Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It also holds great scientific interest as the habitat of species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.
2017 Conservation Outlook
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Exceptional geological formations and processes linking reefs, coral cays and continental islands.
Spectacular species assemblages
Superlative natural beauty above and below the water
Outstanding on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals.
Outstanding diversity of plants including mangroves and seagrass
Outstanding diversity of invertebrate species, including hard and soft corals
Outstanding diversity of fish including threatened species
Populations of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis) and Australian snubfin dolphin (Orcaella heinsohni) are likely to be in decline and incidental capture in gillnet fisheries has been identified as high risk to these animals (Inshore dolphin vulnerability assessment for the GBR 2012). Fishing activities are also a high risk to other non-target species, including sawfish, dugong, marine turtles, sea snakes, and even some target species, including some species of sharks and rays and bony fish.
In 2017 the Queensland Government released the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 that aims to ensure fisheries resources are managed in a sustainable and responsible manner (https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/fisheries/sustainable-fisheries-strategy/what-is-the-sustainable-fisheries-strategy). In June 2017, the Queensland Government approved $20.883 million over 3 years to support implementation.
In addition, an estimated 14 million recreational visits are made to the GBR annually (to boat, fish, sail, dive, snorkel and swim). Compared to other threats, direct impacts from tourism remain low.
The marine tourism industry is a key partner in the protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef. Many tourism operators ensure their activities are best practice by following the Responsible Reef Practices for tourism operators.
High Standard Tourism Operators voluntarily operate to a higher standard than required by legislation as part of their commitment to ecologically sustainable use. These operators are independently certified as meeting best practice standards for the key areas of protection, presentation and partnership.
A key component of the Reef Trust is its ability to facilitate greater opportunities for partnerships and private investment to work effectively alongside public investment. To date, the Reef Trust has facilitated up to $19.8 million of private investment through co investment partnerships. Approximately 1800 farmers/landholders were engaged through Reef Program water quality grants, partnerships and systems repair projects, and 30 through the first two phases of Reef Trust Reverse Tenders in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin regions.
This cooperative approach was formalised by the Emerald Agreement in 1979. It was updated in July 2009 with the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement to provide a contemporary framework for cooperation between the governments, recognising challenges such as climate change and catchment water quality not foreseen at the time of the 1979 agreement.
The 2015 Agreement reflects the shared vision for the future outlined in the Reef 2050 Plan, and renews the Australian and Queensland governments' commitment to protecting the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area including its Outstanding Universal Value (http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/protecting-the-reef/intergovernmental-agreement).
The Great Barrier Reef Ministerial Forum oversees the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement. The Ministerial Forum is comprised of two ministers each from the Australian and Queensland governments with responsibility for matters relating to the environment and marine parks, science, tourism and/or natural resource management.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is the management authority for the Park, which covers some 99% of the World Heritage area. It works in partnership with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, to deliver an effective Field Management programme; ensuring users of the Reef comply with the Zoning Plan (GBRMPA, 2011). The management system includes a multi-use zoning plan, local plans of management and numerous strategies for biodiversity conservation, tourism, invasive species management, water quality, etc. The Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan adopted by the Australian and Queensland Governments in 2015 has been welcomed by the World Heritage Committee as providing an overarching framework for the management of the property in the face of multiple and complex challenges. The Plan defines a comprehensive vision for the conservation of the property’s OUV over the next 35 years and proposes 7 major outcomes for the property to be delivered by 2050 (UNESCO, 2015).
Despite ongoing levels of financial support to the property, funding has not kept pace with an increase in use of the protected area. While activities including compliance, maintenance of faculties and work on threatened species are prioritized, the lack of funding increases is resulting in an on-going decline in management capacity (Hockings et al., 2014). The recently released Independent Review of Governance also recommended increasing the classification levels of middle management staff of GBRMPA commensurate with their responsibilities (Craik, 2017).
Some areas of management inputs (staffing and funding) have declined since the Outlook Report 2009. This appears to be largely a result of competing requirements for management of other high priority issues. In the face of essentially static resources for overall management outside specially funded programs, redirection of effort is the main recourse for addressing these emerging priorities, which indirectly impacts on staff training and development.
Traditional use of marine resources within the property may include activities that are identified as part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' customs or traditions, for the purposes of satisfying personal, domestic or communal needs. In addition to specific management strategies for the sustainable use of species, other Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement (TUMRA) activities may include cultural heritage mapping/surveys; protection, research and monitoring sea country; compliance, leadership, knowledge management; education, information exchange; language mapping on sea country.
Permits are provided to facilitate opportunities for sustainable use of the Marine Park. Permits are issued mainly for tourism, research, harvest fisheries, dredging and infrastructure (for example jetties and marinas) and include detailed risk based environmental impact assessment.
Under the Offshore Constitutional Settlement arrangement, all fisheries within the GBR Region, are managed by the Queensland Government through Fisheries Queensland, (except for tuna and tuna-like species which are managed by the Commonwealth of Australia). . In 2017 the Queensland Government released the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 that aims to ensure fisheries resources are managed in a sustainable and responsible manner. This Strategy sets out clear targets to be achieved by 2020 and 2027 and a range of actions to deliver on targets. There are 33 actions across ten reform areas.
Communication and engagement strategies are developed, implemented and evaluated on a range or programs and topics. Each identifies key audiences, tools and channels and messages to communicate and engagement in a strategic and coordinated way.
The Marine Park Authority’s external website is the central hub of information about Reef health and management, with more than 500,000 visits recorded on the site each year.
Social media channels — such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIN — are also used to communicate and engage with an online community in excess of 60,000 users about the Reef and its management. E-newsletters provide targeted information to subscribers.
A decrease in funding in real terms for the Field Management Program (a joint program between the Australian and Queensland Governments) has led to fewer staff and resources available for the program, including a reduction in interpretation facilities and products and maintenance of infrastructure on islands and moorings in some cases. A targeted education and compliance strategy has been implemented to help give effect to the zoning plans of the property, with focus on high-risk threats. A network of Community Access Points distribute zoning maps and educational material to raise awareness and encourage visitors to follow the zoning rules.
Engagement occurs through regional networks, Local Marine Advisory Committees, the Reef Guardian stewardship program , the Reef HQ Aquarium, and through information services provided to stakeholders and the community.
ReefHQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium is the Australian Government’s National Education Centre for the Great Barrier Reef and receives approximately 140,000 visitors annually. Through the provision of educational and informational services relating to the Marine Park, ReefHQ ensures the community and stakeholders have a clear understanding of the value of the Great Barrier Reef, the threats to its sustainable future and their role in protecting it. ReefHQ achieves this through providing world class living exhibits complemented by thematic and interactive educational experiences, which raise awareness and encourages behavioural change within the community that will help protect the Great Barrier Reef.
More than 276 schools and over 120,000 students and 7400 teachers are helping build the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef through the Reef Guardians Schools program (GBRMPA website 2017). Other Reef Guardian programs include the highly successful Reef Guardian Council program, the Reef Guardian Farmers program and the Reef Guardian Fishers pilot program. A number of Marine Aquarium Fish and Coral Collection Fishers operating under their Pro-vision Reef Stewardship Action Plan 2013 (Mitigating Ecological Risk in a Changing Climate) have also joined the Reef Guardian pilot program. The GBRMPA's Reef Guardian Program demonstrates that a hands-on community-based approach to caring for the Great Barrier Reef is essential to help preserve its immense social, economic and environmental value (GBRMP, 2011).
• Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS)
• Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)
• JCU ARC Centre of Excellence
• GBR Foundation
• A network of six island research stations (Lizard Island, Low Isles, Green Island, Orpheus Island, Heron Island and One Tree Island). In 2015–16, $130 million of revenue was generated by these organisations through the conduct of scientific research, reef management, and related activities. They spent $57 million and $65 million on employment and intermediate inputs respectively. The total value of scientific research and reef management associated with the GBR in 2015–16 is contributed around $182 million to the Australian economy (Deloitte Access Economics, 2017).
|№||Organization/ individuals||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||GBRMPA; Reef and Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC); Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO); various universities including James Cook University||Removal of Crown-of-thorns Starfish and research into management of outbreaks of this pest species.|
|2||NESP||National Environmental Science Program (NESP)|
|3||Queensland Government, GBRMPA, Wuthathi and Kemer Kemer Meriam Nation (Ugar, Mer, Erub) Traditional Owners, BHP and the GBR Foundation.||The Raine Island Recovery Project aims to protect and restore the island’s critical habitat to ensure the future of key marine species, including green turtles and seabirds.|
|4||Various organizations||Numerous projects are undertaken by different organizations|
|1||ANU (Australian National University) (2009). Implications of climate change for Australia’s World Heritage properties: A preliminary assessment. A report to the Department of Climate Change and the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts by the Fenner School of Environment and Society, the Australian National University. 207 pp.|
|2||Brodie, J. & Waterhouse, J. (2012). A critical review of environmental management of the ‘not so Great’ Barrier Reef. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 104-105: 1-22.|
|3||CRC (2003). Marine tourism on the Great Barrier Reef. Current state of knowledge June 2003. CRC Reef Research Centre. Townsville, Australia.|
|4||Cagnazzi, D., Parra, G.J., Westley, S., & Harrison. P.L. (2013) At the Heart of the Industrial Boom: Australian Snubfin Dolphins in the Capricorn Coast, Queensland, Need Urgent Conservation Action. PLoS ONE 8(2): e56729. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0056729|
|5||CoA (2013a). The Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef. Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra. 10 pp.|
|6||CoA (2013b). State Party Report On the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Australia). Submitted to the World Heritage Committee. 77 pp.|
|7||CoA (2015). Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan. Commonwealth of Australia.|
|8||Coles, R., McKenzie, L., De'ath, G., Roelofs, A. and LeeLong, W. 2009, Spatial distribution of deepwater seagrass in the inter-reef lagoon of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Marine Ecology Progress Series 392: 57-68.|
Craik, W., 2017. Independent review of governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; report. Canberra: Department of the
Environment and Energy.
|10||De’ath G, Lough. J. M. & Fabricius, K.E. (2009). Declining coral calcification on the Great Barrier Reef. Science 323:116–9.|
|11||De’ath, G., Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H. & Puotinenb, M. (2012). The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. 109 17995–9. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1208909109|
|12||Diaz-Pulido, G., McCook, L.J., Dove, S., Berkelmans, R., Roff, G., Kline, D.I., Weeks, S., Evans, R.D., Williamson, D.H., & Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2009). Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery. Plos One. Plosone.org|
|13||EA (2003). Recovery Plan for Marine Turtles in Australia. Prepared by the Marine Species Section Approvals and Wildlife Division, Environment Australia, in consultation with the Marine Turtle Recovery Team. Government of Australia. 49 pp.|
|14||GBRMPA (2004). Great Barrier Reef Marine Park zoning plan 2003. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Townsville, Australia. 211 pp.|
|15||GBRMPA (2007). Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Action Plan 2007-2012. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Townsville, Australia. 10 pp.|
|16||GBRMPA (2009). Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2009. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Commonwealth of Australia. 192 pp.|
|17||GBRMPA (2011). Annual report 2010-2011. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Townsville, Australia.|
|18||GBRMPA (2012a). Great Barrier Reef Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2012. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Townsville, Australia.|
|19||GBRMPA (2012b). Informing the outlook for Great Barrier Reef coastal ecosystems. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Australia. 126 pp.|
|20||GBRMPA (2012c). Vulnerability Assessment-Sawfish. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Commonwealth of Australia. 28 pp.|
|21||GBRMPA (2012d). Vulnerability Assessment-Sea Snakes. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Commonwealth of Australia. 21 pp.|
|22||GBRMPA (2013). Great Barrier Reef Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2013, GBRMPA, Townsville.|
|23||GBRMPA (2014). Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.|
|24||GBRMPA. (2009). Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2009. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Government of Australia.|
|25||Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 2016, Interim report: 2016 coral bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef, GBRMPA, Townsville.|
|26||Grech, A., Bos, M., Brodie, J., Coles, R., Dale, A., Hamann, M., Marsh, H., Neil, K., Pressey, R.L., Rasheed, M.A. and Sheaves, M. (2013). Guiding principles for the improved governance of port and shipping impacts in the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Pollution Bulletin.|
|27||Hockings, M., Leverington, A. Trinder, C and Polglaze, J. 2014, Independent assessment of management effectiveness for the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2014, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville. http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/2857/1/…|
|28||Hughes, T. et al. (2017). Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals. doi:10.1038/nature21707|
|29||Hughes, T.P., Bellwood, D.R., Baird, A, Brodie, J, Bruno, J and Pandolfi, J. (2011). Shifting base-lines, declining coral cover, and the erosion of reef resilience. Coral Reefs 30(3): 653-660.|
|30||Hughes, T.P., Rodrigues, M.J., Bellwood, D.R., Ceccarelli, D., Hoegh-Guldberg, O., McCook, L., Moltschaniswskyj, N., Pratchett, M.S., Steneck, R.S., & Willis, B. (2007). Phase Shifts, Herbivory, and the Resilience of Coral Reefs to Climate Change. Current Biology 17: 360–365.|
|31||IUCN (1981). World Heritage Nomination IUCN Technical Review: Great Barrier Reef. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.|
|32||IUCN (2012). Mission Report. Reactive Monitoring Mission to Great Barrier Reef (Australia) 6th to 14th March 2012. IUCN/World Heritage Centre (Badman, T. & Douvere, F.). 66 pp.|
|33||IUCN (2013). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. www.iucnredlist.org|
|34||Johnson, J.E. & Marshall, P.A. (eds.) (2007). Climate change and the Great Barrier Reef: A vulnerability assessment. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Australian Greenhouse Office, Australia. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/outlook-for-the-reef/climate-chang…|
|35||Limpus, C.J., Miller, J., Parmenter, C., & Limpus, D. (2003). The green turtle, Chelonia mydas, population of Raine Island and the northern Great Barrier Reef 1843-2001. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 49: 349-440.|
|36||Lucas, P.H.C., Webb, T., Valentine, P.S. and Marsh, H. (1997). The Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, Australia. 197pp.|
|37||Marsh, H. D., Hodgson, A., Lawler, I., Grech, A. & Delean, S. (2007). Condition, status and trends and projected futures of the dugong in the Northern Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait; including identification and evaluation of the key threats and evaluation of available management options to improve its status. Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility Report Series. Reef and Rainforest Research Centre Limited, Cairns, Australia. 77 pp.|
|38||Marsh, H., De’ath, G., Gribble, N. & Lane, B. (2005). Historical marine population estimates: triggers or targets for conservation? The dugong case study. Ecological Applications 15(2): 481-492.|
|39||Noad, M., Dunlop, R., Paton, D. & Kniest, H. (2010). Abundance estimates of the east Australian Humpback Whale population: 2010 survey and update. Paper SC/63/SH22 submitted to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, Agadir, 21-25 June (unpublished).|
|40||Noad, M.J., Dunlop, R.A., Paton, D. and Cato, D.H. (2008). An update of the east Australian humpback whale population (E1) rate of increase. Paper SC/60/SH31 submitted to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, Santiago, 1–13 June (unpublished).|
|41||Nomination (1981). Nomination of the Great Barrier Reef. Government of Australia.|
|42||Reef Plan (2011). Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2011. Reef water quality protection plan. Government of Australia and Government of Queensland. 5 pp. http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/|
|43||Reef Plan (2013). Reef water quality protection plan 2013. Government of Australia and Government of Queensland. 36 pp. http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/|
|44||Roff, G., Clark, T.R., Reymond, C.E., Zao, J., Feng, Y., McCook, L., Dene, T. & Pandolfi, J.M. (2012). Palaeoecological evidence of a historical collapse of corals at Pelorus Island, inshore Great Barrier Reef, following European settlement. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280 (1750) [doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.210].|
|45||Senate Hearing (2013). Hansard transcript of testimony to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. Hearing on the Evaluation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013. 23 May 2013. Brisbane, Australia.|
|46||SoOUV (2012). Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. Government of Australia.|
|47||Sweatman, H. & Syms, C. (2011b). Assessing loss of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef: a response to Hughes et al. (2011). Coral Reefs.30: 661-664.|
|48||Sweatman, H., Delean, S. & Syms, C. (2011a). Assessing loss of coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef over two decades, with implications for longer term-trends. Coral Reefs 30: 521-531.|
|49||Tarte, D., Hart, B., Hughes, T. & Hussey, K. (2017). Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan. Progress on Implementation. Review by Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group. https://independent.academia.edu/DiTarte|
|50||UNESCO (2015). Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). <http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3234>. Accessed 05 October 2017.|
|51||UNESCO (2017). Report on the State of Conservation of the Great Barrier Reef (Australia). <http://whc.unesco.org/en/soc/3658>. Accessed 05 October 2017.|
|52||Waterhouse et al. (2017). 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement. Land use impacts on Great Barrier Reef water quality and ecosystem condition. <http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-s…;.|
|53||Waters, L. (2013). Explanatory Memorandum for the draft Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Great Barrier Reef) Bill 2013. Queensland.|
|54||World Heritage Committee (2017). Decision 41COM 7B.24. Great Barrier Reef (Australia). Krakow, Poland. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/decisions/6216>. Accessed 05 October 2017.|