Great Barrier Reef strategic assessment fact sheet

Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on earth and one of Australia's most beloved natural icons. It is also facing increased pressures from population and economic growth and climate change.

The Australian and Queensland governments share responsibility for managing the Reef. Together we are actively addressing these pressures to maintain the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area's reputation as one of the best managed marine protected areas in the world.

But we have also recognised the need to become more strategic in our joint planning to future proof the Reef against potential impacts from activities ranging from increased shipping to urban development.

As a result, we have embarked on by far the largest, most wide-ranging and most complex strategic assessment ever undertaken in Australia. It will cover not only the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area but also the adjacent coastal zone where a range of activities occur that can impact on its environmental and heritage values.

Strategic assessments enable a `bigpicture' approach to environment and heritage protection that provide certainty in the long term, by determining where sustainable development can occur, the type of development that will be allowed and the conditions under which development may proceed.

They go beyond normal project by project assessments to look at landscape-scale cumulative impacts, as well as all relevant direct and indirect impacts.

The comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef will forge stronger links between planning for the land and marine environments, in recognition of how much one affects the other.

It will also provide an opportunity for more focussed studies of how planning approaches are applied in some of the highest growth coastal areas along the Reef's edge.

Great Barrier reef strategic assessment map
Strategic assessment management and planning

Once a strategic assessment is complete, new development projects or activities can be planned on a more sustainable basis and under more streamlined government processes that aim to cut red tape and reduce approval timeframes, benefitting the environment, local communities and business.

It will ensure the protection of the highest value environmental assets while guiding sustainable development in the Great Barrier Reef coastal area.

The Australian Government has signed two agreements to ensure the comprehensive strategic assessment strengthens protection for matters of national environmental significance, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and relevant world heritage properties, wetlands of international importance, threatened species and ecological communities and migratory species.

The first agreement is with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which manages the 344,400 square kilometre marine park for many uses, including conservation, recreation, tourism, fishing and shipping.

The second agreement is with the Queensland Government which manages the 2,300 km long coastal zone and the islands of the marine park.

These agreements establish the basis for the two strategic assessments that will together comprise a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone.

The Australian and Queensland governments have been discussing ways of managing the Reef in a more strategic way for some time. This approach has been accelerated in response to the decision of the World Heritage Committee to investigate the state of conservation of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The comprehensive strategic assessment is a key element of Australia's response to the concerns raised by the World Heritage Committee.

The comprehensive strategic assessment will investigate the adequacy of existing management arrangements to protect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area as well as the Queensland Government's coastal management, planning and development framework.

The strategic assessment will assess all matters of national environmental significance in the coastal area including world heritage values.

It will be developed over a 12-16 month period, allowing time for public input into its development.

Subject to conditions, under an endorsed strategic assessment, the federal environment minister can approve certain classes of actions, avoiding the need for proponents to submit individual proposals for further environmental assessment under national environment law.

But the federal environment minister still retains the right to consider individual proposals that are large or complex and have not been approved under the strategic assessment, and to place appropriate conditions to ensure strict environmental standards apply.

In the meantime, the Australian Government will continue to ensure that individual proposals for development in this area meet a high standard of assessment, including consideration of cumulative and other relevant impacts such as from shipping and associated infrastructure. It will also ensure these individual project assessments are aligned with the strategic assessment as it develops.

The World Heritage Committee's 2012 monitoring mission to the Great Barrier Reef highlighted the value of the strategic assessment now underway as a means of improving protection of this natural wonder.

Once complete, the strategic assessment will strengthen our protection of the Great Barrier Reef and guide its management for different uses for many years to come, building in enough flexibility to adapt to changing climatic and other circumstances.