Bioreactors – A new line of defence for the GBR

November 8, 2018

Denitrification bioreactors could be a new line of defence for the Great Barrier Reef, and an upcoming field day and forum is an opportunity to learn about the possible outcomes and future use in tropical environments.

Organiser Rhianna Robinson, Research Agronomist from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) said the free event will bring together industry, researchers, natural resource management and landholders for a day of site visits and discussion with an expert panel.

“It’s an opportunity for landholders and land managers who are interested in reducing nitrogen run-off from agricultural catchments to learn about bioreactors,” said Ms Robinson.

Bioreactors are an engineered landscape feature used to remove nitrogen from groundwater before it enters local waterways. Sub-surface water flows through the bioreactor and, under the anaerobic conditions, naturally-occurring bacteria convert the dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) into a gas which is then dispersed into the atmosphere.

Excess amounts of dissolved inorganic nitrogen flowing to the Reef lagoon can impact water quality and reduce Reef resilience.

Suzette Argent, Catchment Repair officer with the Wet Tropics Major Integrated Project, said that bioreactors for the control of nitrate in agricultural catchments are not a new technology, but as of 2017 there were only two bioreactors in Australia, both installed in South East Queensland.

“Now we’re seeing bioreactors being installed in the Innisfail area, Babinda, and Townsville. They’re proof-of-concept in the far north. We know that even with the very best farming practices, there will still be an amount of nutrients leaving the paddock. Soil types, rainfall, and farm practices all affect how much.​”

“Monitoring data from all of these new bioreactors will help build a more comprehensive story about the effectiveness of different treatment systems in far North Queensland.”

“Bioreactors are just one of a series of treatment initiatives being trialled in the Wet Tropics to reduce nutrient, sediment and pesticide loads flowing to the Reef. Bioreactors as a treatment option is of particular interest to landholders because little to no land needs to be taken out of production, there is no decrease in drainage effectiveness and they require very little maintenance,” said Ms Argent.

​ “We encourage anyone with an interest in bioreactors to come along to the forum. This is a great opportunity to share learnings, methods and approaches, and to ask a panel of experts everything you ever wanted to know about bioreactors!” said Ms Robinson.

The event runs from 8:30am – 4:00pm, on Thursday 15th November 2018. Participants should contact Rhianna Robinson for details of where to meet for the site visit.  The forum will be held after the site visit at the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, 18-24 Bruce Highway Mourilyan.

To RSVP or for more info: or 0431 088 918

The Bioreactor Field Day and Forum is an initiative of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries’ Bioreactor Project, funded by the Queensland Government’s Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund as part of the Reef Water Quality Program.