The provision of natural resources: Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

Provisioning services are the material benefits that are directly obtained from an ecosystem. Protected areas, in addition to safeguarding regulating and supporting ecosystem services, can also provide provisioning services that can be directly utilised by local people. They can take a wide variety of forms, from fuelwood and timber for construction, to non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as medicinal plants, and bush-meat. These provisioning services allow local populations to meet their basic subsistence needs, support their livelihoods, and to live their lives as they choose. These two case studies - the Gunung Mulu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef - illustrate the benefits derived from terrestrial and marine provisioning ecosystem services.

Key Messages

- World Heritage sites can significantly benefit human well-being through the provisioning ecosystem services.

- These provisioning services can be used to meet a number of different stakeholders needs for example:

- Indigenous peoples who rely on these services to meet their basic subsistence needs, support their livelihoods and underpin their way of life

- Recreational users who use the resource for recreational purposes, potentially generating an income for those who manage the resource.

- Conflicts between the conservation of a World Heritage Site and making use of its provisioning services need to be carefully resolved to ensure that a balance between conservation and sustainable use is reached.

- Once management strategies have been emplaced, ongoing monitoring is necessary to ensure that they are having the desired results, and that they can be adjusted if necessary.

Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

Location and World Heritage designation

The Great Barrier Reef, located along the North Eastern coast of Australia, is the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world and is thought to be around half a million years old. Consisting of more than 2,900 individual coral reefs and nearly 1000 individual islands and covering an area of approximately 34,870,000 ha, it is the single largest structure on Earth to have been created by living organisms. In addition to its reefs, the Great Barrier Reef also includes significant areas of mangroves, and sea grasses.

Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981, the Great Barrier Reef is the most biodiverse World Heritage Site in the world. It contains over half of the world's Mangrove diversity, in addition to a great diversity of sponges, anemones, marine worms, crustaceans, fish, corals and birds to name but a few. The waters also provide major feeding grounds for one of the world's largest populations of the threatened dugong. At least 30 species of whales and dolphins occur here, and it is a significant area for humpback whale calving.

The Great Barrier Reef property has a long relationship with humans, with evidence suggesting that Aboriginal occupation of the coast probably dates back to the earliest human occupation of Australia around 40,000 years ago. Today, over 70 coastal clan groups maintain strong cultural relationships with the area and a number of native claims to land within the World Heritage Site are officially recognised.

Provisioning services: Fisheries

The Great Barrier Reef is used by a wide range of people, for a wide range of uses. Focusing on in the provisioning services, carefully managed commercial, recreational, and charter fishing, helps generate a significant income for the coastal populations, with commercial fishing generating Aus $192.5 from 2010-11 (Deloitte Access Economics, 2013), with a further Aus $57.7 million being generated from recreational fishing in the same time period (Deloitte Access Economics, 2013). In compliance with management strategies a range of species including fish, sharks, crabs and prawns are targeted over a wide area to help reduce the pressure on any one area. To ensure that sound management decisions are made extensive monitoring schemes exist, and altogether make the Great Barrier Reef one of the most highly monitored UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the World (UNESCO, 2014d). Commercial fishing within the Great Barrier Reef is controlled through permits, licensing, quotas and strict rules about methods used enforced (Australian Government, 2003). One of the key features of the Management strategy has been to ensure that commercial fishing is spread out over a wide area so to ensure that no single area is subject to high fishing pressure (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2011a). Recreational fishers are also carefully managed and are subject to size and possession limits in addition to seasonal and spawning closures to protect fish numbers.

In addition to commercial and recreational fishing, for the Aboriginal communities that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, the reef and the coasts of the Heritage Area are part of their living cultural landscape, where the natural features that they have lived alongside for 60,000 years (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2011b) are inextricably interwoven with their spiritual life, economic uses and social organisation, of which fishing contributes significantly to their income. To protect the rights of these people the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority assists them register as Traditional Owners of part of the park which gives them not only the legal right to hunt, fish and gather within the designated site, but also the responsibility to manage it sustainably, with the help of the Reef Rescue Land and Sea Country Indigenous Partnerships Program (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2011c).