Message from the Chairman

image of Russell Reichelt As Australia’s manager of the Great Barrier Reef, the fundamental obligation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is to protect this World Heritage-listed natural wonder.

The Great Barrier Reef is a diverse and remarkable ecosystem that’s home to unique plants, animals and habitats. It makes up 10 per cent of the world’s coral reef habitat.

It is the sea country home for the first Australians — more than 70 Traditional Owner groups — whose connections to the marine environment date back more than 60,000 years.

We report to the Australian Parliament through the Federal Environment Minister and work with Traditional Owners, partners and stakeholders. We promote a sense of stewardship in all those who live near and work on the Reef.

We strive to ensure all human uses of the Marine Park are ecologically sustainable and that the ecosystem's natural functions are maintained, especially the Reef’s ecological resilience.

This is achieved through on-ground park management, polices, partnerships and regulations to maintain the delicate balance between protecting and enabling sustainable use.

The Reef is a phenomenal wonder and presenting its spectacular natural values to the world through tourism and recreational use is an important and positive part of this presentation.

Sustainable tourism on the Reef is an especially important way to present the Reef to the world. Massive in scale, with beautiful islands, pristine beaches and beautiful seascapes for divers, the Reef is an international icon and tourism hotspot.

Since the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was created more than 40 years ago, the number of visitors to the region has steadily increased, as has the number of people living and working along the coastal region.

Day-to-day, local pressures from human use have affected the Reef to some extent but are well managed by global standards. More serious risk to the Reef is posed by current trends in global warming of the Earth’s oceans.

The warming trend — driven by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases — is affecting coral reefs worldwide and recently resulted in the unprecedented back-to-back years of bleaching in 2016-17.

The warming effects are causing marine heatwaves in all the tropical oceans that support coral reefs. Tropical corals are adapted to living in relatively stable tropical seas and are particularly sensitive to relatively small increases in average temperatures.

Coral bleaching — the impact of steadily rising sea temperatures — has affected corals significantly, yet still the Reef ecosystem shows strong capacity to recover. Tiny coral ‘recruits’ appearing after the heatwaves of recent years give us hope the system will remain resilient.

Urgent action is needed to reduce sea temperatures caused by very rapid greenhouse gas accumulation in the last 100 years, and this will reduce the risk posed by the current rapid warming trends.

It is for this reason that the Marine Park Authority has strongly supported the national and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The 2015 Paris accord is extremely important for coral reefs worldwide.

Closer to home, within the Great Barrier Reef region we consider that more interventionist approaches are needed to boost Reef resilience in the face of climate change and other pressures.

It is no longer sufficient to maintain areas of low human impacts from local use. We are now considering ways we can assist faster recovery of reefs damaged by bleaching and major cyclones.

We do much of our job through partnerships that empower others to protect the Reef. With an area spanning 14 degrees of latitude to manage, working with others is critical to Reef management.

We link to the one million people living along the Reef coast through our Local Marine Advisory Committees and work with tourism and Indigenous experts through technical advisory groups, and through a network of Reef Guardians — especially through Reef Guardian Councils and the 270 schools, 7400 teachers and 120,000 students involved in Reef Guardian Schools.

The Queensland Government has responsibility for the coastal areas and the very large river catchments from where large volumes of water flow to the Reef.

The Queensland Government is a key partner in delivering the operational management of the Marine Park through its environment and fisheries portfolios, as well as through our joint field management program. Marine Park rangers from the Queensland government, the Marine Park Authority and from indigenous communities all play role in looking after the Reef.

We work closely and cooperatively with national and international science agencies, Australian Government agencies, many Universities, and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority board and staff support all actions that will build the resilience of the Reef in the face of both the global and local pressures.

On a personal level, I’ve been diving on the Great Barrier Reef and studying the ecosystem since the 1960s. It is my great privilege to lead the Marine Park Authority. Thank you for your continued support of the Reef and your support of the Marine Park Authority.

Russell Reichelt
Chairman and Chief Executive

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