Great Barrier Reef
Vast, beautiful, under threat
The Great Barrier Reef is a global icon and an integral part of Australia’s national identify. The Great Barrier Reef is a vast and spectacular ecosystem and one of the most complex natural systems on Earth. This World Heritage Area with Outstanding Universal Value is an economic powerhouse, contributing $6.4 billion to Australia’s national economy as well as some 64,000 jobs. As the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, it is bigger in size than Italy, and spans 2300 kilometres of Australia’s north east coast. It comprises almost 3000 individual reefs, about 10 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.
However, the Great Barrier Reef, like all coral reefs globally is under pressure and actions taken now will matter.
Health and threats to the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef’s natural beauty, and natural phenomena endure, but they are showing signs of deterioration and are under increasing pressure from cumulative impacts above and below the water. The evidence-based, independently-reviewed, Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 highlights the urgent need for our continued and accelerated action to improve the long-term outlook for the Great Barrier Reef. Without this, the continued outlook for the Great Barrier Reef will continue to remain very poor.
As identified in the report, the greatest threat to the Reef is climate change. The other main threats are associated with coastal development, land-based run-off, and threats from direct human use of the Reef (such as illegal fishing).
Our position statements on climate change, coastal ecosystems and marine debris encourage immediate, medium and long-term action for these key threats to the Reef.
Securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef
The Reef remains one of the best-managed marine ecosystems in the world and science is central to our management.
For almost 45 years, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been Australia’s lead management agency for the Reef, guided by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975. The Authority works together with other Australian and Queensland government agencies, industry, community organisations, and individuals to help achieve our vision of, a healthy Great Barrier Reef for future generations.
The Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan provides a guiding framework for securing the future of the Great Barrier Reef. It outlines key management actions being taken to reduce threats to the Reef. Underpinning the Reef 2050 Plan, is the development of a world class monitoring and reporting system to drive adaptive management.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003 and related legislation are the foundation of our resilience-based management approach. Zoning to protect biodiversity and regulate activities has been in place since 1981. Since 2004, some 33 per cent of the entire marine park is in highly protected zones. Plans of management and our permissions system provide for ecologically-sustainable multiple-use of the Reef.
Collaborative management through programs like the Reef Joint Field Management Program with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, and supporting the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy 2017-2027 are critical to the Reef’s future.
Establishing effective and meaningful partnerships with Traditional Owners are essential to protect cultural and heritage values, conserve biodiversity and enhance the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef. The Authority collaborates with Traditional Owner groups to develop sea country management arrangements including Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreements (TUMRAs) and Marine Park Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs). The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Strategy for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park outlines how the Authority can work with Traditional Owners to help keep the Indigenous heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park strong, safe and healthy.
Global collaboration is imperative for the health of the Reef. The Authority is committed to sharing our expertise and success stories and promoting leading practice coral reef management with our international partners. Australia is currently joint secretariat of the International Coral Reef Initiative, an informal partnership between nations and organisations that strives to preserve coral reefs and associated ecosystems around the world.
The Great Barrier Reef received world heritage status in 1981, the first coral reef ecosystem in the world to have this distinction. It was inscribed by the World Heritage Committee for its ‘outstanding universal value’.
Actions taken now will matter
Given the extensive size of the Great Barrier Reef Region, its condition is variable. Many areas continue to support beautiful corals and abundant marine life and the Reef remains an extraordinary experience for visitors.
The Reef has shown the ability to recover from impacts, if disturbance-free periods are long-enough.
Mitigating threats like climate change and poor water quality, coupled with resilience-based management, are essential to boosting Reef health so it can recover from major disturbances.
Gradual sea temperature increase and extremes, such as marine heat waves, are the most immediate threats to the Reef as a whole and pose the highest risk. The strongest and fastest possible global action on climate change is critical, and everyone can contribute and make a difference.
While the challenge is big, it is not insurmountable. As acknowledged in the Reef blueprint for resilience, ‘Together we can secure the future of the Great Barrier Reef, but we need to try harder, do more, and act now’.