted this goal for 2020.
LONG TERM GOAL:  Convert a major sporting ground to synthetic turf, eliminating the need for watering and mowing. Install catchment of the runoffs water into underground tanksThis goal will require reconsideration as pilot activities with synthetic turf have demonstrated that issues arise with regards to microplastics.
KPI:  Capture water consumption through annual reports supplied via benchmarking activities with the Tertiary Education Facilities Management Association (TEFMA)The delivery of the Water Metering and Monitoring project will provide some data commencing in 2021.

Other examples of how we demonstrated our commitment to Sustainability

  • The DFM Sustainability Team has undertaken ongoing resource monitoring, intending to reduce resources required, and able to recommend multiple opportunities. These small projects are expected to save CQUni Rockhampton campus more than $30,000 per year in water fees.
  • DFM Sustainability Team undertook a Hydro Panel demonstration project as a part of showcasing new sustainability technology and innovation in the drinking water supply and consumption area. It demonstrates how renewable energy can be harnessed to produce clean, great‐tasting water and provide drinking water independence in remote and regional areas.
  • DFM Projects and Sustainability team has undertaken the Water Monitoring and Measuring Project for the CQUni Rockhampton North campus.  The project aims to install IoT (Internet of Things) enabled water meters at the key areas to measure and monitor water usage. This project uses innovative technology and is trialled for the first time in CQUniversity.

CQUniversity's Sustainability Framework outlines the short and long term goals to achieve our Sustainability Goals. These are broken into nine elements with the following elements relating to SDG 14: Life Below Water

  • Research (Page 7)
  • Waste (Page 8)
  • Water (Page 11)
  • Biodiversity (Page 14)

In 2019, the Fitzroy Basin Association commissioned a review of the previously written Fitzroy Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP:2015) reports ensuring the plan utilises the best available science and data. The update ensures the Fitzroy Region’s project management continues to maximise the public benefits of investment and maximise the reduction of both sediment and nutrient runoff to the Reef.

The WQIP:2015 shows how we can improve regional water quality to protect our waterways and ultimately the Great Barrier Reef. WQIP:2015 sets out the priorities for improving water quality, including: describing the coastal and marine ecosystems and species that are at risk from poor water quality; identifying catchment ‘hot spots’ of soil erosion and nutrient run-off that are the source of water quality problems; understanding how land management practices and habitat restoration can reduce the risk of water quality problems; and finding the most cost-effective ways to reduce water quality risks.

CQUniversity was a Delivery Partner/ Consultant in the following studies for the WQIP.

Status of catchment, coastal and marine ecosystems

  • State of the coastal and marine environment review

Scoping and risk assessment of water quality issues

  • Synthesis of water quality influences in ports of the Fitzroy region, Queensland

Regional Prioritisation

  • Bioeconomic modelling and Neighbourhood Catchments prioritisation
  • Synthesis of science for future prioritisation approaches in the Fitzroy Basin
  • Extension and Impact

The Code of Conduct for Research in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park outlines CQUniversity has an ongoing commitment to improving practices and standards in all activities undertaken in the Marine Park to help protect the Great Barrier Reef. This document establishes the minimum requirements for the proper conduct of research within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This Code of Conduct is also supported by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Operating Procedure.

The Contractor Occupational Health and Safety Management Procedure outlines the determinants all individuals must take to minimise environmental harm associated with all activities they undertake including the potential pollution actions may incur (Refer Clause 3.8). This outlines that all individuals must take reasonable steps to minimise environmental harm associated with all activities they undertake. To determine what measures should be taken, a person should consider:

  • the nature of any potential pollution
  • the sensitivity of the environment where the pollution may end up
  • financial implications of the actions
  • the current technology available
  • the likelihood of success of the implemented actions.