|COUNTRY Australia - Queensland
NAME Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
(includes Great Barrier Reef Marine Park)
IUCN MANAGEMENT CATEGORY
V (Protected Landscape)
Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria i, ii, iii, iv
BIOGEOGRAPHICAL PROVINCE 6.01.01 (Queensland
GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION The Great Barrier Reef
World Heritage Area extends for more than 2,000km off the east coast of
Australia, from just south of the Tropic of Capricorn to the coastal waters
of Papua New Guinea 24°30'N-10°41'S, 145°00'-154°00'E.
DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT The Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 provides for the establishment, control,
care and development of a Marine Park covering 98.5% of the Great Barrier
Reef Region as defined in that Act. Parts of Green Island (1937) and Heron
Island (1943) were gazetted as national parks under the State Forests
and National Parks Act 1903-1948 (Queensland). Heron-Wistari and Green
Island Marine Parks (1974), gazetted under the Forestry Act 1959-1976
(Queensland), were the first Marine Parks on the reef. Areas of the region
may be declared as part of the Marine Park and subsequently zoned. In
1976 these powers were transferred to the National Parks and Wildlife
Act 1976 and Fisheries Act 1976, respectively. The first section of the
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Capricornia Section, was proclaimed
in 1979. The Cairns and Cormorant Pass sections were declared as part
of the Marine Park in late 1981 and the remainder of the Marine Park in
subsequent years. The whole area was inscribed on the World Heritage List
AREA World Heritage Area 34,870,000ha (includes
Far North, Cairns, Central and Mackay Capricorn Sections), Marine Park
33,126,500ha. The islands that form part of Queensland are not covered
by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and are not included as part
of the Marine Park, but are included in GBRMPA's work program as it is
funded by day to day management funds.
LAND TENURE The Coastal Waters (State Title)
Act 1980 (Commonwealth of Australia) vested title to the seabed inside
the outer limits of the three-mile territorial sea in the State of Queensland,
subject to a number of reservations including, in particular, the continuing
operation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. Exclusive rights
to explore and exploit the seabed of the Continental Shelf beyond the
territorial sea are vested in the Commonwealth (Federal Government) subject
to certain limited rights conferred on third parties. Within the limits
of the State of Queensland, public title is vested in the State of Queensland,
apart frompublic lands owned by the Commonwealth. Some land is held by
private persons (Kelleher et al., 1989).
ALTITUDE Below sea-level generally to 40m. The
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 applies to activities occuring
from 1,000m below the sea bed to an altitiude of 915m above sea level.
PHYSICAL FEATURES Includes the world's most
extensive stretch of coral reef. The reef system, extending to Papua New
Guinea, comprises some 3,400 individual reefs, including 760 fringing
reefs, which range in size from under 1ha to over 10,000ha and vary in
shape to provide the most spectacular marine scenery on earth. There are
approximately 300 coral cays, including 213 unvegetated cays, 43 vegetated
cays and 44 low wooded islands. There are also 618 continental islands
which were once part of the mainland (GBRMPA, pers. comm., 1995).
The form and structure of the individual reefs show
great variety. Two main classes may be defined: platform or patch reefs,
resulting from radial growth; and wall reefs, resulting from elongated
growth, often in areas of strong water currents. There are also many fringing
reefs where the reef growth is established on subtidal rock of the mainland
coast or continental islands (Kelleher et al., 1989).
Capricorn-Bunker Group National Park (Queensland State)
encompasses a terrestrial section and consists of four islands: Fairfax
Island, a coral cay consisting of two small islands on an egg-shaped reef;
Hoskyn Island similar to Fairfax, though not a cay; Heron Island, sand
and broken coral on coral and rock formation; and Lady Musgrave Island,
a cay surrounded by extensive coral reefs.
Water circulation is very complex, governed by properties
of the Coral Sea, land run-off, evaporation, the south-east trade winds,
forced upwellings due to strong tidal currents in narrow reef passages
and coastal waters including mangroves. Tides are generally semi-diurnal
with diurnal inequality towards the north, becoming almost diurnal in
Torres Strait. The maximum tidal range is about 3m along most of the coast,
although increasing to 6 to 9m in the Broad Sound area between 21° and
23°S. Water is vertically well-mixed for most of the year with stratification
occurring due to freshwater input during January to April. Freshwater
run-off can be very localised and significant physical and biological
effects may be expected (Kelleher et al., 1989).
CLIMATE The Great Barrier Reef has a tropical
climate influenced primarily by two features of the southern hemisphere
circulation: the equatorial low pressure zone during the summer months
and the sub-tropical high pressure zone during the winter months. As the
area lies between the continental land mass of Australia and the open
ocean of the South Pacific, its climate is also strongly influenced by
both the adjacent land mass and oceanic effects. Wind patterns are dominated
for the greater part of the year by the south-east trades. During January
to March, north-westerlies prevail in the north of the area under the
influence of the inter-tropical monsoonal front. The rainfall is seasonally
and geographically variable. The wettest period is summer, under the influence
of the monsoon and irregular tropical cyclones and depressions. Heavy
rain may occur in the south during winter. Air temperatures vary betweenan
average maximum of approximately 30°C in January and 23°C in July and
an average minimum of approximately 24°C in January and 18°C in July.
Mean water surface temperature is at a maximum during February and at
a minimum during July (Kelleher et al., 1989).
VEGETATION Comprises mainly Pisonia grandis
on Heron and Lady Musgrave islands. Hoskyn Island, with a forest of Pandanus
with Pisonia and Ficus apposita, is unique to the group.
Vegetation also includes Casuarina, grasses such as Thuorna
insula and Lepturus sp., Abutilon indicum, Candia
subcordate and Poinsettia sp. A wide range of fleshy algae
occurs, many of which are small and inconspicuous but which are highly
productive and are heavily grazed by turtles, fish, molluscs and sea urchins.
In addition, algae are an important component of reef building processes.
Fourteen species of sea grass grow throughout the reef area and are an
important food source for grazing animals, although they are rarely abundant.
Extensive seagrass beds may be found in inshore waters, providing important
grazing for dugongs (Kelleher et al., 1989).
FAUNA There are over 1,500 species of fish,
400 species of coral, 4,000 species of mollusc and 242 species of bird
within the park, plus a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms
and crustaceans. The site includes major feeding grounds for dugong Dugong
dugon (V). Several cetaceans are present, including humpback whale
Megaptera novaengliae (E), minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata
and killer whale Orcinus orca. Dolphins include bottle nose Tursiops
truncatus, Irrawaddy Orcaella brevirotris (K) and Indo-Pacific
humpback Sousa chinensis. Offshore, spinner dolphin Stennella
longirostris is also occasionally seen. There are nesting grounds
of world significance for green turtle Chelonia mydas (E) and loggerhead
Caretta caretta (V), and habitat for four other species of marine
CULTURAL HERITAGE The Great Barrier Reef, and
in particular the northern sector, is important in the historic and contemporary
culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups of the coastal
areas of north-east Australia. This contemporary use of and association
with the Marine Park plays an important role in the maintenance of their
cultures and there is a strong spiritual connection with the ocean and
its inhabitants (GBRMPA, pers. comm., 1995). Little systematic archaeological
study has been done but it is known that there are large, important Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander sites on a number of the islands. Some notable
examples occur on Lizard and Hinchinbrook Islands and on Stanley, Cliff
and Clack Islands in the vicinity of Cape Melville (14°S) where there
are spectacular galleries of rock paintings. About 30 wrecks of historic
importance are known to exist in the area. One of the earliest, the wreck
of HMS "Pandora" dating from 1791, lies near the reef in the northern
sector to which it gave its name. The hazards of navigation in the Great
Barrier Reef resulted in the construction of a large number of lighthouses,
some of which have particular historical importance. The lighthouses at
Lady Elliott Island (1866) and North Reef Island (1878) still operate
and are fine examples of 19th century riveted steel plate construction
(Kelleher et al., 1989).
LOCAL HUMAN POPULATION Currently, people living
in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities in the Great Barrier
Reef area (Palm Island, Inginoo, Bamaga, Sesia, New Mapoon, Umagico, Yarrabah,
Wujal Wujal, Hopevale, Cooktown and Lockhart River) as well as other urban
centres, have access to marine and near-shore resources which have played
an important role in their economy during the past several thousand years.
There are also whiteAustralians living in the area on various islands.
In economic terms the most significant activity taking place on the reef
is tourism, generating an estimated Aus $1 billion (US$750 million) per
year (Driml, 1994; McPhail, 1996).
VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES In 1993, it
was estimated that 2,291,000 tourists, carried by 542 commercial vessels,
visited the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. These people spent over 1.8
million visitor nights on the reefs and islands (Driml, 1994). Resort
guests make extensive use of reefs and waters for recreational activities,
including fishing, diving and snorkelling, water sports, sightseeing,
reef-walking and some shell collecting. Tourism is allowed to occur under
permit within all, except preservation and scientific research zones,
that is in 99.8% of the Marine Park. Whilst the area designated free from
tourism or fishing may seem low, it must be recognised that the Marine
Park encompasses large areas of open water, so that the proportion of
reef so designated is, in practical terms, much higher.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AND FACILITIES The Great
Barrier Reef offers unparalleled opportunities for scientific research.
Research activities in the area have continued to develop since the formation
of the Great Barrier Reef Committee (now the Australian Coral Reef Society)
in 1922 and the British Great Barrier Reef Expedition to the Low Isles
in 1928-29. The need for such research has become more critical in recent
years with the Reef's inclusion on the World Heritage List, concern resulting
from crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks and intensifying human demands
placed on the resource. While research on the Reef continues to be conducted
by scientists from most Australian universities and institutions, concerted
efforts are concentrated, for logistical reasons, on field research stations
and North Queensland mainland centres. For local and visiting overseas
scientists, field stations are operated by the University of Queensland
(Heron Island), the University of Sydney (One Tree Island), James Cook
University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The
latter two, both located in Townsville, have extensive coral reef research
programmes that cover the full ambit of scientific disciplines. Research
into ecologically sustainable development of the Marine Park is integrated
within the Cooperative Research Centre, which includes the AIMS, Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), Queensland Department of
Primary Industries, James Cook University and Association of Marine Park
Tourist Operators. The GBRMPA research program is currently grouped into
five programmes: water quality; effects of fishing; crown-of-thorns-starfish
monitoring; and socio-economic. Most research is carried out by outside
agencies under contracts with the Authority (Kelleher et al., 1989),
but much of the monitoring activity is directly coordinated by Authority
staff. Other research is listed in Frankel (1978), Baker et al.
(1983), GBRMPA (1985), Engelhardt and Lassig (1993), Bellwood (1994) and
CONSERVATION VALUE The Great Barrier Reef is
an area of remarkable biological diversity and beauty on the north-eastern
coast of Australia. It contains the world's largest collection of coral
reefs, with some 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types
of mollusc. It is an area of great scientific value and also provides
a habitat for many threatened species including green turtle and dugong.
CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT The Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park Act 1975 provides for: the establishment of the GBRMPA; the
specification of the Authority's functions; theestablishment of a Consultative
Committee made up of representatives of government, industry and community
bodies; and the prohibition of drilling and mining in the Marine Park
except for approved research purposes. The GBRMPA comprises a Chairperson
and two part-time members nominated by the Commonwealth Government (one
of whom represents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
living adjacent to the Marine Park) and a part-time member nominated by
the Queensland Government.
The Act, its regulations and zoning plans have primacy
over conflicting provisions of both Commonwealth and Queensland legislation,
except in relation to the navigation of ships and aircraft. Constitutionally,
the Queensland Government has responsibility within the area for those
waters which were internal waters at the time of Federation and for all
islands above the low water mark within the outer boundaries of the Great
Barrier Reef Region, except for those few which are owned by the Commonwealth
The Act and the responsibilities of the Authority extend
over the whole Great Barrier Reef Region, generally up to low water on
the Queensland coastline and islands. There are some exceptions to this
which are primarily in areas where there are existing or potential harbour
facilities, and the potential impact of activities in such areas on the
reef is judged to be minimal. Management of the park is achieved by a
cooperative arrangement between the Commonwealth and Queensland governments
using a number of mechanisms, including a Ministerial Council comprising
two ministers from each of the two governments, the Consultative Committee
and close liaison at an officer level. The arrangement recognises that
the islands, reefs and waters of the area are a continuum and that they
should be managed on a complementary basis. Since the site was inscribed
on the World Heritage list, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act has
been amended to provide for: increased powers for inspectors; increased
penalties; extended search and seizure powers outside the Marine Park;
powers to remedy actual damage or prevent possible damage; allow costs
of clean-up operations to be recovered from convicted offenders; and to
allow the Marine Park Authority to assist other institutions and individuals
in environmental issues (Anon., 1989).
The Queensland Government has introduced the Queensland
Marine Parks Act 1982, 1989 and Regulations which provides for zoning
and management plans for areas in the Great Barrier Reef region not included
in the Marine Park, and areas adjacent to the region. The major pieces
of Queensland legislation identified in the nomination of the property
have been changed via provisions of the Nature Conservation Act
1992 and the Fisheries Act 1995 (GBRMPA, pers. comm., 1995).
Fisheries beyond Queensland coastal waters are managed
on a cooperative basis with most species being managed by the Queensland
Government. The Fisheries Management Act 1995 provides the making of an
agreement in relation to the management of fisheries to the States of
Australia (GBRMPA, pers comm., 1995).
Zoning plans under the Act have now been prepared for
all four sections of the Park. These are the Mackay/Capricorn, Central,
Cairns and Far Northern sections, and buffer zones are incorporated into
the zonation to protect areas of relatively higher conservation value.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act introduced the concept of controlled
multiple-use planning andmanagement of marine areas through zoning and
permissible activities. Queensland Marine Parks legislation was amended
to allow mirror zonings where necessary, in order to minimise public confusion
at the interface between the areas of jurisdiction of the two governments.
The second major management tool available to the Authority
in conjunction with the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage,
apart from zoning, is the power to make statutory management plans for
areas, species or ecosystems within the Marine Park. In addition, the
GBRMPA has the authority to refuse or grant permits for a broad spectrum
of activities that may take place within the Marine Park. These activities
include tourist facilities and programmes, education and research programmes,
aircraft operations, discharge of waste, collecting, installation and
operation of moorings and traditional hunting and fishing.
The education of reef users to appreciate the reef environment
and exercise care when visiting the reef, is a third major element in
managing and protecting this resource. The Authority has an education/information
section which produces programmes and materials for public education and
assists tourist operators in the development of activity programmes that
are conservationally and educationally focused for visitors (Kelleher,
et al., 1989).
MANAGEMENT CONSTRAINTS There is a conflict between
the various uses of the reef and the desire to see it maintained in its
pristine state. Some uses of parts of the reef have already reached levels
that fully exploit the productive capacity of the system. Run-off from
islands and the mainland contains suspended solids, herbicides, pesticides,
nutrients, and other materials which may have an effect on the reef. Studies
in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon near to Low Isles indicate that significant
increases in phytoplankton concentrations have occured in the last 65
years. There are strong indications of anthropogenic eutrophication, most
likely from agricultual run-off, with possibly widespread impacts on many
reefs (Bell and Elmetri, 1995). Prevention of unacceptable ecological
impact is paramount in the GBRMPA management of tourism development. The
type of impact which may be associated with reef-based tourism operations
include: discharge of waste, litter and fuel, physical damage to reefs
from anchors, people snorkelling, diving and reef walking, disturbance
of fauna (especially seabirds), over-fishing or collecting. All of these
may be managed to some extent by design, prohibition or limitation (Kelleher
et al., 1989). Two reports (Hillman, 1996; McPhail, 1996)
identify increasing tourist use as a problem, especially as the continuing
development of faster speedboats mean that 81% of the park can now be
accessed on a day-trip. Deteriorating water quality, effects of fishing
and outbreaks of crown of thorn starfish, have been identified as the
other major issues facing the park. There were also concerns over declining
numbers of fish and other marine fauna. For example, dugong occuring south
of Dunk Island have decreased by 50% over the last eight years, and the
various turtle populations are still considered to be threatened by habitat
loss, incidental kills in fishing nets, and hunting (Hillman, 1996). Large
projects include the impacts of commercial and recreational fishing on
sustainability of fish stocks in the Marine Park (GBRMPA, pers. comm.,
1995). A large tourism and marina development at Port Hinchinbrook, Oyster
Point has recently caused controversy. The development was temporarily
halted by the Federal Minister in 1994 (IUCN, in litt., 1996) whilst
the issue was taken to the Federal court. In February 1997 it was ruled
that the development be allowed to continue, and the case is currently
under appeal. There are concerns that in addition to the negative imapcts
of the development, the case will set a precedent for similar activities
STAFF In 1994/95, the Authority had approximately
150 staff, operating from its principal office in Townsville and a smaller
office of nine staff in Canberra (GBRMPA, pers. comm., 1996). The Queensland
National Parks and Wildlife Service has approximately 60 staff involved
in the day-to-day management. Field officers are limited in number with
only seven being available on any given day to supervise the area between
Cooktown and the top of Cape York Peninsula, a coastline in excess of
800km (Kelleher et al., 1989). There are 300 Marine Park
inspectors working within a range of federal and state services (GBRMPA,
pers. comm., 1995).
BUDGET Total gross expenditure by government
on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for the 95/96 financial year is
estimated at AUS$26,522,000.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, PO Box 1379,
Townsville, QLD 4810 (Tel: 61 77 500 700; Fax: 61 77 72 6093; email: Registry@GBRMPA.GOV.AU).
Canberra Office: GPO Box 791, Canberra, ACT 2601 (Tel: 06 247 0211, Fax:
06 247 5761).
Department of the Environment, Sports and Territories,
GPO Box 787, Canberra, ACT 2601 (Tel: 06 274 1111; Fax: 06 274 1123).
Anon. (1989). Information update on the cultural sites
inscribed on the World Heritage List: Great Barrier Reef. Department of
the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories, Canberra. Unpublished.
Baker, J.T., Carter, R.M., Sammarco, P.W. and Stark,
K.P. (Eds). (1983). Proceedings of the Great Barrier Reef Conference,
Townsville. James Cook University and Australian Institute of Marine Science.
Bell, P.R.F. and Elmetri, I. (1995). Ecological indicators
of large-scale eutrophication in the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. Ambio
XXIV (4): 208-215
Bellwood, O. (ed). (1994). The Sixth Pacific Congress
on Marine Sciences and Technology, 4-8 July 1994. PACON'94. James Cook
University of North Queensland, Townsville. (Unseen).
Bennett, I. (1973). The Great Barrier Reef. Frederick
Warne and Co. Ltd. London.
Driml, S. (1994). Protection for Profit. Research
Publication Series No. 36. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville,
Queensland. 83 pp. (Unseen).
Engelhardt, U. and Lassig, B. (eds). (1993). Proceedings
of a Workshop held in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, 10 June 1992
at the Sheraton Breakwater Casino Hotel. (Unseen).
Frankel, E. (1978). Bibliography of the Great Barrier
Reef Province. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Australian
Publishing Service, Canberra. Lists 4444 publications dealing with the
site and its environs.
GBRMPA (1978). Workshop on the Northern Sector of the
Great Barrier Reef. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville,
Queensland. 462 pp.
GBRMPA (1985). Australian marine research in progress.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Queensland. 245
GBRMPA (1994). 1993-1994 Annual Report. Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Queensland.
Haigh, D (1997) Australian Federal Court rules on Great
barrier Reef Case World Heritage News 12.5 (17 February 1997).
Hillman, S. (1996) The state of the Great Barrier Reef
World Heritage Area report Reef Research 6(1).
McPhail, I (1996) Managing the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park: The Changing Environment of Managing Use in the Great Barrier
Reef World Heritage Area. Paper presented at the ABARE Outlook '99
conference, Melbourne 1996. Kelleher, G., Childs, R. and Quilty, P. (1989).
Great Barrier Reef Area: a protected seascape. Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park Authority. Unpublished. 22 pp.
Steven et al. (1994). Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park Authority Water Quality Research program. In: Bellwood, O. (ed).
The Sixth Pacific Congress on Marine Sciences and Technology, 4-8 July
1994. PACON'94. James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville.
DATE December 1980, revised September and November
1989, May 1990, August 1995, March 1996, May 1997.