The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on earth and one of the best managed marine areas in the world. At 348,000 square kilometres, and including some 2,500 individual reefs of varying sizes and shapes and over 900 islands, the reef is one of the richest and most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. The unique qualities of this property were recognised in 1981 when it was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Strategic Assessment - Great Barrier Reef
The Australian Government, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Queensland Government have formally agreed to undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone.
GBR Outlook Report and Government response
A multi-use property
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use area in which a wide range of activities and uses are allowed, including extractive industries but not mining. A new Zoning Plan for the entire Marine Park came into effect on 1 July 2004 and protects over 33 per cent of the Park though no-take zones (known also as green zones).
The comprehensive, multiple-use zoning system minimises impacts and conflicts by providing high levels of protection for specific areas. A variety of other activities are allowed to continue in a managed way in certain zones (such as shipping, dredging, aquaculture, tourism, boating, diving, research, commercial fishing and recreational fishing).
The reef is protected by two complementary pieces of federal legislation:
- the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 oversees activities in the marine park
- Australia's key national environment law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, protects nationally significant matters including the Great Barrier Reef World and National Heritage areas.
These acts provide an internationally recognised world class system of environment and heritage protection. To ensure use of the Great Barrier Reef remains sustainable, activities in the World Heritage Area and marine park are tightly controlled under these laws, as well as other relevant state and federal laws.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
New frameworks for protection
In 2006, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 was reviewed and a series of measures proposed to strengthen the legal, governance and policy frameworks relating to the management and long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Act 2007
A body of new measures was implemented to protect the reef during 2007 - principally via the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Act 2007. The Act commenced on 1 July 2007 and amended the governance, accountability and transparency requirements of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975.
In particular, the amendments provided for:
- a five-yearly, peer-reviewed 'Outlook Report' to document the overall condition of the marine park to be tabled in Parliament and published
- an enhanced process to engage stakeholders in the development of zoning plans for the marine park, and
- zoning plans to be 'locked down' for a minimum of seven years from the date they come into force to provide stability for business, communities and biological systems.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2008
A second amendment Act - the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2008 - was passed by Parliament on 12 November 2008. The Act put in place a modern, future-focused regulatory framework to secure the long-term protection and ecologically sustainable management of the reef.
Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement
In 2009, the Australian and Queensland governments developed a Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area to secure the long-term conservation and protection of the reef. The aim was to enhance coordinated and collaborative approaches between the Australian and Queensland jurisdictions.
Other relevant state and federal measures
Reef Water Quality Protection Plan
The Great Barrier Reef is under pressure from many factors - one of which is the poor quality of water running into it from adjacent catchments. The Reef Water Quality Protection Plan (Reef Plan) is a framework for the Australian and Queensland governments to work together - along with industry, regional natural resource bodies and others - to improve the quality of water flowing into the Reef.
The Reef Plan was put in place in 2003, and updated in September 2009.
Australia continues to invest significantly to monitor and protect the reef, and increase its resilience in the long term, while allowing sustainable use of this natural wonder.
For example, the Australian Government is investing $200 million dollars over five years (2008-2013) under the Reef Rescue initiative which aims to reduce the discharge of dissolved nutrients and chemicals from agricultural lands to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon by 25 per cent, and to reduce the discharge of sediment and nutrients by 10 per cent. This includes:
- $158 million for the Water Quality Grants and Partnerships program
- $22 million for the Reef Rescue Water Quality Monitoring and reporting program
- $10 million for the Reef Rescue Research and Development program,and
- $10 million for the Reef Rescue Land and Sea Country Indigenous Partnerships program.
The Australian Government is also investing:
- $9 million to implement the Great Barrier Reef Climate Change Action Plan
- $8 million from the Caring for our Country program to ensure that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority can continue its management and community-based Reef Guardian programs effectively
- $28.5 million under its national environmental research program for the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait, and Wet Tropics Rainforest, and
- $1.43 million from the Caring for our Country program to control crown-of-thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Funding of $12.5 million over four years commencing in 2013-14 will also be provided to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which helps to protect and preserve the Reef by coordinating strategic research in such areas as reef resilience and climate change.
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park protection: legislative changes - frequently asked questions - fact sheet - 2009
- Safeguarding the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park - fact sheet - 2009