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By 2010, forty per cent of the world’s coral reefs may be dead. By 2030, half of the Great Barrier Reef may be gone. Parts of it are already dying, but the reasons have not always been clear.

Global warming and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish have put extraordinary pressure on the reef. Now scientists have identified another threat – sediments, fertilisers and pesticides from agricultural run-off.

The reefs most at risk lie along Australia’s northeastern coast between Cairns and Townsville. This is the heart of the wet tropics where high rainfall regularly causes rivers like the Tully to flood, sending huge plumes of mud and chemicals into the sea. In their natural state, native wetlands filter the rain and silt but more than sixty per cent has been cleared and drained for sugarcane.

Sugarcane farmers, suffering bad seasons and low prices, are reeling at the prospect that their land management practices may be part of the problem. Some locals are trying to bring all the parties together to develop a workable solution, but leading the way can be hard work.

Muddy Waters journeys to the plantations of north Queensland and into an underwater world to find out what’s killing the reef and what can be done to save it. It’s the story of a small community facing the challenges of responsibility and change. This time, what’s at stake is one of the world’s greatest natural treasures.

Press Quotes & Reviews

    The competing demands of economic development and the protection of the environment could hardly be better illustrated than in a story about the threat to Australia's Great Barrier Reef....In this program filmmaker Sally Ingleton explores the danger the reef faces from sediment and fertiliser run-off from cane farms in northern Queensland, in what is a fair attempt to be sympathetic to both sides...

    The Australian, 15 May 2003

    For a decade scientists have been saying run-off from cane farms is killing the reef so there aren't too many surprises in Sally Ingleton's documentary but it does provide a balanced view of the competing interests...

    Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 2003

    The documentary turned out to be much more than an environmental curiosity - by identifying global ramifications and posing the vexing questions of what's killing the reef and what can be done to save it. It also highlights problems created by developing an agricultural industry on the wettest floodlplain in Australia.

    The Age, 15 May 2003

    Tonight's THE CUTTING EDGE doco looks at a massive barney in the making - as conservationists and farmers lock horns over the fate of Australia's most valuable natural assets. Unbeknowns to many the GBR is dying and up to half of it may be gone by 2030.

    Kalgoorlie Miner, 20 May 2003

    A new documentary paints a bleak picture of human impact on Australia's natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.

    Canberra Times, 20 May 2003

    A documentary screening tonight on SBS is set to reignite the debate about whether the chemicals contained in land run-off from North Queensland cane farms are damaging the Great Barrier Reef.

    Townsville Bulletin, 20 May 2003
  • Director
    Sally Ingleton
  • Producers
    Tony WrightStuart MenziesSally Ingleton
  • Executive Producer
    Franco di Chiera
  • All Regions

    National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
    Level 1, 45 Murray Street
    NSW 2009

    Tel: +61 2 8202 0138
    Fax: +61 2 8202 0101

  • Winner
    Best Environment and Conservation Award - Japan Wildlife Film Festival 2003
  • Winner
    Jury Prize Earth Vision Festival Tokyo Japan 2004
  • Nominated
    UN Media Peace Prize 2003
  • Shortlisted
    Richard Keefe Memorial Award for the Best Documentary on Sustainable Development - The British Environment and Media Awards 2003
  • Nominated
    Best Sound in a Documentary - Australian Screensound Guild Awards
  • Bronze Certificate of Merit
    Prix Leonardo Italy 2003