Special management arrangements

Some places in the Cairns area have special values, such as nature conservation and scientific use values. Special management arrangements are in place to protect these areas. These are set out in the table below.

IslandManagement arrangements
Cod Hole locality
  • No anchoring allowed, access for vessels or aircraft via moorings only
Lizard Island
  • Vessels more than seven metres in length cannot anchor in Locality 1 [including in the Natural Resources Conservation (Mermaid Cove, Lizard Island) Special Management Area]
  • Boats longer than 35 metres may anchor only in Localities 2 or 3, and within the Reef Anchorage
  • Limited line fishing and collecting (using one hook and one line per person) is allowed within the Public Appreciation Special Management Area [except in the Natural Resources Conservation (Mermaid Cove, Lizard Island) Special Management Area]
  • Fishing and collecting is not allowed within the Natural Resources Conservation (Mermaid Cove, Lizard Island) Special Management Area [except for trolling and bait netting for pelagics, which is allowed within the Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone]
Low Island locality
  • Vessel and aircraft speed limit of six knots
  • No access to island between sunset and sunrise (some activities are exempt)
  • No anchoring of vessels or aircraft more than 35 metres in length
  • No hull scraping, cleaning or painting
  • No discharge of greywater, sewage, fresh fish or parts of fresh fish.
Mabel Island, High Island and Round Island
  • No weekend access*
Michaelmas Cay
  • Vessel or aircraft speed limit of six knots
  • Beach access allowed from 9:30am to 3pm, no access to fenced area*
  • No operation of horns, loud speakers or sirens
  • No aircraft to fly below 3000ft
  • No anchoring of vessels or aircraft more than 35 metres in length
Normanby Island (Frankland Islands group)
  • A sand spit next to the day area is fenced off from September to March to protect nesting little terns*
Woody Island
  • Vessel speed limit of six knots
  • Closed from September to March to protect nesting pied imperial pigeons*

*Please note these are managed under Queensland legislation

Motorised water sports

These activities may disturb other users of an area. Motorised water sports are generally not permitted within 500 metres of the reef edge. Hovercraft may be used at Lizard Island Locality 2.

For a full list of locations where motorised water sports are not permitted, refer to Schedule 4 of the Cairns Area Plan of Management.

View Responsible Reef Practices for motorised water sports.

Anchoring and mooring in the Cairns area

No Anchoring Areas and reef protection markers

Some reef areas are particularly vulnerable to anchor damage. You can help protect these vulnerable reefs by observing designated No Anchoring Areas (refer to table below). These areas are often marked by reef protection markers, which are white, pyramid-shaped buoys with a blue Marine Parks label.

When visiting a reef or bay that has a No Anchoring area:

  • You may enter No Anchoring areas when approaching or leaving moorings or beaches. You cannot anchor inside a No Anchoring Area or inshore of the line of buoys, however vessels may access and anchor on the beach when conditions allow.
  • You cannot attach your vessel or aircraft to a reef protection marker.
No Anchoring Area locations in the Cairns Area
Marked No Anchoring Areas (shown by reef protection markers)
Lizard Island (Watsons Bay and Anchor Bay)
Low Island
Unmarked No Anchoring Areas (no reef protection markers present)
Cod Hole Locality

Refer to the Cairns area Plan of Management for further details.

Please ensure you anchor with care outside the line of reef protection markers.

Please note: you may not anchor within 50 metres of a mooring or 200 metres of a pontoon in the Cairns Area, except at the following locations:

  • Cape Tribulation Bay Locality 1
  • East Hope Island Reef
  • Green Island Reef Locality 1
  • Lizard Island Locality 2 and 3
  • Low Island Locality
Public moorings

You can use public moorings at a number of sites to help protect fragile reefs in these areas. Public moorings are blue bee-hive shaped buoys with a colour-coded band that signifies the ‘class’ of the mooring.

There are five classes of mooring, and you must ensure that you use a class of mooring that is suitable for your vessel and the weather. The relevant vessel length and wind conditions are displayed on the colour-coded band and marked plastic tag attached to the pick-up line.

Public moorings have been installed at the following sites in the Cairns Area:

  • Cod Hole
  • East Hope Island
  • Flynn Reef
  • Green Island
  • High Island
  • Lizard Island (Mermaid Bay and Watsons Bay)
  • Low Island
  • Michaelmas Cay
  • Milln Reef
  • Normanby Island
  • Norman Reef
  • Russell Island
  • Snapper Island
  • Upolu Cay
  • Vlasoff Cay

Periodically, some of these moorings may be out of commission or occasionally unavailable when being maintained. If a mooring is damaged or missing, please report it to the Queensland Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing.

Private moorings

Privately owned moorings have been installed by regular users of an area, including commercial tourism operators. Private moorings are not generally available for public use. The moorings are private property and you must have the owner’s formal permission to use them.

View Responsible Reef Practices for anchoring and mooring.

Tourism in the Cairns area

The Cairns area attracts more visitors than any other region of the Great Barrier Reef. A wide variety of tourism experiences are accessible in this area, including day and overnight sightseeing tours to the reef, snorkelling, scuba diving, fishing charters and swimming with whales. Cruise ships also frequently visit the region.

You can choose a high standard tour, which are tourism operations that are ecologically sustainable and are helping to protect and present the Marine Park to a consistently high standard.