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The innovative work of the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) has seen the Cairns-based organisation named as winner of not just one, but two categories at the 2023 National Banksia Sustainability Awards.


No strangers to tackling the country’s most challenging ecological problems, Reef and Rainforest Research Centre were the clear winner amongst a highly competitive field of some of Australia’s best social and environmental sustainability initiatives at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre last night.

For the past 34 years, the Banksia Awards have amplified Australia’s brightest leaders, change-makers, and innovators who are making a positive impact on the world.  And this year’s message was strong: For humanity to survive, biodiversity must thrive.


The Awards


The RRRC’s success in this category saw RRRC Managing Director, Sheriden Morris, join with Prof Damien Burrows (JCU/TropWATER) and Dr Aaron Davis (JCU/TropWATER), and Canegrowers Cairns Region to work with farmers across the Russell-Mulgrave catchment (just south of Cairns) to achieve sustainable change in farming practices.

“Project 25”, as it is known, was developed through the National Environmental Science Program’s Tropical Water Quality Hub and has been proudly administered through the RRRC.   Acknowledging the extensive government investment over the past few decades, which used a range of programs and approaches to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, the team identified that controversy surrounding their effectiveness had led landholders to lose trust in the science being delivered.


“The first step was to build new trust frameworks and to provide sugar cane farmers with ways they could adapt their practices to more sustainable methods. We did this by embracing technology that put the data in their own hands," Sheriden Morris explains.


Adopting a citizen-science approach to water quality monitoring, the team collaborated with cane growers, who decided where best to place a network of water quality sensors in the Russell-Mulgrave catchment, which allowed them to observe nitrogen concentrations in runoff from their own properties. Using this information, catchment hotspots were identified and the growers themselves could decide from a range of mitigation methods. Participating farmers continue to regularly engage with researchers and the data, and are actively and positively promoting their engagement with the project to convince other farmers of the project’s benefits.

The outstanding success of this work has led to significant further investment and works in the catchment funded by the Reef Trust Partnership and Great Barrier Reef Foundation, with stakeholders suggesting this model be rolled out across other regional catchments of the Great Barrier Reef.




The RRRC’s second Banksia Award win was for the organisation’s marquee project, which is defending coral and biodiversity on the Great Barrier Reef by developing and delivering innovative programs to control the Crown-of-thorns starfish.

RRRC’s Managing Director, Sheriden Morris, along with a team of researchers with the National Environmental Science Program topped the highly competitive field ahead of some of Australia’s best scientific minds who are tackling the country’s most challenging environmental problems.

For this project, Sheriden Morris was joined by Dr David Westcott (CSIRO), Dr Cameron Fletcher (CSIRO), Dr Roger Beeden (GBRMPA), Dr Mary Bonin, and Dr Suzanne Long – among many others - in conceiving, researching and implementing this novel approach to Crown-Of-thorns starfish management.

The team applied principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a well-established agricultural practice on land, to manage outbreaks of the highly destructive coral-eating marine pest.

This project was also brought together under the banner of the National Environmental Science Program’s Tropical Water Quality Hub, with a focus on working collaboratively with on-water COTS control operators AMPTO and InLoc to research, implement, and rigorously evaluate the success of using IPM for coral reef protection.

This IPM control program successfully achieved effective coral protection confirming that the IPM-COTS control program was a potent tool for achieving COTS control and protecting coral. Prior to this program, most people didn’t believe this was possible.


"About 50% of the coral lost on the Great Barrier Reef is due to predation by COTS. Since the introduction of this IPM, more than 1.1 million COTS have been culled, protecting a reef area of more than 726,000 hectares," said Sheriden.


The Australian Government has recently committed to long-term funding of the COTS on-water program. 


It was a big night for Cairns as former RRRC Board member, Alan Wallish, also won the Sustainable Tourism category.  Alan owns Passions of Paradise, a marine tourism vessel, who took out the gong for his work in turning tourists into conservationists.

Images and videos relating to the Banksia Awards nominations and their respective projects are available here.



RRRC’s Marketing & Communications are managed by the team at Danae Jones Consulting. For media information or to arrange an interview, please contact:  

Danae Jones | admin@danaejones.com.au | 0487 901 054